A student who plays nice with teacher may also play nice in the sandbox, according to a new Canadian-led study.
The research, published this week in the journal Child Development, shows that a positive teacher-student relationship can help prevent aggressive children both from lashing out and from being bullied by their peers.
“The teacher-student relationship is extremely important,” says Mara Brendgen, lead author of the study and psychology professor at the University of Quebec at Montreal. “Teachers, next to parents, are the most influential adult in the child’s life, starting right from daycare. It’s clear from empirical evidence that teachers do play a major role.”
Prof. Brendgen, with fellow researchers from Laval University, the University of Montreal, the University of Alabama and University College Dublin, studied 217 pairs of identical and fraternal twins, enrolled in Grade 1 in the greater Montreal area. Only data from the analysis of twins in different classrooms were used.
Researchers assessed the level of aggression shown by the twins by asking classmates if the twins hit, bite, kick or call names. To assess the extent to which the twins were picked on, classmates were asked if the twins are often the target of the same aggressive behaviour. Teachers were asked to evaluate the quality of their relationship with the student, using indicators such as closeness and open communication.
“When a child is very aggressive, this study shows, and other studies have shown, that it puts the child at increased risk of being victimized by others,” says Prof. Brendgen. “Aggression is irritating so children may be thinking that they’re actually justified in bullying an aggressive child.”
She says that while being a teacher’s pet may make older students a target for bullies, a close teacher-student relationship at the Grade 1 level can have the opposite effect.
“A teacher can guide the student in finding alternative solutions to interacting with others,” says Prof. Brendgen. “If that happens early on, it should have an effect on the longer term so that they will not need to be teacher’s pets in order to not be victimized.”