Teacher Student Relationships

February 12th, 2013 posted by Growing Up

A Supportive One Can Reduce Aggression

Preventing acts of childhood aggression has become a major focus for schools throughout the nation, but their efforts may be lacking a critical ingredient to their success, say Texas A&M University psychologists.

A study by psychologists Jan N. Hughes and Timothy A. Cavell shows that a warm, close relationship between a child at risk for behavioral problems and his or her teacher reduces the chances of aggressive behavior in the future. Unfortunately, such supportive teacher-student relationships are missing for many children with conduct problems, Hughes says.

A focus on teacher-student relationships is missing in school-based prevention efforts, says Hughes. This “apparent oversight,” she adds, may be due to the fact that current prevention efforts focus on discipline techniques, classroom management or children’s social skills. Teacher-student relationships are not deemed important within this mix, Hughes adds.

Hughes says the study offers evidence that the quality of teacher-student relationships predicts aggressive children’s developmental trajectories. In other words, positive teacher- student relationships during one year were followed by lower levels of childhood aggression the next year.

// “Both child-level and teacher-level ratings of support predicted decreases in aggression,” she notes.

In addition, the better the teacher-student relationship was for a given year, the greater the chances of that student not being viewed as aggressive by his or her peers the next year – an important finding, she notes, because peer-rated aggression is a good indicator of the child’s risk for problems such as delinquency and drug use in adolescence.

In contrast, teacher-student interactions characterized by high-levels of conflict and controlling interactions and low levels of warmth and acceptance may serve to increase a child’s risk for aggressive behavior.

These findings are sobering, Hughes says, considering that children with behavior disorders are more likely than their peers to experience negative interactions with teachers and less likely to engage in positive interactions. Teachers generally have a low tolerance for aggressive and socially deviant behavior, a fact that is understandable given the teacher’s responsibility for the entire classroom of children, she notes. Thus, their interactions with aggressive children are often angry, critical and punishing – interactions that perpetuate the student’s negative behaviors.

“Generally, aggressive children receive more criticism because they invite more opportunities for conflict,” Hughes explains. “When a student is often in conflict with the teacher, he or she feels less motivated to please the teacher and less motivated to conform to classroom rules. These students feel less of a sense of belonging with the school.”

Hughes says a teacher must communicate acceptance to a child while maintaining and enforcing clear behavioral expectations. “A child,” she says, “has to feel like there is acceptance and warmth on the part of the teacher – a hand on the shoulder that says ‘I’m glad you are here.'”

So we asked Dr. Hughes what a parent can do if they feel that their child is in this situation. How would one go about bringing this up with the teacher? Would it be better to bring this topic up with a third party like a counselor or a dean?

Dr Hughes tells us “If a parent feels that his or her child has a poor relationship with the teacher, the parent might want to consider how supportive her relationship with the teacher is and take steps to improve it. Generally, teachers are more supportive of children whose parents are perceived by the teacher to be more involved in the child’s school and to be supportive of the teacher and the school. The parent might also visit the classroom to obtain a more complete perspective on the nature of the child’s school difficulties and the teacher-student relationship.”

Editor’s Note:

If you feel that your child isn’t getting a fair shake, be sure that you yourself are involved. Show the school that you care by getting involved, attend parent teacher conferences, or better yet, request one. Show the initiative to resolve any conflicts that may have surfaced, and help to improve them. Be sure to be objective, hear both sides. Your child’s and the teacher’s. This interaction shows both the school staff and your child that you care.

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