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June 01, 2011

Can managing emotions reduce early-school victimisation?

Giesbrecht, G.F., Leadbeater, B.J., & MacDonald, S.W.S. (2011). Child and context characteristics in trajectories of physical and relational victimization among early elementary school children. Development and Psychopathology, 23, 239-252.

This article seeks to understand changes in physical (e.g. hitting, pushing etc) and relational (i.e. manipulating relationships) victimisation across Grades 1, 2, and 3 (that’s approximately ages 6.5 to 8.5 years old). Of particular interest were:
  1. ‘Within person’ predictors of change: (i) how physically aggressive the child was and (ii) emotional dysregulation i.e. how easily upset the child was, how much difficulty they have controlling their emotions. Data on both these issues were gathered using teacher-reports.
  2. 'Between person’ predictors of change: this just refers to whether age and gender can help us understand differences in how victimisation changes across this age span.
  3. ‘Between school’ predictors of change: this referred to the extent to which participation in a victimisation prevention program influenced how victimisation changes across this age span. The intervention used was the WITS (Walk away, Ignore, Talk it out, Seek help) intervention (see Leadbeater et al., 2003, for more details).

A total of 432 children started the study and 385 continued to participate in Grade 3. Physical and relational victimisation were self-reported by the children. Multilevel modelling was used to analyse the data.

Overall both types of victimisation decreased over time, by 11% per year for physical and 7% per year for relational. However, these decreases were influenced by other variables in the study:
  • Physically aggressive children were almost twice as likely to be victimised than children who were not physically aggressive.
  • Levels of physical victimisation reduced more slowly over time for children with worse emotion dysregulation.
  • Levels of relational victimisation actually increased over time for children with worse emotion dysregulation.

Children who participated in the WITS program declined in levels of victimisation at a faster rate than those children who did not take part in WITS. Age and gender did not influence change in victimisation over time.

This study highlights that specific difficulties which children exhibit early on in school can act as markers for increasing victimisation. In particular, children who find it difficult to control and deal with their own emotional reactions and children who are themselves aggressive may both be at risk of victimisation in the early school years. Note that this isn’t to somehow blame the victims, or to justify why others pick on them. However, if adults notice these difficulties they may be able to help children address them and, in turn, help children to integrate more successfully into social settings.

References:
Leadbeater, B., Hoglund, W., & Woods, T. (2003). Changing contents? The effects of a primary prevention program on classroom levels of peer relational and physical victimisation. Journal of Community Psychology, 31, 397-418.

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