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Understanding School Readiness: The Interacting Roles of Behavioral Regulation and Teacher-Child Relationship Quality

Thu, March 21, 12:30 to 1:45pm, Baltimore Convention Center, Floor: Level 1, Exhibit Hall B

Integrative Statement

The present study investigated the association between two predictors of school readiness: behavioral regulation and teacher-child relationship quality. School readiness is an indicator of a child’s preparedness for school prior to kindergarten entry. School readiness includes young children’s early academic skills, such as counting and recognizing letters, as well as their ability to behave appropriately in the classroom. Though both behavioral regulation and teacher-child relationships have been found to uniquely contribute to school readiness (McClelland et al., 2007; Palermo, Hanish, Martin, Fabes, & Reiser, 2007), previous researchers have not examined the likely interactional association between these two factors. Thus, the current study aimed to bridge the gap between these two bodies of research. A sample of 68 children, ages 3-6, were recruited from local preschools in the Northwest North Carolina area. The Peg Tapping Task was administered in order to assess behavioral regulation. When the experimenter tapped a wooden dowel once, the child was supposed to tap twice. When the experimenter tapped twice, the child was supposed to tap once. School readiness skills were assessed in three ways. To examine early academic skills, children completed both the WPPSI-IV Vocabulary Subtest and the Number Knowledge Test (NKT). The vocabulary subtest evaluated children’s word knowledge and verbal expression. The NKT assessed children’s basic understanding of numbers and early arithmetic skills. To assess classroom behavior, teachers reported on each child’s on-task classroom involvement. This scale included items evaluating a child’s ability to follow directions and interest in classroom activities. Teachers also completed the Student-Teacher Relationship Scale (STRS), describing the quality of their relationships with all participating students. Relationships were subsequently categorized as close (e.g., warm, positive,) or conflicted (e.g., difficult, energy draining). Results indicated that behavioral regulation, teacher-child relationship quality, and school readiness were highly interconnected, when controlling for age. Behavioral regulation was positively related to academic readiness, r = .585, p < .0001, as well as behavioral readiness, r = .30, p = .014. Overall teacher-child relationship quality was related to behavioral readiness, r = .782, p < .0001, while conflict in the teacher-child relationship was negatively related to academic readiness, r = -.274, p = .025. Behavioral regulation was negatively related to conflict in the teacher-child relationship, r = -.406, p = .001. Interestingly, the association between behavioral regulation and behavioral readiness became nonsignificant when controlling for teacher-child conflict, showing a significant mediation (see Figure 1). Furthermore, the negative correlation between teacher-child conflict and behavioral readiness was significantly larger for children with poorer behavioral regulation (r = -.857) than for those with better behavioral regulation (r = -.603), z = -2.28, p = .02. Thus, teacher-child conflict is more strongly related to behavioral readiness when children struggle with behavioral regulation.

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