acta ethologica

, Volume 11, Issue 1, pp 16–25

Beyond flight or fight: developmental changes in young children’s coping with peer conflict

Original Paper

DOI: 10.1007/s10211-007-0037-7

Cite this article as:
Baumgartner, E. & Strayer, F.F. acta ethol (2008) 11: 16. doi:10.1007/s10211-007-0037-7


This research provides a summary of an observational study of children’s spontaneous reactions to peer-initiated conflict. Drawing from sociolinguistics analyses of family disputes, we sought to isolate children’s styles of coping with peer provocations. More than 900 episodes of spontaneous conflict were observed in eight preschool groups of children from 3 to 5 years of age (78 girls and 72 boys). Reactions to physical attacks, object struggles, as well as verbal and disruptive conflict were coded in five categories: counter-attack, flight, emotional display, negotiate, and seek help. Theoretically driven cluster analyses of reactions to provocation revealed four distinct modes of coping: fight, flight, standoff, and mediate. Differences in coping were systematically related to observer evaluations of individual differences in psychosocial adjustment and to teacher reports on children’s conflict management. Findings support a developmental model with both quantitative and qualitative changes in reactions to peer conflict.


Flight/FightCoping stylesReactions to aggressionEarly peer conflict

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag and ISPA 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of Rome, “La Sapienza”RomeItaly
  2. 2.University of Bordeaux 2, “Victor Segalen”BordeauxFrance