Cortisol Patterns for Young Children Displaying Disruptive Behavior: Links to a Teacher-Child, Relationship-Focused Intervention
Supportive and close relationships that young children have with teachers have lasting effects on children’s behavior and academic success, and this is particularly true for children with challenging behaviors. These relationships are also important for children’s developing stress response system, and children in child care may be more likely to display atypical cortisol patterns at child care. However, warm, supportive relationships with teachers may buffer these negative effects of child care. While many relationship-focused early childhood interventions demonstrate changes in child behavior, associations with children’s stress response system are unknown. This study assessed children’s activity in the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis via salivary cortisol as a function of their participation in a dyadic intervention intended to improve a teacher’s interaction quality with a particular child. Seventy teachers and 113 preschool children participated who were part of a larger study of teachers and children were randomly assigned at the classroom level across three intervention conditions: Banking Time, Time-Control Comparison (Child Time), and Business-as-Usual. At the end of the school year, children in the Banking Time condition displayed a significantly greater decline in cortisol across the morning during preschool compared to children in Business-as-Usual condition. These pilot results are among the first to provide preliminary evidence that school-based interventions that promote sensitive and responsive interactions may improve young children’s activity in the stress response system within the child care/early education context.