Prevention Science

, Volume 18, Issue 1, pp 40–49 | Cite as

Cortisol Patterns for Young Children Displaying Disruptive Behavior: Links to a Teacher-Child, Relationship-Focused Intervention

  • Bridget E. HatfieldEmail author
  • Amanda P. Williford


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.


Cortisol Teacher-child relationships Preschool Socioemotional interventions Disruptive behaviors 


Compliance with Ethical Standards

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki Declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


This study was supported in part by a grant awarded to the second author by the Institute of Education Sciences, US Department of Education, through Grant R324A100215, respectively, to the University of Virginia. The opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not represent views of the US Department of Education. The supplemental saliva collection and cortisol assays were supported by an American Psychological Association Division 15 Early Career Award to the first author while an Institute of Education Sciences post-doctoral fellow at the University of Virginia. The authors wish to thank the generous programs, teachers, and children who participated in this study. In addition we are grateful to all project staff for their contributions to this work.


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Copyright information

© Society for Prevention Research 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.College of Public Health and Human Sciences, School of Social and Behavioral Health SciencesOregon State UniversityCorvallisUSA
  2. 2.Center for Advanced Study of Teaching and LearningUniversity of VirginiaCharlottesvilleUSA

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