Journal of Child and Family Studies

, Volume 27, Issue 1, pp 118–130 | Cite as

Teacher and Parent Perceptions of Relational and Physical Aggression During Early Childhood

  • Cara S. SwitEmail author
  • Anne L. McMaugh
  • Wayne A. Warburton
Original Paper


Although links have been found between parents’ and teachers’ (caregivers’) attitudes about aggressive behavior, their responses to aggressive behaviour in children, and those children’s own use of aggressive behaviour, most research has focused on primary and secondary school contexts and has examined the influence of parents and teachers separately. The current study explored both parents’ and teachers’ beliefs and intervention strategies for relational and physical aggression in early childhood settings. Teachers (N = 18; Mage = 34.8 years) and parents (N = 68; Mage = 32.2 years) were presented with vignettes portraying relational and physical aggression. Following each vignette, their perceptions of the seriousness of the act, empathy for the victim, likelihood to intervene, and intervention strategies used to respond to each vignette were assessed. Teachers were also interviewed about examples of aggression that have been seen in preschool age children. Results indicated that caregivers viewed relational compared to physical aggression as more normative, and had less empathy for, and were less likely to intervene in instances of relationally aggressive behaviour. They also recommended more passive intervention strategies towards relationally aggressive children and more direct strategies towards physically aggressive children. Interview responses indicated that teachers perceived the primary cause of aggression to be related to developmental characteristics of the child. Implications for how these findings about adult–child interactions impact the development of relational and physical aggression are discussed.


Relational Aggression Physical Aggression Teacher Perceptions Parent Perceptions Early Childhood 


Author Contributions

C.S.: collected the original data and prepared this manuscript. C.S., A.M. and W.W. contributed to the concepts, design, analysis and writing and editing of this manuscript.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no competing interests.

Ethical Approval

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

Informed Consent

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


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Health Sciences, University of CanterburyChristchurchNew Zealand
  2. 2.Department of Educational StudiesMacquarie UniversitySydneyAustralia
  3. 3.Department of PsychologyMacquarie UniversitySydneyAustralia

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