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Child Abuse Negl. 2007 Sep;31(9):971-91. Epub 2007 Sep 17.

Peer status and behaviors of maltreated children and their classmates in the early years of school.

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  • 1School of Psychology, Griffith University, Gold Coast Campus, Qld, Australia.



The aims of the present study were to investigate (1) whether young children with a known history of maltreatment by caregivers have more problematic peer relationships and classroom behaviors than other children, and (2) if children's behaviors with peers mediated associations between maltreatment and children's problem peer relations.


Participants included 400 young children (ages 4-8, M age=6.6), and 24 teachers in 22 schools. Six percent of children had a known history of maltreatment. Multiple methods (ratings and nominations) and reporters (children and teachers) were utilized to obtain information on peer relationships. Teachers reported children's physical/verbal aggression, and withdrawn and prosocial behaviors.


Young children were able to nominate and rate whom they liked versus disliked in their classes, and their reports were modestly correlated with teacher reports. Regardless of the reporter, maltreated children were significantly more disliked, physically/verbally aggressive, withdrawn, and less prosocial, compared with their classmates. Among all children, physical/verbal aggression, withdrawal, and prosocial behavior were associated independently with some aspect of peer status. Maltreatment had indirect associations with peer likeability and peer rejection via maltreated children's relatively higher levels of physical/verbal aggression and, in some cases, withdrawal and relatively lower prosocial behavior. Maltreatment had an indirect association with teacher-reported peer acceptance via children's withdrawal.


Findings indirectly associate early family experiences with problems in peer relationships, especially lower peer likeability and more rejection, via children's behaviors with peers. The finding that linkages exist even in the very earliest years of school highlights the need for very early home- or school-based efforts focused on improving behavior and relationships of maltreated children and others children with similar profiles.

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