The Role of Children's Adaptability in Classrooms Characterized by Low or High Teacher Emotional Support Consistency

By Brock, Laura L.; Curby, Timothy W. | School Psychology Review, June 2016 | Go to article overview

The Role of Children's Adaptability in Classrooms Characterized by Low or High Teacher Emotional Support Consistency


Brock, Laura L., Curby, Timothy W., School Psychology Review


Children bring to the classroom individual characteristics that have a profound impact on the ways in which they perceive and interact with the social environment. Children's temperament has a biological basis and plays a role in determining the amount of emotion elicited by external stimuli, including responses to novel or stressful events (Martin & Fox, 2006). Adaptability is a temperamental trait that describes the degree to which children interpret change in the social environment as stressful (Thomas & Chess, 1977). As such, children with high adaptability tend to thrive socially and academically relative to children with low adaptability (Martin, Nagle, & Paget, 1983). Yet the extent to which each child makes friends, engages with classroom materials, or thrives academically also relies heavily on factors outside of the child, including teacher-child interactions characterized by warmth and sensitivity (Curby, Rudasill, Edwards, & Perez-Edgar, 2011).

Classrooms are complex social environments and prone to fluctuations. Two salient aspects of the classroom social environment include the level and consistency of emotional support. Emotional support describes teacher-child interactions that facilitate social and emotional functioning in the classroom (Pianta, La Paro, & Hamre, 2008). Emotional support consistency is a measure of the stability of emotional support quality over the course of the school day. Consistent emotional support helps children anticipate the nature and frequency of teacher-child interactions, promotes social competence, and contributes to academic achievement (Curby, Brock, & Hamre, 2013). Fluctuations in teachers' provision of emotional support (i.e., less consistency) may leave children feeling insecure, disrupt the teacher-child relationship, and lead to more problem behaviors in the classroom (Brock & Curby, 2014). Teachers' emotional support consistency may be especially relevant for less adaptable children who are, by definition, sensitive to changes in the social environment. Although past research has demonstrated a link between children's temperament and school outcomes and, separately, a link between teachers' emotional support consistency and school outcomes, no prior work has considered the combined contributions of children's temperament and a consistent classroom environment to social skill and academic outcomes. The aim of the present study is to understand the role of children's adaptability in classrooms characterized by either high or low levels of emotional support consistency. At the age of 6 months, adaptability was rated by the infant's mother; observations of the classroom environment were conducted in third grade, and children's social and academic skills were directly assessed and rated by teachers.

ADAPTABILITY

Thomas and Chess (1977) first conceptualized adaptability as the extent to which a child responds to changes in the environment. Behavioral exemplars for low adaptability at age 6 months and age 10 years include "does not cooperate ... cries when left with sitter" and "does not adjust to new school or teacher," respectively (Thomas, Chess, & Birch, 1970). Behavioral exemplars for high adaptability include "smiles and babbles at strangers; plays with new toys immediately" and "likes new experiences ... learns enthusiastically" at age 6 months and age 10 years, respectively (Thomas et al., 1970). Nine temperamental traits were later collapsed into one of three temperamental types using a large longitudinal dataset: Representing about 40% of the population, the "easy" child was high in adaptability, generally displayed a positive mood, and was low in emotional reactivity; representing about 10% of the population, the "difficult" child was low in adaptability, displayed a negative mood, and was high in reactivity; and last, representing about 15% of the population, the "slow-to-warm-up" child was reticent around new adults or in new situations, was low in adaptability, displayed a negative mood, and was low in reactivity (Thomas et al. …

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