Individual differences in the development of early peer aggression: integrating contributions of self-regulation, theory of mind, and parenting

Dev Psychopathol. 2011 Feb;23(1):253-66. doi: 10.1017/S0954579410000775.


This prospective longitudinal study focused on self-regulatory, social-cognitive, and parenting precursors of individual differences in children's peer-directed aggression at early school age. Participants were 199 3-year-old boys and girls who were reassessed following the transition to kindergarten (5.5-6 years). Peer aggression was assessed in preschool and school settings using naturalistic observations and teacher reports. Children's self-regulation abilities and theory of mind understanding were assessed during a laboratory visit, and parenting risk (corporal punishment and low warmth/responsiveness) was assessed using interview-based and questionnaire measures. Individual differences in children's peer aggression were moderately stable across the preschool to school transition. Preschool-age children who manifested high levels of aggressive peer interactions also showed lower levels of self-regulation and theory of mind understanding, and experienced higher levels of adverse parenting than others. Our main finding was that early corporal punishment was associated with increased levels of peer aggression across the transition from preschool to school, as was the interaction between low maternal emotional support and children's early delays in theory of mind understanding. These data highlight the need for family-directed preventive efforts during the early preschool years.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Bullying / psychology*
  • Child Rearing / psychology
  • Child, Preschool
  • Emotional Intelligence*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Individuality
  • Male
  • Parent-Child Relations
  • Parenting / psychology*
  • Peer Group
  • Prospective Studies
  • Psychological Tests
  • Punishment / psychology
  • Sex Factors
  • Social Perception
  • Theory of Mind*