The present article examined the development of relational aggression in middle childhood and the effects of observed teacher behavior on this development. Relying on social learning theory, we expected that teacher praise would slow down the increase of relational aggression, whereas teacher reprimands would promote the increase of relational aggression. A sample of 570 children (49% boys, Mage=7years and 5months, >95% Belgian) was followed from second to fourth grade. Teacher praise and reprimands were observed at the beginning of second grade. Child relational aggression was assessed using teacher and peer reports, collected at five points in time: at the beginning and end of the second grade, at the beginning and end of the third grade, and at the end of the fourth grade. Multilevel modeling showed that relational aggression generally increased from second to fourth grade. Moreover, when teachers displayed more praise, students' relational aggression increased at a slower rate; when teachers displayed more reprimands, students' relational aggression increased at a faster rate. Overall, the results stress the importance of supporting teachers to reduce reprimands and increase praise when interacting with children.
Keywords: Middle childhood; Normative beliefs; Praise; Relational aggression; Reprimands; Social learning theory; Teacher behavior.
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