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Original Article
October 6, 2008

Predictive Validity and Early Predictors of Peer-Victimization Trajectories in Preschool

Author Affiliations

Author Affiliations: Department of Psychology, Center for the Prevention of Youth Behavior Problems, University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa (Dr Barker); Social, Genetic and Developmental Psychiatry Centre, Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London, London, England (Drs Barker and Arseneault); School of Psychology, Université Laval, Québec City, Québec, Canada (Drs Boivin and Fontaine and Ms Bissonnette); Department of Psychology, Université du Québec à Montréal, Montréal, Québec (Dr Brendgen); Department of Psychology, University College London, London, England (Dr Fontaine); School of Psycho-education (Dr Vitaro) and Departments of Pediatrics, Psychiatry, and Psychology (Dr Tremblay), Université de Montréal, Montréal; and International Laboratory for Child and Adolescent Mental Health Development, INSERM U669, Paris, France (Dr Tremblay).

Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2008;65(10):1185-1192. doi:10.1001/archpsyc.65.10.1185

Context  From the time of school entry, chronic levels of victimization by one's peers predict a multitude of psychiatric and physical health problems. However, developmental trajectories of peer victimization, from the time children first begin to socially interact, are not currently known nor are early familial or child predictors.

Objectives  To describe preschool trajectories of peer victimization, assess continuity of preschool victimization after school entry, and examine early child- and family-level predictors of preschool trajectories of victimization.

Design  A longitudinal, large-scale, multiple-informant, population-based study.

Setting  Québec Longitudinal Study of Child Development.

Participants  One thousand nine hundred seventy children (51% boys).

Main Outcome Measures  Developmental trajectories were described using mothers' reports of peer victimization at 4 times from 3⅓ to 6⅙ years of age. In first grade (mean age, 7.2 years), teacher and child reports of peer victimization were collected. Family-level predictors, mostly at age 17 months, included measurements of family adversity (insufficient income [when the infant was aged 5 months], single-parent family, low education, or teenaged mother) and harsh, reactive parenting. Child-level predictors at age 17 months were the mother's ratings of physical aggression, hyperactivity, and emotional problems.

Results  Three preschool trajectories of peer victimization were identified (low/increasing, moderate/increasing, and high/chronic). In first grade, children following high/chronic and moderate/increasing preschool trajectories were highest in teacher- and child-rated peer victimization. High levels of harsh, reactive parenting predicted high/chronic peer victimization over and above other child- and family-level variables. Insufficient parent income and child physical aggression predicted the high/chronic and moderate/increasing peer-victimization trajectories.

Conclusions  Early childhood preventive interventions should target parenting skills and child behaviors, particularly within families with insufficient income. Together, these risks confer a heightened likelihood for continued peer victimization as rated by mothers, teachers, and the children themselves.