The Role of Caregiver Support in the Development of Adaptive Approaches to Learning for Preschoolers Who Exhibit Anxious-Withdrawal

Rosenthal, Krishtine, Clinical Psychology - Curry School of Education, University of Virginia
Downer, Jason, Curry School of Education, University of Virginia

One goal of preschool is to provide children with early learning experiences that develop school readiness skills that lay the groundwork for future academic success. Aside from pre-academic skills, such as numeracy and phonemic awareness, one readiness skill, approaches to learning (ATL), captures the way in which children go about the learning process. Adaptive ATL skills such as task persistence, creativity, curiosity, and independence are crucial for academic achievement as they undergird the learning process and enable children to competently engage with classroom tasks.

However, preschoolers who display high levels of anxious withdrawal (AW) in the preschool classroom often require more support than peers to develop adaptive ATL. They tend to require additional time to acclimate before engaging, display hypervigilance, and be wary of interacting with others for fear of judgment. While past research suggests a negative relationship between AW and ATL, less is understood about how AW may predict changes in ATL during preschool years, especially in the context of parents and teacher support environments. Further, little is known about the factors that help some children who display higher levels of AW to develop more adaptive ATL than others with similar dispositions. Hence, this study examined the contribution of teacher and parent support, defined as the combined level of demandingness and responsiveness, to changes in ATL over the school year by children exhibiting higher levels of AW.

A sample of 749 children who participated in the FACES 2009 study were followed in their first and second preschool year. ATL was evaluated in two contexts: the classroom, as reported by the teacher, and during a 1:1 testing situation, as rated by an assessor. Incoming levels of ATL were included as a predictor in order to measure residual change in ATL over the school year. AW was rated by the teacher. One moderating variable, parent support, was self-report, whereas the other moderator, teacher support, was directly observed within preschool classrooms. In order to examine how the relationship between AW, teacher support, and parent support predicts changes in ATL, and how it may look different between the first second preschool year, two sets of regression models were run for each research question, one for each preschool year. Further, for each year, one model was run with the teacher-rated (TR)-ATL as the outcome and the other with assessor-rated (AR)-ATL as the outcome.

Results from correlational analyses indicated that as hypothesized AW tended to be negatively related to ATL. Multilevel regression analyses suggested that change in ATL exhibited by children displaying high levels of AW was dependent upon complex relationships among parent and teacher support, which were inconsistent with differential susceptibility theory. Limitations of the study included a positively skewed AW variable and negatively skewed parent support variable, which may have impeded the ability to evaluate research questions in a sample displaying more marked vulnerability. Findings from the present study underscore the need for early identification of young children displaying moderate-high levels of AW in the classroom. Results also have direct implications for interventions offered to parents and teachers of young children exhibiting higher levels of AW that can foster expression of more adaptive ATL.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Anxious Withdrawal, Preschool, Parenting , Teacher Practices, Approaches to Learning, Shyness, Early Childhood
Issued Date: