Schools and Child Mental Health
We examine factors that promote the social, emotional and academic adjustment of children who are either anxious or disruptive in school.
Children who have difficulty in feeling empathy for others also often have difficulty in forming good relationships with teachers and peers, are uninterested in school and do not tend to achieve good grades.
We are currently investigating what teacher, child and peer factors either increase the risk of, or protect against, poor outcomes for these children. We are also investigating whether school-based interventions aimed at promoting good relationships between teachers and children are beneficial for these children.
Our research on anxiety in schools focuses on teacher-child interaction, and teacher and student characteristics, such as gender that may promote responses that are known to be helpful or unhelpful for anxious children. This has recently extended to an evaluation of the 'Study without Stress' programme for university students, with one of the programme’s developers, Professor Viviana Wuthrich.
Callous-unemotional traits, responses to teacher classroom management strategies, and academic outcomes
The aim of this project was to investigate the relationships between callous-unemotional (CU) traits, teacher classroom management strategies, teacher-child relationship quality, and academic outcomes in adolescence - a time when children begin to develop representations of themselves as a learner as well as academic competencies and motivation.
We aimed to enhance understanding about the relationships between these factors and their impact in mainstream classrooms.
We found that higher levels of CU traits predicted poorer performance in English, Maths and Science, with boys who have elevated CU traits at increased risk for low grades in Science (Bird et al., 2019).
Interviews with teachers indicated that Children with CU traits are less responsive to discipline and need to be ‘pushed’ more by teachers to engage with school work (Allen et al., 2018, Allen et al., 2016). However, some teachers indicated that they were able to form a positive relationship with these at-risk students; and that this relationship had benefits both for student behaviour and academic engagement.
Bird, E., Chhoa, C. Y., Midouhas, E., & Allen, J. L. (2019). Callous-Unemotional Traits and Academic Performance in Secondary School Students: Examining the Moderating Effect of Gender. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 47(10),1639–1650.
Allen, J. L., Bird, E., & Chhoa, C. Y. (2018). Bad Boys and Mean Girls: Callous-Unemotional Traits, Management of Disruptive Behaviour in School, the Teacher-Student Relationship and Academic Motivation. Frontiers in Education, Special Issue: Mental health and well-being of young people: Contributions from development psychopathology and educational effectiveness, 3, 108.
Allen, J. L., Morris, A., & Chhoa, C. Y. (2016). Callous-unemotional (CU) traits in adolescent boys and response to teacher reward and discipline strategies. Emotional and Behavioural Difficulties, 21(3), 329-342.
Teacher responses to child anxiety
In this project we developed a Teacher Response to Anxiety in Children (TRAC) questionnaire to assess teacher responses to anxiety, based on a cognitive-behavioural framework. This measure showed good reliability and validity in a sample of UK primary school teachers.
In a follow-up study we examined links between teacher responses, stress and child and teacher gender.There was no difference between male and female teachers’ use of autonomy-promoting responses for boys or girls (e.g., problem-solving). Female teachers were more likely to use responses known to exacerbate anxiety with boys than girls (e.g., sanctions); male teachers were more likely to reinforce anxious avoidance for boys than girls.
Teacher self-reported stress levels were unrelated to their use of autonomy-promoting or anxiety-promoting responses to children’s anxious behaviours.
Allen, J. L., & Lerman, R. (2018). Teacher Responses to Anxiety in Children Questionnaire (TRAC): Psychometric Properties and Relationship with Teaching Staff Characteristics. Emotional and Behavioural Difficulties, 23(2),154-168. doi: 10.1080/13632752.2017.1376974
Allen J.L. & Lerman, R. ‘Teacher Responses to Children’s Anxious Behaviours: Do they Vary as a Function of Child Gender, Teacher Characteristics or Teacher Stress?’ in a symposium titled: ‘Child Anxiety Disorders in Context’. International Society for the Study of Behavioural Development, Gold Coast, Australia, July, 2018.