Longitudinal associations among teacher–child relationship quality, behavioral engagement, and academic achievement

Longfeng Li, Carlos Valiente, Nancy Eisenberg, Tracy L. Spinrad, Sarah K. Johns, Rebecca H. Berger, Marilyn S. Thompson, Jody Southworth, Armando A. Pina, Maciel M. Hernández, Diana E. Gal-Szabo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Informed by attachment theory and self-determination theory, the goal of this study was to test the hypothesis that behavioral engagement mediates the longitudinal associations between teacher–child relationship quality and academic achievement. In addition, in an exploratory manner, we expected to identify some additional transactional relations among these variables. Participants were 301 children (Mage = 65.72 months, SD = 4.18 months; 49% boys) and their teachers. In each spring semester from kindergarten to second grade, teachers reported on the closeness and conflict in the teacher–child relationship and on children's academic skills. Each year, trained observers rated children's behavioral engagement in the classroom, and a different group of research assistants assessed children's academic skills using subscales from the Woodcock–Johnson III Tests of Achievement. Cross–lagged panel models indicated that teacher–child conflict in kindergarten was indirectly related to teacher–reported academic skills in second grade through behavioral engagement in first grade. There was also evidence of transactional, negative relations between teacher–child conflict and behavioral engagement from kindergarten to first grade. These findings highlight behavioral engagement as a mechanism linking early teacher–child conflict and children's later academic skills.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)25-35
Number of pages11
JournalEarly Childhood Research Quarterly
StatePublished - Oct 1 2022


  • Academic skills
  • Early elementary school
  • School engagement
  • Teacher–child closeness
  • Teacher–child conflict

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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