Holding a low social position among peers has been widely demonstrated to be associated with the development of depressive and aggressive symptoms in children. However, little is known about potential protective factors in this association. The present study examined whether increases in children’s prosocial behavior can buffer the association between their low social preference among peers and the development of depressive and aggressive symptoms in the first few school years. We followed 324 children over 1.5 years with three assessments across kindergarten and first grade elementary school. Children rated the (dis)likability of each of their classroom peers and teachers rated each child’s prosocial behavior, depressive and aggressive symptoms. Results showed that low social preference at the start of kindergarten predicted persistent low social preference at the start of first grade in elementary school, which in turn predicted increases in both depressive and aggressive symptoms at the end of first grade. However, the indirect pathways were moderated by change in prosocial behavior. Specifically, for children whose prosocial behavior increased during kindergarten, low social preference in first grade elementary school no longer predicted increases in depressive and aggressive symptoms. In contrast, for children whose prosocial behavior did not increase, their low social preference in first grade elementary school continued to predict increases in both depressive and aggressive symptoms. These results suggest that improving prosocial behavior in children with low social preference as early as kindergarten may reduce subsequent risk of developing depressive and aggressive symptom.
- Prosocial behavior
- Social preference