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Aggressive behaviour in at-risk children contribution of subjective well-being and family cohesion


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doi:10.1111/j.1365-2206.2011.00779.x

Aggressive behaviour in at-risk children: contribution of subjective well-being and family cohesion
cfs_779 284..295

Liat Hamama and Yael Arazi
Bob Shapell School of Social Work, Tel-Aviv University, Tel-Aviv, Israel Correspondence: Liat Hamama, Bob Shapell School of Social Work, Tel-Aviv University, Ramat Aviv 69970, Israel E-mail: hamama@post.tau.ac.il Keywords: aggressive behaviour, children, day centres, family cohesion, subjective well-being Accepted for publication: May 2011

A B S T R AC T We examined the contributors to aggressive behaviour in 111 at-risk Israeli children aged 9–13 years who attended day centres over several years to prevent removal from their homes. This nonnormative transition to a day centre represents a dif?cult period of change for these children, which often manifests in aggressive behaviours, at least in the short term. To elucidate predictors of aggressive behaviour, we investigated a familial variable (family cohesion) and a personal variable (subjective well-being [SWB]) that were previously shown to correlate with various aspects of children’s aggression. Children’s self-reports underscored the importance of SWB for their aggressive behaviour. SWB’s cognitive component – life satisfaction – correlated signi?cantly with all four measures of aggressive behaviour (physical violence, verbal violence, anger and hostility). SWB’s emotional component – negative affect – correlated signi?cantly with all but verbal violence. Interestingly, SWB was found to mediate the hostility dimension of aggression (as well as family cohesion). Other signi?cant ?ndings revealed that family cohesion correlated positively with SWB (life satisfaction and positive affect) and correlated negatively with aggression (physical violence, verbal violence, anger and hostility). Various explanations were discussed alongside implications for day care staff’s individual and family interventions.

INTRODUCTION A wide range of repetitive behavioural problems such as aggression may commonly appear among children in school, home or community contexts (Achenbach & Edelbrock 1981; Gifford-Smith & Brownell 2003). However, the frequency and intensity of aggressive behaviour tend to correlate with stressors such as transitional periods (Barnea & Dolev 1996). The current study explored individual and environmental contributors to aggressive behaviour in an at-risk population of Israeli children aged 9–13 years who attend special day centres aiming to prevent the children’s removal from their homes. As in other Western societies, parents are the major caregivers for the vast majority of Israeli children, and this non-normative transition to day centre care requires a dif?cult period

of adjustment, which often manifests in children’s aggressive behaviours, at least in the short term (Barnea & Dolev 1996). Research into aggression among children at these ages in this non-normative caregiving framework is particularly important because of the possible disruption to socialization processes as these children shift from parent-centred to peer-centred relationships (Ben Rabi & Hassin 2006). AG G R E S S I V E C O G N I T I O N S , E M OT I O N S A N D B E H AV I O U R Aggressive behaviour can be de?ned as comprising of three dimensions: (i) a cognitive dimension – hostility; (ii) an emotional dimension – anger; and (iii) a behavioural dimension – physical and verbal violence.

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Hostility involves people’s negative thoughts about others, towards themselves, and towards situations and events (Buss & Perry 1992; Anderson & Bushman 2002). These negative thoughts affect how individuals interpret situations and events. Bandura et al. (2001) found that children’s hostile thoughts contributed signi?cantly to increases in aggressive behaviour. Attribution of hostile intentions was shown to be a predictor of aggressive behaviour (Crick & Dodge 1994; Hubbard et al. 2001). Anger is described as an emotion responsible for survival, allowing one to ?ght for one’s existence and to respond to threats. Some researchers see anger as a social response with an important role in clarifying interpersonal problems, setting boundaries and taking positions (Averill 1993; Dahlen & Deffenbacher 2001). The ability to control anger and its expressions determines the extent to which children will react aggressively (Southam-Gerow & Kendall 2002; Hughes & Kendall 2009). Anger was shown to be a predictor of aggressive behaviour (Arsenio et al. 2000). Physical violence is the use of physical force against others to in?ict pain on them (Buss & Perry 1992). Verbal violence is the communication of a verbal message to others, with the purpose of causing them mental pain or hurting their standing or self-worth (Infante 1995). These three dimensions of aggressive behaviour are interlinked through thoughts, emotions and behaviours. Hostile thoughts lead to feelings of anger, which in turn convert into physical and/or verbal violence (Buss & Perry 1992; Zomer 2002). In other situations, feelings of anger may precede hostility and convert to physical or verbal violence (Graham et al. 1992). However, in some situations, hostility, anger and belligerence will appear independently without affecting one another (Buss 1961). To further elucidate the predictors of aggressive behaviour in the current study, we investigated a familial variable (family cohesion) and a personal variable (subjective well-being [SWB]) that were previously shown to correlate with children’s aggression. The study of these two variables in combination aimed to broaden the knowledge on how to decrease children’s aggression rates and also how to develop preventive programmes targeting children at risk who attend day centres over long periods of up to 4 years. Although this study was of a preliminary nature, examining only one group of participants using mostly correlational data, its ?ndings were expected to offer day centre staff some guidance in determining how

best to decrease disruptive behaviour: by enhancing children’s well-being or by enhancing family cohesion or both? FA M I LY C O H E S I O N Within the systemic approach towards family functioning (Moos & Moos 1994; Candice et al. 2004), the family’s levels of cohesion are considered a key factor with implications for family members’ interpersonal relations (Minuchin 1982; Kendall & Braswell 2003). Cohesion re?ects emotional bonds and intimacy between family members in daily life, and every individual’s unique role within the family’s set of relationships (Olson 1986). Within the circumplex model of families (Olson et al. 1979), family cohesion interrelates with family adaptability: families with wellbalanced cohesion allow each family member to develop and function adaptively. The present study measured only the cohesion dimension because it pertains more to daily life (whereas the adaptability dimension re?ects major life events). Previous studies reported associations between family cohesion and children’s behavioural problems (Blader 2006; Lopez et al. 2007; Valiente et al. 2007). Blader (2006) pinpointed two fundamental aspects of family cohesion associated with children’s behavioural problems: acceptance/rejection (love/hate) and autonomy/control (permissiveness/authoritativeness). Thus, a family atmosphere marked by rejection and control will foster children’s neuroses, low selfesteem, guilt feelings, low outward aggression and high inward aggression. Conversely, a family atmosphere of acceptance and autonomy predisposes children to be active, creative and independent. The current preliminary study sought to understand how these at-risk children attending day centres experience their family cohesiveness, with the aim of facilitating staff in decision-making regarding family counselling/ therapy to help families deal with children who exhibit aggressive behaviours. SUBJECTIVE WELL-BEING Research on aggression or behavioural problems also refers to their impact on SWB (Stevenson & Richman 1978; Brooks-Gunn et al. 1994). In the present study, we examined SWB from a different perspective – as a predictor of aggressive behaviour and in association with family cohesion. SWB refers to people’s overall appraisal about the quality of their internal experience and basic aspects

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of their life (social contacts, family contacts, daily activities, thoughts, self-esteem, patterns in handling stress and health) on a spectrum ranging from positive to negative.This appraisal is a function not only of the individual person but also of that person’s dynamics with the surroundings (Diener 1984; Argyle & Martin 1991; Shmotkin 1998). SWB has both an emotional component (affects) and a cognitive one (life satisfaction). The emotional component relates to daily-life experiences, involving spontaneous, experiential assessment of one’s positive and negative emotions – excitement, happiness, despondency, etc. – by comparing good feelings with bad ones (Bradburn 1969; Myers & Diener 1995). High SWB is marked by a high level of positive affect and a low level of negative affect (Bender 1997). The cognitive component pertains to a rational, intellectual evaluation of perceived global satisfaction with one’s general life conditions. The current preliminary study sought to understand how these at-risk children attending day centres experience SWB, with the aim of fostering staff’s decision-making regarding interventions to enhance children’s affect and life satisfaction, along with decrease in their aggressive behaviours. S T U DY D E S I G N Day centres in Israel are part of wider national family intervention programmes designed to avoid children’s removal from dysfunctional families, improve parental functioning and provide supportive treatment for children (Barnea & Dolev 1996). In Israel today, approximately 10 day centres are operational in a national model developed jointly by the Ministry of Welfare and by Ashalim, a non-pro?t organization helping Israeli children at risk (Ben Rabi & Hassin 2006). The day centre is a daily framework catering to children between the ages of 5 and 12, whose homes are deemed harmful to their welfare or healthy development, for reasons relating to the child, the parents or their mutual relationship. In most instances, these children suffer from neglect or rejection at home as well as from academic gaps and emotional de?ciencies at levels that are still rehabilitative. They are not at risk to an extent that justi?es their complete removal from their homes. The model entails arranging transport for children to the day centre every morning, where they are prepared and organized for school. After school, they return to the centre, where they are provided with educational, academic and therapeutic activities delivered indi-

vidually and in groups. In the evening, children return to their families. In addition, joint activities are held with parents and children together to focus on communication and relationship skills. Individual and group activities are also held for the parents alone to improve parenting skills. The ultimate goal of the treatment is for the day centre to facilitate the child’s full return home after a maximum of 3 years, if possible. We predicted the following hypotheses regarding these at-risk children’s self-reports: 1. Aggressive behaviour will correlate negatively with family cohesion – namely, children reporting higher family cohesion at home will exhibit less aggressive behaviour than children who report lower family cohesion. 2. Aggressive behaviour will correlate negatively with SWB – namely, children reporting a higher degree of well-being will exhibit less aggressive behaviour than children reporting lower well-being. 3. Family cohesion will correlate positively with SWB – namely, children reporting a higher level of family cohesion at home will exhibit a higher degree of SWB, compared with those reporting lower family cohesion. 4. Family cohesion and SWB will predict children’s aggressive behaviour.

METHOD Participants Participants were comprised of 111 Israeli children (50.5% boys and 49.5% girls) who regularly attended a day centre framework, aged 9–13 years (M = 11.8, standard deviation [SD] = 1.06; 25% was under age 10, 75% was 10 and up). (The day centre framework targets children aged 5–12, but a minority remains until age 13 because they repeat the same class twice or have special family situations.) All children were ?uent in Hebrew and received parental consent for participation. Regarding family status, 49 children were two-parent families, 59 children were divorced or separated and, in three families, one or both parents were deceased. Twenty-?ve per cent of the children was in their ?rst year at the day centre, 35% was in their second year and 40% was in their third year or longer.

Instruments Children completed ?ve self-report questionnaires.

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Demographics This questionnaire, compiled speci?cally for this study, covered demographics and family background: (i) participants’ age, sex, town of residence, country of birth, year immigrated to Israel (if not Israeli-born); (ii) parents’ marital status; and (iii) number of years at the day centre. Aggressive behaviour The 29-item Aggression Questionnaire (Buss & Perry 1992; Hebrew translation: Zomer 2002; utilized by Sharabani 2003) was devised to gauge children’s and adolescents’ self-assessment of the four dimensions of aggressive behaviour: (i) physical violence (e.g. ‘If I’m teased enough I might hit another child’); (ii) verbal violence (e.g. ‘When children annoy me I tell them what I think of them’); (iii) anger (e.g. ‘Sometimes I feel I’m about to explode’); and (iv) hostility (e.g. ‘I know that children talk about me behind my back’). Participants rated the degree to which items characterized them on a 6-point Likert-type scale ranging from De?nitely do not agree (1) to Fully agree (6). Separate scores were calculated for each of the four aggression dimensions (possible range: 29–174). According to Buss & Perry (1992), test–retest reliability was r = 0.80, and internal consistency was a = 0.89. Reliabilities (Cronbach’s a) in the present study were 0.84 for physical violence, 0.62 for verbal violence, 0.76 for anger and 0.85 for hostility. Family cohesion The 14-item family cohesion subscale of the Family Adaptability & Cohesion Evaluation Scales (FACES-3, Olson et al. 1985; Hebrew translation: Teichmann & Navon 1990) was utilized to evaluate families’ cohesion within the circumplex model. Participants rated the degree to which items like ‘family members support each other in dif?cult times’ characterized them on a 5-point Likert scale ranging from Almost never (1) to Almost always (5). Total scores ranged from 39 to 51. Internal consistency for this instrument was a = 0.86 in Teichmann & Navon (1990) and a = 0.80 in the present study. Subjective well-being Two tools allowed reference to the constituent cognitive and emotional components of subjective well-being.

Life satisfaction. The Student’s Life Satisfaction Scale (Huebner 1991) examined the degree of children’s satisfaction with their lives as re?ected in seven statements, ?ve positive (e.g. ‘I have a good life’) and two negative (e.g. ‘I would like to change many things in my life’). Participants rated the extent to which each statement was true for them on a 4-point scale ranging from Never/Untrue (1) to Nearly always/True (4). Total scores ranged from 7 to 28, with higher scores indicating greater life satisfaction. Reliability for this instrument was a = 0.82 in Huebner (1991) and a = 0.76 in the present study. Affects. The 30-item Positive and Negative Affect Schedule for Children (Watson et al. 1988; children’s adaptation: Laurent et al. 1999) measured the degree of negative and positive affects that participants experienced in the preceding month. Participants rated 15 positive affects (e.g. ‘strong’ and ‘full of life’) and 15 negative affects (e.g. ‘sad’ and ‘guilty’) on a 5-point scale ranging from Very little (1) to Very much (5). The total possible scores ranged from 30 to 150, with higher scores indicating higher positive or lower negative affects. Reliabilities were a = 0.89–0.90 for positive affect and a = 0.92–0.94 for negative affect in prior studies. In the present study, reliabilities were a = 0.82 for positive affect and a = 0.74 for negative affect. Procedure We obtained permissions from the national inspectorate of the Department of Child and Adolescent Services at the Ministry of Welfare and from the district inspectors and directors of ?ve day centres throughout the country. Then we sent a written, personal appeal through each day centre’s social services staff to the families of all children in these centres who met our criteria (Hebrew speakers aged 5+ years), comprising 133 children. Of these, 12 families declined to allow their children to participate, explaining that they had little con?dence in the day centre. Of the remaining 121 children with parental consent, three declined and seven stopped completing the questionnaires in the middle. Thus, the ?nal sample was comprised of 111 children. No signi?cant differences emerged on any of the child or parent demographic variables between ?ve different day centres. The second researcher individually administered the questionnaires in random order in a quiet room in the day centre and helped read the questionnaire for

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those children with reading dif?culties (n = 47). No signi?cant differences emerged on any of the study variables between these 47 children and the remainder of the sample. Assurances of anonymity and con?dentiality were given to all children.

Hypothesized correlations Our ?rst hypothesis, that aggressive behaviour would correlate negatively with family cohesion, was fully supported. Signi?cant negative Pearson correlations emerged between family cohesion and all four dimensions of aggressive behaviour (see Table 1). Our second hypothesis, that aggressive behaviour would correlate negatively with subjective well-being, was partially supported. Regarding the life satisfaction (cognitive) component of SWB, signi?cant negative Pearson correlations emerged with two of the four dimensions of aggressive behaviour, anger and hostility, but not with physical or verbal violence (see Table 1). Regarding the emotional component of SWB, no signi?cant associations emerged between positive affect and any of the four dimensions of aggressive behaviour, but negative affect revealed signi?cant associations in the expected direction (positive Pearson correlations) with three of the four dimensions: physical violence, anger and hostility (see Table 1). Our third hypothesis, that family cohesion would correlate positively with SWB, was also substantially supported. Two of the three measures of SWB – general life satisfaction and positive affect – revealed positive signi?cant Pearson correlations with family cohesion. No signi?cant correlation emerged between family cohesion and negative affect. Family cohesion and SWB as predictors of aggressive behaviour In light of the literature suggesting that physical violence, verbal violence and anger are of comparatively short duration, whereas hostility tends to be more long lived (Berkowitz 1993), the fourth hypothesis was tested by means of two hierarchical regression analyses: one for physical violence, verbal violence and anger together, and one for hostility separately. The predicting variables were entered in four steps: (i) two demographic variables that showed some associations with the study variables: age and years of day centre attendance; (ii) family cohesion; (iii) the three measures of SWB (life satisfaction, negative affect and positive affect); and (iv) the interactions between various variables. In the ?rst three steps, the entry of variables into the regression was forced, whereas in step iv, the interactions entered according to their degree of signi?cance (P < 0.05). Table 2 presents the coef?cients of the hierarchical regression explaining the variance in the three

R E S U LT S Descriptive statistics Regarding aggression, participants reported a comparatively high level of disturbance: (i) hostility: M = 3.3 (SD = 1.21); (ii) anger: M = 3.5 (SD = 1.10); (iii) physical violence: M = 3.6 (SD = 1.19); and (iv) verbal violence: M = 3.9 (SD = 1.07). Verbal violence was reported as most common and hostility as least common, on average. Regarding family cohesion, participants rated their families as moderately cohesive (M = 3.6, SD = 71). Regarding subjective well-being, children reported a moderate to high degree of satisfaction with their lives (M = 2.9), with a low SD (0.62) denoting a low scattering of replies, and a high degree of positive emotions (M = 55.2, SD = 9.71) compared with negative ones (M = 30.7, SD = 10.31).

Demographics and study variables No signi?cant differences emerged regarding children’s sex or age for any of the study variables. Regarding day centre attendance duration, children were divided into three groups (1, 2 or 3+ years at the centre) in line with practical experience, indicating that ?rst-year children are still adjusting to the centre, second-year children are comfortable with its routines and rules and third-year children and beyond are familiar and adjusted to the day centre programmes. The analysis of variance between the three groups revealed two signi?cant differences: in the life satisfaction component of SWB and in the hostility dimension of aggressive behaviour. Using post hoc Scheffe tests, we found that second-year attendees reported a higher general life satisfaction than the other two groups. In addition, ?rst-year attendees exhibited the highest degree of hostility, followed by those in their third year or higher, and second-year attendees reported the lowest degree of hostility. Regarding marital status, in a t-test analysis of unpaired samples, no signi?cant differences emerged between two-parent families and the other families (divorced, separated or deceased) with regard to any of the study variables.

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measures of aggressive behaviour tested together as a combined variable (physical violence, verbal violence and anger).The total percentage of variance explained by aggression was 27%. In step 1, the demographic variables (age and years of day centre attendance) did not signi?cantly contribute to explaining the variance. In step 2, the family cohesion measure contributed 14% of the explained variance, with the negative signi?cant b coef?cient indicating that higher family cohesion predicted lower aggressive behaviour. In step 3, the three measures of SWB added 7% to the explained variance. The b coef?cients revealed that only the negative affect measure signi?cantly (positively) predicted aggressive behaviour. In step 4, the age ? negative affect interaction added 4% to the explained variance. To clarify this interaction, participants were divided into two age groups according to their median age (12.5 years), and the correlation was calculated separately for each age group between the negative affect and the combined aggression measure. Findings showed a signi?cant positive correlation in the younger group, r = 0.43, P < 0.0001, whereas the older group showed a low, nonsigni?cant correlation, P > 0.05. In other words, among the younger children only, higher reported negative affect predicted more aggressive behaviour in the form of physical violence, verbal violence and anger. In summary, the regression analysis for the combined aggression variable (physical and verbal violence and anger) partially supported the fourth hypothesis: higher family cohesion predicted lower aggressive behaviour, and only the negative affect measure signi?cantly (positively) predicted aggressive behaviour. Table 3 presents the coef?cients of the hierarchical regression explaining the variance in the measure of hostility.The percentage of variance explained by hostility was 32%. In step 1, the demographic variables (age and years of day centre attendance) did not signi?cantly contribute to explaining the variance. In step 2, the family cohesion measure contributed 8% to the explained variance, with the negative signi?cant b coef?cient indicating that higher family cohesion predicted lower hostility. In step 3, the three measures of SWB added 18% to the explained variance. The entry of these measures led to a reduction in the b coef?cient of the cohesion variable – suggesting that these SWB measures mediated cohesion and hostility. To test this, we applied a Sobel test, which con?rmed that both satisfaction with life (P < 0.01, z = 2.54) and negative affect (P < 0.05, z = 1.99) mediated cohesion and hostility (see explanation of this later).

Negative affect

Subjective well-being

Positive affect

Life satisfaction

Family cohesion

Hostility

Aggressive behaviour

Verbal violence

Table 1 Pearson correlation analysis of the study variables (n = 111)

Physical violence

Physical violence Verbal violence Anger Hostility

Life satisfaction Positive affect Negative affect Family cohesion Subjective well-being

– 0.64*** 0.64*** 0.31*** -0.32*** -0.16 -0.06 0.24* *P < 0.05, **P < 0.01, ***P < 0.001. Aggressive behaviour

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Variable

– 0.58*** 0.34*** -0.28** -0.07 0.00 0.18

– 0.54*** -0.30** -0.23* -0.03 0.28*

Anger

– -0.29** -0.44*** -0.15 0.35***

– 0.31*** 0.30** -0.18

– 0.34*** -0.34**

– -0.15



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Aggression, well-being and family cohesion L Hamama and Y Arazi

Table 2 Hierarchical regression coef?cients (b) to explain variance in the combined aggression variable (n = 111)
Step 1 Predictor Age Attendance duration Family cohesion Life satisfaction Negative affect Positive affect Age ? negative affect R2 DR2 t 0.82 -0.03 b 0.08 0.00 t 1.07 0.22 -3.96 2 b 0.10 0.02 -0.37*** t 1.65 -0.31 -3.14 -1.27 2.17 1.31 3 b 0.16 -0.03 -0.31** -0.14 0.22* 0.13 0.22*** 0.07* t 1.53 -0.77 -2.86 -1.19 2.85 1.55 -2.49 4 b 0.14 -0.07 -0.27** -0.13 0.29** 0.15 -0.23* 0.27*** 0.05*

0.01 0.01

0.15** 0.14***

*P < 0.05, **P < 0.01, ***P < 0.001.

Table 3 Hierarchical regression coef?cients (b) to explain variance in hostility (n = 111)
Step 1 Predictor Age Attendance duration Family cohesion Life satisfaction Negative affect Positive affect Attendance ? life satisfaction R2 DR2 t -0.95 0.32 b -0.10 -0.03 t -0.84 -0.14 -2.97 2 b -0.08 -0.01 -0.28** t 0.29 -1.24 -1.41 -3.58 2.23 0.52 3 b 0.03 -0.11 -0.13 -0.38*** 0.21* 0.05 0.27*** 0.18*** t 0.81 -2.10 -1.56 -3.61 2.15 -0.02 -2.80 4 b 0.07 -0.19* -0.14 -0.37*** 0.20* -0.00 -0.26** 0.32*** 0.05**

0.01 0.01

0.09* 0.08**

*P < 0.05, **P < 0.01, ***P < 0.001.

In step 4, the attendance ? life satisfaction interaction added 5% to the explained variance. To clarify this interaction, participants were divided into two groups according to their median years of day centre attendance (2.5 years), and the correlation was calculated separately for each attendance group between life satisfaction and hostility. Findings showed signi?cant negative correlations in both groups; however, it was higher among more veteran day centre attendees (r = -0.61, P < 0.001) than among comparatively newer attendees (r = -0.31, P < 0.05). Thus, among more veteran attendees, higher life satisfaction correlated with lower hostility. In summary, the regression analysis for hostility partially supported our fourth study hypothesis:

higher family cohesion predicted lower hostility, and both life satisfaction and negative affect mediated cohesion and hostility. DISCUSSION This preliminary study is focused on understanding the contribution of family cohesion and SWB to aggressive behaviour in at-risk Israeli children aged 9–13 years who attend day centres to prevent removal from their homes. Findings underscored the importance of SWB with regard to these children’s aggressive behaviour.Well-being’s cognitive component – life satisfaction – was signi?cantly associated with all four measures of aggressive behaviour (physical violence,

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verbal violence, anger and hostility) and was a mediator variable in predicting hostility. Well-being’s emotional component – negative affect – was associated with three of the aggression dimensions (all except verbal violence) and was also a mediator variable in predicting hostility. According to Cochba (2007), the distinction between the emotional and the cognitive components of SWB is important: the cognitive component (life satisfaction) tends to be more stable in a variety of situations and over a longer period (Diener & Larson 1984; Eid & Diener 1999) compared with the emotional component. It represents a summary of life circumstances over a period and is less affected by immediate events, whereas the emotional component tends to be governed by recent events, and is more susceptible to abrupt swings (Bradburn 1969).

Family cohesion and children’s aggression The negative associations that emerged between family cohesion and all four dimensions of aggressive behaviour in the current study, in line with our expectations, especially for physical violence, corroborated prior research (Biederman et al. 2001; Yahav 2002). Two possible developmental channels for children’s aggressive behaviour vis-à-vis the family have been proposed in the literature. Family dysfunction may be a risk factor leading to behavioural problems or aggression in children (Dremen & Ronen-Eliav 1997), or the coping strategies involved in raising a child with behavioural symptoms like aggression may result in signi?cant disturbances in the family’s functioning (Biederman et al. 2001). The former channel suggests that when children experience violent or defective communication between other family members and towards them, they internalize this pattern and express it emotionally, cognitively and behaviourally in their dealings with their surroundings outside the home. The latter channel suggests a ‘family aggression cycle’ (Patterson 1982), where parents of children with signi?cant behavioural problems ?nd it dif?cult to develop bene?cial contacts with their child and maintain a positive family atmosphere. Instead, unreasonable behaviour on children’s part elicits considerable use of punishments, and both parents and children learn to use negative behaviours to control each other. The child behaves with violence and aggression; the parent tries to set boundaries, despairs and gives up – thus reinforcing the aggressive behaviour – and feels ineffective in controlling the child. Thus, aggression becomes a communication style characterizing many interactions between family members, and the family cohesion plummets (Mayer & Salovey 1997; Blumquist 2005). SWB and aggression Some signi?cant associations emerged between children’s SWB and their aggression. These ?ndings substantiate previous research outcomes where people who experienced negative feelings and low life satisfaction tended to be more aggressive (Berkowitz 1993; Verona et al. 2002; Shmotkin 2005). In terms of various components of SWB (Diener et al. 1995; Bandura 1997; Ullman & Tetter 1999) and the various dimensions of aggressive behaviour (Buss & Perry 1992), it appears that the cognitive components of SWB (life satisfaction) correlated only with the cognitive (hostility) and emotional (anger) dimensions of

SWB as a mediating variable One ?nding of particular interest was that two components of SWB (negative affect and life satisfaction) mediated the association between family cohesion and children’s hostility levels. Hostility is de?ned as an explicit or implicit cognitive response that includes negative assessments of impulses, people and events, which in turn constitute the main reason for aggressive behaviour (Bandura et al. 2001). Crick & Dodge (1994) referred to this cognitive process as one of information processing involving ?ve stages: coding, interpreting, searching for response, decision-making and action. In children, information coding was shown to associate signi?cantly with aggressive behaviour (Dodge & Somberg 1987). Thus, in the current sample of children, those who coded and interpreted their family atmosphere as negative may have perceived their lives to be less satisfying and may have experienced negative feelings, which both engendered hostility. Moreover, researchers found that when people experience negative feelings and low life satisfaction, they tend to be more aggressive (Berkowitz 1993; Verona et al. 2002; Shmotkin 2005). Arguably, therefore, children who believe the atmosphere at home to be less cohesive will report lower life satisfaction and higher negative affect, which in turn will precipitate negative thoughts towards people and events in their lives – or, in a word, hostility. It is therefore conceivable that high life satisfaction and low negative affect are resources that help children cope with events and situations, and that when they are present low levels of hostility will be observable.

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aggression, not with the behavioural ones (physical and verbal violence). In contrast, negative affect (one of the emotional components of SWB) correlated with all three aggression dimensions: cognitive (hostility), emotional (anger) and behavioural (physical violence). This ?nding reinforces the notion that aggressive behaviour is occasionally a mirror of children’s emotional state (Coie et al. 1996; Gifford-Smith & Brownell 2003). The fact that positive affect (the other emotional component of SWB) did not demonstrate signi?cant links with aggression may conceivably be related to Bradburn’s (1969) claim about the two sets of needs that people have: one concerning positive feelings such as satisfaction and growth, and the other centring on avoiding unpleasant emotions and situations. These two sets are conceived as functioning separately, with each measured on their own independent axis. Hence, the absence of positive feelings need not necessarily indicate the presence of negative feelings – or vice versa. With regard to the lack of associations between life satisfaction and the behavioural aggression dimensions – physical and verbal violence – it is likely that the abstract nature of life satisfaction is inherently dif?cult to link to variables of a quintessentially behavioural nature, such as physical or verbal violence. Another possible explanation may be the behavioural targets underlying the day centres’ educational or treatment programmes based on a system of rewards and punishments (Waisbrod 2007). Thus, these programmes may impact the behavioural dimension of aggressive behaviour, rather than its cognitive one (hostility), which was found in the Pearson and regression analyses to be associated with life satisfaction (the cognitive component of SWB). Family cohesion and SWB Our ?nding that higher reported family cohesion associated signi?cantly with better life satisfaction and stronger positive affect supported previous studies (Ben-Zur 2000; Joronen & Astedt-Kurki 2005; Antaramian et al. 2008), which found that a positive family atmosphere – as evident in appropriate and qualitative bonds between family members – contributes directly to members’ sense of SWB, contentment and general life satisfaction. The ?nding that family cohesion was not associated with negative affect once again underscores that each of these emotional components should be treated separately, as discussed earlier.

Demographics and study variables Age The regression analyses revealed that younger children who reported stronger negative affects exhibited more aggression (physical and verbal violence and anger), thus supporting previous research showing that behavioural disturbances decline as children develop (Achenbach & Edelbrock 1981; GiffordSmith & Brownell 2003).Younger children’s tendency to resort to aggressive behaviour may be related to their greater dif?culty in emotional regulation. Several researchers (e.g. Eisenberg et al. 1996; SouthamGerow & Kendall 2002) purported that aggressive behaviour is related to children’s emotional development, speci?cally, the capacity to control and regulate emotions, which presupposes the ability to identify, understand and express them. Eisenberg et al.’s (1996) study of elementary school children found that children who were better able to regulate and manage their emotions exhibited less aggressive behaviour. Duration of day centre attendance The increase in life satisfaction from ?rst-year to second-year students, found both in the current study and in Gilman & Handwerk (2001), makes sense in terms of the greater challenges and adjustments facing new attendees, which include separation from their family unit and becoming accepted at the centre (Yaffe 1982). However, the drop in third-year students found here, which differs from Gilman & Handwerk’s ?ndings, calls for further study. If the current outcomes are validated, this lower life satisfaction among veteran attendees may be attributable to these children’s prolonged placement at the centre. After 3 or more years, children may see their long-term attendance as an indicator of the intractableness of the family’s problems, reducing children’s SWB. Other differences concerning the number of years of day centre attendance emerged in relation to only one dimension of aggressive behaviour: hostility. Previous studies examining the associations between duration of attendance in a framework outside the home and attendees’ emotional and behavioural indices produced con?icting ?ndings. Zemach-Marom et al. (2002) revealed that children who attended a day centre framework for 2 years or less tended to exhibit more behavioural problems than those who had been attending for over 2 years. Conversely, other studies (Mosek 1993; He?inger &

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Northrup 2000) found a negative association or none at all between length of attendance and children’s emotional and behavioural states. Further studies are needed to elucidate these associations. Study implications The current preliminary ?ndings regarding changes along the duration of day centre attendance may contribute to the development of modular intervention programmes. As noted previously, children in their ?rst year of day centre attendance reported lower life satisfaction than those in their second year. Thus, the ?rst year of attendance might be devoted to improving children’s sense of subjective well-being through ongoing surveys of their needs and wants, reinforcements of their positive feelings and self-image and advancement of their academic and social functionality. The second and third years might be devoted to working with the family, increasing parents’ awareness of their children’s emotional needs and enhancing parenting skills, thus helping to improve the family atmosphere. Future studies should also investigate the effectiveness of the interventions currently existing in the day centre for reducing aggressive behaviours to identify possible impacts on children’s sense of subjective well-being. Study limitations Several methodological limitations deserve consideration. First, this study relied on children’s self-reports, which offer the optimal window into children’s subjective thoughts and feelings, but additional information sources could be added regarding children’s external behaviours and family variables to address possible social bias – namely, children’s reluctance to report low family cohesion and/or high levels of aggression. Therefore, future studies could incorporate parent, teacher or peer reports as well as direct observations. Second, the procedure whereby the examiner read questions aloud to children who had reading dif?culties may have compromised respondents’ anonymity, reducing the reliability of their replies.Thus, future researchers should consider using audiotaped question administration to maintain the respondents’ anonymity. Third, the current measure of aggression did not specify whether the aggressive behaviours took place in the home, day centre or school. This might be important information in light of the speculated relations found between the variables. Fourth, although environment may be a main

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