Hammarberg, A. 2003. Pre-school Teachers’ Perceived Control and Problem Behaviours in Children. Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis. Comprehensive Summaries of Uppsala Dissertations from the Faculty of Social Sciences 123. 56 pp. Uppsala, ISBN 91-554-5544-1

In this thesis, pre-school teachers’ perceived control, is examined in relation to problem behaviours of children and the actions of teachers in the classroom. In addition, other factors that are thought to relate to teachers’ perceived control were studied.

The results of Study I indicate that pre-school teachers’ high perceived control was related to high intentions to act in the event of child behaviour problems. Teachers’ high satisfaction with their work was also related to high perceived control. Study II showed that low perceived control was associated with having a high proportion of children with a high level of externalising behaviours and of boys in the classroom. Study III shows that children who had a high level of externalising behaviours at the beginning and throughout the school year had teachers with low perceived control. Teachers’ perceived control was not related to their perception of internalising behaviours in the same way as to externalising behaviours and it was unrelated to a change in any direction of problem behaviours. Concerning changes in problem behaviours, no other factor was found, except a low child to adult ratio for a positive change of internalising behaviours. In Study IV, the aim was to examine naturally occurring child–teacher interactions. Teachers’ responding with commands to children was associated with teachers’ low perceived control, whereas restrictive teacher responses were not related to teachers’ perceived control.

The present study indicates that teachers’ perceptions of children are important for their perceived control. It provides evidence that teachers’ low perceived control is associated with their difficulties in handling externalising behaviours and the behaviour of the boys in the classroom. Responding to problem behaviours can be explained by teachers’ perceived control, and their perception of a child’s sex and externalising behaviours.


For most children, being a member of a group of children means positive experiences, peers to play with, and participation in stimulating activities. However, children do not always enjoy their situation and sometimes they may develop adaptation problems in a group of children. Some children might have low thresholds for stress, such as noise, and some might have a frequent need for interaction with adults. Other children might have difficulties in fitting to imposed structures and conform to the authority of adults, and they may also have difficulties in relating to teachers and peers (e.g., Egeland, Kalkoske, Gottesman, & Erickson, 1990).

Sometimes children are seen to express problem behaviours that have become troublesome for themselves and their surrounding. Children’s development might be compromised by behaviour problems. Children who exhibit behaviour problems in the lower grades might be subjects to adverse effects (Cunningham & Sugawara, 1988; Olson, 1992), including negative effects on learning and being rejected by peers (Hovland, Smaby, & Maddux, 1996; Pattersson, DeBaryshe, & Ramsey, 1989). There is also a risk for these children to follow a developmental path that leads to depressed mood and/or antisocial tendencies (e.g., Pattersson et al., 1989).

However, problem behaviours are not only detrimental for the child but can also have negative consequences for teachers (Brophy & Rohrkemper, 1981; Safran & Safran, 1985). Such negative consequences might include an excessive consumption of the teacher’s time and energy, negative emotional involvement, and undermining of the teacher’s feelings of competence and personal control (Cunningham & Sugawara, 1988). Many children take part in child care for an extensive part of the day; therefore, preschool teachers have a vital part to play in the management of these problems (Chazan, Laing, Jones, Harper, & Bolton, 1983).