Saturday, January 14, 2023
Phoenix C, 3rd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Background: About 250 children are suspended or expelled from preschool daily, with rates even higher for children of color and children with disabilities. Despite mounting evidence as to the harmful effects of school exclusion on children’s short and long-term outcomes, high rates of exclusionary discipline in preschools persists, serving as a barrier to student learning. Teacher stress has been implicated in preschool children’s expulsion risk. Strategies to regulate emotions and stress, including reappraisal (e.g., changing the way you’re thinking about a situation) and suppression (e.g., not expressing emotional responses) may influence teacher’s responses to challenging child behavior that precedes expulsion and shape the classroom climate. Emotion regulation strategies, in particular suppression, mediate the relationship between color-blind ideology and psychological inflexibility in regards to race, suggesting that such emotion regulation strategies may also play a role in racial biases that contribute to disparate expulsion rates. The current study examines whether emotion regulation strategies (reappraisal and suppression) moderate the relationship between child behaviors and expulsion risk to determine whether emotion regulation strategies could be an effective target of intervention to aid in expulsion prevention efforts. Methods: In the study, 44 preschool teachers (68% lead teachers and 32% assistant teachers) were recruited from six preschool programs in the Mountain West. Staff were enrolled in a randomized study of trauma-informed training; baseline (pre-training) data are used in the current study. Teachers completed a survey for four randomly selected students from their class that measured each child’s inhibitory control and expulsion risk and a survey of their own use of emotional regulation strategies. All models were run using the MPlus “TYPE = COMPLEX” and “CLUSTER” options to correct standard errors due to children being nested within classrooms. Results: In the main effects model, higher child inhibitory control predicted significantly lower expulsion risk for students (B = -.14, p = .024). Neither reappraisal (B = -.03, p = .644) or suppression (B = .05, p = .210) was significantly related to expulsion risk. In the moderation models, teachers’ use of suppression (B = -.10, p = .045) but not reappraisal (B = .07, p = .217) strategies moderated the relationship between child inhibitory control and expulsion risk; children with low inhibitory control had higher expulsion risk when their teacher endorsed more use of suppression strategies compared to when their teacher endorsed less use. In all models, higher student-teacher conflict and being male was related to higher expulsion risk, while race/ethnicity was not significantly related to expulsion risk. Conclusions: Many expulsion researchers have highlighted the role of teachers in the expulsion process and the need to understand what teacher-level factors increase a child’s risk of being expelled. Our study findings expand on prior findings by connecting suppression to a greater risk of expulsion among students with low inhibitory control. Social workers, particularly those positioned within school settings, are uniquely poised to identify and address the use of harmful teacher emotion regulation strategies within early childhood settings as a means to enhancing student learning and teaching excellence.