|The purpose of this study was to examine the link between children’s mutual dislike relationships and subsequent behavior problems. Mutual disliking and peer rejection were assessed among children in kindergarten and first grade, with adjustment assessed in kindergarten (as controls) and second grade (as outcomes). Enemies’ level of group liking and child sex were assessed in terms of moderating the relation between mutual dislike and subsequent behavior problems. Of interest was whether mutual disliking would predict later
externalizing and internalizing behavior problems after controlling for initial levels of behavior difficulties and peer rejection, and whether these predictive links would be stronger when enemies were well-liked versus not well-liked by classroom peers.
The data for this study were drawn from an ongoing longitudinal project. Sociometric interviews were conducted in kindergarten and first grade classrooms and were used to compute mutual dislike, peer rejection, and enemies’ level of liking scores. Externalizing and internalizing behavior problems were measured with teacher ratings in kindergarten second grade. Complete data were available for 505 children.
The findings show that mutual dislike, operationalized as reciprocated low-liking, is predictive of subsequent behavior problems, independently of prior problems and co-occurring peer rejection. Links between mutual disliking and externalizing problems were stronger for boys than for girls, and links between mutual disliking and subsequent internalizing problems were stronger when enemies were well-liked by the peer group than when enemies were not well-like by the peer group. Overall, these findings suggest that mutual disliking may reflect an important aspect of children’s peer experience.