Children’s responses to hypothetical provocation by peers: Coordination of assertive and aggressive strategies.


Children often respond to aggression by peers with assertive bids or aggressive retaliation. Little is known, however, about whether and how children coordinate these strategies across different types of provocation. The present study examined endorsement of aggressive and assertive responses to hypothetical physical, relational, and verbal provocation in a sample of lower-income children (N = 402, M age = 10.21, SD = 1.46). Latent-profile analysis revealed 3-class models for both aggression and assertion, each reflecting low, moderate, and high levels of endorsement. There was no association between children’s reported use of aggression and assertion. For example, children who endorsed high levels of aggression were equally likely to be classified as low, moderate, or high on assertive responding. For both assertion and aggression, parental ratings of children’s externalizing behavior and social skills differed across the low and high groups. No such differences were found between the low and moderate groups, despite the latter groups endorsing markedly higher levels of assertive and aggressive responses. This pattern of findings may be due, in part, to the situation specificity of children’s responding. Our findings hint at the complexity of children’s behavioral repertoires and contribute to a growing literature that suggests the need for intervention models that consider both social skills and social situations.