Interacting adult-child relationships and school adjustment: Findings from Growing Up in Ireland

May 4, 2024

Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, Vol. 92, May–June 2024

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  • Children's parent and teacher relationships have comparable effects on primary school adjustment and achievement.
  • Teacher-child relationships do not moderate the effects of father-child relationships.
  • Exposure to conflictual mother and teacher relationships pose cumulative risk for children.
  • Exposure to a close relationship with either mothers or teachers provided sufficient protective effects for children.
  • Improving adult-child relationships and engaging both parents and teachers will benefit children's school outcomes.


Although children's relationships with their parents and teachers contribute to their school adjustment and achievement, few studies have examined interactions between these relationships, particularly for father-child relationships. Using the Growing Up in Ireland birth cohort (N = 7507, 50.3% male), we examined child-adult relationship quality – rated by parents at age 3 and by teachers at age 5 – as predictors of teacher-rated behavioural adjustment and academic achievement at age 9 (indexed by self-reported academic self-concepts and performance on formal reading assessments). Controlling for prior levels of problem behaviours, verbal ability, and family SES, our results indicated that children's relationships with parents and teachers showed small and comparable independent effects on school adjustment and achievement. For mothers and teachers, moderation analyses showed a cumulative risk pattern for conflictual relationships and a compensatory pattern for close relationships. Children are likely to benefit from improving closeness and reducing conflict in adult-child relationships as well as interventions that involve mothers, fathers, and teachers.