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Perceived and actual competence among maltreated and comparison school children

  • Joan Vondra (a1), Douglas Barnett (a1) and Dante Cicchetti (a1)
  • DOI:
  • Published online: 31 October 2008

This research examined the impact of child maltreatment and grade level on perceptions of competence and explored relations between perceived competence and school functioning among a sample of 104 low-income school children, half of whom belonged to families in which child maltreatment had been officially documented. Data were collected on 76 first through third graders and 28 fourth through sixth graders, who were interviewed in a laboratory setting, and on a subset of 74 children, who were evaluated by their teachers on measures of school functioning. Results indicated that maltreated children perceive themselves and/or describe themselves differently than do their low-income peers. However, these differences took the expected negative direction only beginning around the middle of the elementary school years. In earlier grades, maltreated children demonstrated a tendency to describe themselves in exaggerated positive terms, over and above the self-enhancement bias documented here and in other research among younger nonmaltreated children. Differences between maltreated and comparison children also appeared in teachers' ratings of school functioning and in use of special educational services. These results are presented and discussed as suggestive evidence for a causal chain from parent-child relationships, to self-perceptions, to school functioning.

Corresponding author
Address correspondence to: Joan Vondra, Ph.D., Department of Psychology in Education, University of Pittsburgh, 5C01 Forbes Quadrangle, Pittsburgh, PA 15260
Address correspondence to: Dante Cicchetti, Ph.D., Department of Psychology, Director, Mt. Hope Family Center, University of Rocheser, 187 Edinburgh Street, Rochester, NY 14608.
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Development and Psychopathology
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