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Data source and methodology

Data source
Analytical techniques
Variables in the analysis

Data source

The NLSCY, developed jointly by Human Resources Development Canada and Statistics Canada, is a longitudinal survey that follows the development of children in Canada and paints a picture of their lives over time. The survey monitors child development and measures the incidence of various factors that influence development, both positively and negatively.

The first cycle of the NLSCY, conducted in 1994-1995, interviewed parents of approximately 23,000 children up to and including age 11. They reported information not only about their children, but also about themselves and the children's families, schools and neighbourhoods. In the second and third cycles, parents of the same children were interviewed. The NLSCY will continue to collect information on these same children every two years as they move into youth and adulthood. Of the 23,000 selected respondents in 1994/95, approximately 16,900 children were eligible members of the longitudinal panel. The longitudinal sample analyzed in this study consists of approximately 6,700 children 6 to 11 years of age in 1998/99. The longitudinal data was weighted to represent approximately 2,186,600 Canadian children from the 10 provinces in this age group. The 1994/95-1998/99 longitudinal sample was used in this study instead of the cross-sectional 1998/99 sample because one of the central variables in the analysis, whether or not the child witnessed violence in the home, was derived by incorporating information collected across all three cycles of the NLSCY.

Analytical techniques

This analysis used a combination of bivariate and multivariate statistical techniques. The prevalence of exposure to violence in the home was estimated for children 6 to 11 years of age in Canada (Figure 1). Cross tabular analyses were conducted to see the bivariate relationships between exposure to violence and other important factors that may be related to child aggression (Table 1). Multivariate logistic regression models were then fitted to estimate the odds of childhood aggression among children exposed to violence in the home controlling for socio-demographic variables (age and sex of child, family status, and household income adequacy), social support factors (parental social support, neighbourhood cohesion, and religious attendance), parenting style, and child emotional problems (Table 2). Respondents who are missing data for any of the variables used in the logistic regression analysis are excluded. This reduced the sample size for analysis by 9.6% from approximately 6,700 to 6,060 children.

Longitudinal weights were used to account for unequal probabilities of sample selection including non-response due to sample attrition. To account for the complex sample design, the bootstrap technique was used to estimate coefficients of variation, confidence intervals and to test for statistical significance of differences (Rao et al., 1992; Rust and Rao, 1996).

Variables in the analysis

Measuring physical aggression in children
Factors that may influence physical aggression
Witnessing violence in the home
Parenting practices
Child emotional problems
Socio-demographic factors
Income Adequacy

Measuring physical aggression in children

The person most knowledgeable about the child, usually the mother, was asked a series of questions about the frequency with which his/her child engages in physical aggression such as fighting, bullying or threatening people. (Refer to Physical aggression scale items). These responses were combined to form a global scale for this type of behaviour which ranged from 0 (those with the lowest reported level of physical aggression) to 12 (those with the highest reported level of aggression). Children were classified as displaying a “high” level of physical aggression if they scored above the 80th percentile on the scale.

Physical aggression scale items

Parent respondents were asked of their child “How often would you say that he/she … (never or not true, sometimes or somewhat true, often or very true)”

  • Gets into many fights?
  • Physically attacks people?
  • Acts with anger and fighting?
  • Threatens people?
  • Is cruel, bullies or is mean to others?
  • Kicks, bites, hits other children?

Factors that may influence physical aggression

This study examines the relationships between certain conditions in the child’s life and aggressive behaviour. These conditions can be divided into five groups: exposure to violence in the home, parenting practices, social support, child emotional problems, and socio-demographic factors. In addition to examining the direct impact of these conditions on child aggression, the extent to which these conditions mediate or neutralize the negative effects of witnessing violence are explored.

Witnessing violence in the home

The extent of violence witnessed by children in the home was determined by asking the primary caregiver to indicate how often their child sees “adults or teenagers in the home physically fighting, hitting or otherwise trying to hurt others”. This question was asked of adult respondents at each of the three cycles (1994/95, 1996/97, 1998/99) and those children who were reported to have witnessed violence at anytime in the past were compared with those who did not witness violence in the home. It is important to highlight that this is an indicator of exposure to violence that may involve persons other than parents, such as older siblings and other adults in the home (for other difficulties in measuring exposure to violence in the home please refer to the “Limitations and future research” discussion at the end of this report).

Parenting practices

The importance of parenting practices on healthy child development has long been established. Results of previous studies have shown that harsh parental discipline is one of the best predictors of aggressive behaviour among children and adolescents and that poor parenting practices are strongly associated with a child’s escalation from minor aggression to violence (Loeber and Farrington, 2000; Loeber and Stouthamer-Loeber, 1986). In this analysis, parent and child interactions were assessed using the ineffective/hostile parenting scale. For this scale, parent respondents were asked seven questions about how they react to their child’s behaviour (i.e., how often they use inconsistent punishment, get annoyed and angry at the child, and speak of disapproval instead of praise). Item responses were summed and the resulting scale ranged from 0 (those with the lowest reported level of hostile parenting practices) to 24 (those with the highest reported level of hostile parenting practices).
Social support

In cases of family violence, social support has been found to be important for both parents and children. Parents who are trying to cope with the problem of violence in the home may not have the emotional resources to adequately assess their children’s needs, particularly if they are lacking a social support network of friends and other family members. For children, the availability of external support systems is also very important. Supportive relationships outside the immediate family can help to reinforce a child’s coping efforts, and may offer them an opportunity to disengage themselves from the conflict (Muller et al., 2000; Kolbo, 1996; Durant et al., 1994; Hetherington, 1992). In this study social support was measured through three concepts: religious attendance, neighbourhood cohesion and parental social support.

Religious attendance: is a dichotomous variable derived from the question “Other than on special occasions (such as weddings or funerals), how often did you attend religious services or meetings in the past 12 months?” The variable contrasts adult respondents who never or rarely attend services or meetings (“at least once a year” or less) with those who frequently attended (“at least once a week” to “at least 3 or 4 times a year”).

Neighbourhood cohesion : for this scale, adult respondents were asked five questions about people in their neighbourhoods. They were asked whether people in their neighbourhood are willing to help each other, deal with local problems, keep an eye open for possible trouble, watch out for the safety of neighbourhood children, and whether they are people that their children can look up to. Responses to these questions were combined resulting in a scale ranging from 0 (those reporting the lowest level of social cohesion) to 15 (those living in the most cohesive neighbourhoods).

Parental social support : this scale is based on six questions concerning parental access to social support, including whether they have family and friends that they can trust, talk to for advice, and count on for help. Item responses for the scale were combined with 0 representing the lowest level of parental social support and 18 representing the highest reported level of social support.

Child emotional problems

The emotional health of a child has been identified as an important protective mechanism for children who witness violence. According to a report of the American Psychological Association (1996) children who have high self-esteem and “psychological hardiness” are better able to cope with the experience of witnessing violence and are less likely to become violent themselves. In this study, the measure of child emotional health was derived from an 8-item emotional disorder and anxiety scale. For this scale, parent respondents were asked about the frequency with which their child appears to be unhappy, depressed, worried, nervous or anxious. Scores on this scale ranged from 0 to 16 and were highly skewed in the direction of few emotional problems. To address the problem of non-linearity in this variable, item responses were summed and a dichotomous variable was created in which the highest 20% (those with the highest level of emotional distress) were contrasted with the remaining 80% of children.

Socio-demographic factors

Four socio-demographic variables were also included in this analysis: whether the child lives in a single or dual parent family, the level of family income adequacy, and the sex and age of the child. Several studies have found that children living in single parent households have a higher likelihood of developing behaviour problems, as do children living in poverty (for example, see Tremblay et al., 1997; Loeber and LeBlanc, 1990). Single parents often have less time to devote to child supervision and disciplinary practices than parents in dual-parent families where they can share these responsibilities. Similarly, families living in poverty experience greater stress, and have fewer resources at their disposal to provide them with recreational and other activities that may help children integrate into peer groups (Sampson and Laub, 1993). In this study, a dichotomous variable was created to distinguish families headed by a single parent with two-parent families in 1998/99. To measure income adequacy, a dichotomous variable was derived which compared those with the lowest and lower-middle levels of income adequacy with those with middle, upper-middle and highest levels of income adequacy (Refer to Income adequacy).

Lastly, the sex and age of the child was included in the analysis to investigate whether the same factors are correlated with aggressive behaviour for boys and girls at different stages in their emotional and cognitive development.

Income adequacy

  • Lowest: Household income is less than $10,000 and household size is 1-4 persons; or household income is less than $15,000 and household size is 5 or more persons.
  • Lower-middle: Household income is $10,000-$14,999 and household size is 1-2 persons; or household income is $10,000-$19,999 and household size is 3-4 persons; or household income is $15,000-$29,999 and household size is 5 or more persons.
  • Middle: Household income is $15,000-$29,999 and household size is 1-2 persons; or household income is $20,000-$39,999 and household size is 3-4 persons; or household income is $30,000-$59,999 and household size is 5 or more persons.
  • Upper-middle: Household income is $30,000-$59,999 and household size is 1-2 persons; or household income is $40,000-$79,999 and household size is 3-4 persons; or household income is $60,000-$79,999 and household size is 5 or more persons.
  • Highest: Household income is $60,000 or more and household size is 1-2 persons; or household income is $80,000 or more and household size is 3 or more persons.
  • Source: National Longitudinal Survey of Children and Youth User’s Guide, 1994/95

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