Preventing aggression

Educators rank aggression and lack of discipline as the biggest problems they face in school. In a recent issue of Elementary School Guidance and Counseling, Jeannine Studer, Heidelberg College, Tiffin, Ohio, addresses ways to prevent aggressive responses in children and adolescents.

Both biological and social factors produce aggressive individuals. Many of these factors are outside the control of educators — chemical levels in the body, violent and undisciplined families, and violence in the wider society that is reflected in the media. These multiple causes put many children at risk for aggressive behavior.

Typically, Studer reports, antisocial behavior follows a pattern that begins in early childhood and continues into adulthood. Children who exhibit a number of antisocial behaviors before age 9, as well as developmental and academic problems, display more aggressive tendencies as adults.

Studer describes several intervention strategies that have shown promising results, including anger control, assertiveness training, problem-solving training and conflict mediation. A combination of these strategies is recommended to reduce aggressive behavior in schools.

Hassle logs: Anger control can include the use of annoyance journals or “hassle logs” that students keep to help them recognize triggers that contribute to their anger. In addition, they can be taught to recognize physical responses to anger such as clenched fists, sweaty palms and fast heart rate. Deep breathing exercises or relaxation techniques can reduce these physical responses. Self-assessment is the third component of anger control. After exposure to conflict, students can be taught to monitor their progress, reward themselves for handling a situation well and determine how that situation could have been handled better.

Assertiveness training: teaches students to do something about problems. They learn that assertiveness can produce a win-win situation. A student can stand up for his/her rights in such a way that the rights of others are not disregarded. As little as 8 hours of assertiveness training has proved successful with disruptive, low-achieving 8th- and 9th-grade urban boys. Assertiveness training with elementary students has also proved highly effective. Role-playing situations helps students recognize and practice assertive responses.

Problem-solving training: emphasizes thinking processes instead of focusing on a right or wrong answer. The intention is to raise a student’s levels of understanding, empathy and problem-solving skills. Studer recommends that counselors, trained parents or teachers lead heterogeneous groups in discussions of age-appropriate problem situations that have no right or wrong answers. Understanding situations from different perspectives enhances a student’s level of reasoning and increases empathy as the problem is understood from others’ perspectives. Fifth-grade students who discussed real-life dilemmas with their peers were able to work more cooperatively on academic tasks.

Conflict mediation: involves using problem-solving strategies in a structured program in which critical thinking and self-discipline are part of the dispute-resolution process. The mediation process includes introducing the ground rules, gathering the facts in the dispute from all sides, developing a focus on common interests, describing a variety of solutions, evaluating these solutions and choosing one for which a written agreement is signed by all parties.

Studer also suggests that parents and counselors assist teachers and administrators in monitoring hallways and in serving as advocates for community programs that complement school-based programs. She concludes that these strategies used together can effectively reduce aggression in our schools.

“Understanding and Preventing Aggressive Responses in Youth” Elementary School Guidance and Counseling Volume 30, Number 3, February 1996 pp.194-203.

Published in ERN May/June 1996 Volume 9 Number 3

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