Aggression refers to an unprovoked attempt to hurt another person, either physically by hitting, biting, kicking, pushing, or throwing an object; or emotionally by name-calling, teasing, dominating, threatening, or arguing. Children who persistently use aggression in relating to peers usually are impulsive, irritable, action-oriented, have problems putting their feelings into words, and have difficulty accepting criticism or frustration. Aggressive behaviors may arise for several reasons: children’s reaction to frustration; their culture’s accepted way of handling disagreement; they learn it from other people; a father who is seldom home; society’s glamorization of the macho image; a need for attention; their way of getting back at someone; a desire to look tough.
- Provide children with outlets for physical exercise. Contact sports such as, rugby, football, as well as punching bags and Bo-Bo dolls are acceptable ways for children to release aggressive, competitive impulses.
- Have a strong social skills curriculum in your class teaching children how to solve problems, negotiate differences, and identify their feelings. Children often resort to fighting because they have not learned other ways of resolving disagreements.
- Discuss and role-play the differences between aggressive and assertive approaches to handling confrontations. Being assertive means stating your feelings and sticking up for your rights in a reasonable way–without using your hands and feet, and without hurting anybody else’s feelings. There are also good and bad ways of being assertive. How children make requests influences whether people do what they ask them to. For instance, you would probably respond better to a child saying, “I was disappointed that you didn’t let me pick my prize before lunch, but I know you were quite busy. Can I pick one now?” than a child saying, “Thanks a lot! I wanted to play with my prize during lunchtime, but you wouldn’t let me pick one. The least you can do is let me pick one now.”
- Teach children how to respect the rights of others. With younger children especially, many fights are provoked because one child takes something which belongs to another child.
- A number of studies have shown that children who watch violent TV shows act more aggressively than those who don’t. Many parents have interpreted this information as, “I should not let my child watch violence on TV.” I feel, on the other hand, violence on TV can be educational for children. It inspires discussion on a number of issues: (a) does the bad guy ever win? (b) does aggression solve anything? (c) do nice people punch, kick, or shoot other people? (d) how do nice people solve problems? and (e) is somebody getting shot on TV or in a comic book the same as somebody getting shot in the newspaper? A carefully guided discussion on these topics can help children realize the self-defeating nature of violence, and the difference between acting on TV and what happens in real-life.
- Encourage altruistic behavior in children. The more concern children have for other people, the less inclined they will be to hurt them. Volunteer activities children can help out in are collecting food for food banks, carwashes, ticket sales, and visiting elderly people.
- Promote a cooperative rather than competitive feeling in your classroom. Competition can induce aggression in children.
- Set aside 10 minutes every day for children to tell the class about one other child who was friendly to them that day. Those children named can receive a happy-face sticker, as well as praise from you and the peer. This strategy has proven successful in increasing cooperative and decreasing aggressive behavior in children (Grieger, Kauffman, & Grieger, 1976).
- Help the child boost his self-image, so he doesn’t have to feel important by bossing around other children.
- Combine relaxation with imagery. Ask the child to (a) visualize scenes which normally antagonize him; (b) tell himself not to fight; (c) see himself walking away from the fight; and (d) imagine himself garnering other people’s praise for not fighting.
- Pair the child with an older, more level-headed child who can intervene when the child is looking for a fight.
- Closely supervise the child on the playground. He’s less likely to start fighting when he knows an adult is watching him.
- For some children, you may need to restrict the length of time they are allowed to play with other children, or the number of children they are allowed to play with, until their behavior improves.
- If the child’s father does not live at home, or spends little time with him, suggest a Big Brother. An older male model can help bridge the gap of not having a dad to go to the hockey game with, talk boy’s talk with, and learn about what a father’s role is in the family.
- Recommend to the child’s parents that he take up a martial art such as judo or karate. This can help him diffuse his aggressive energies, as well as teach him the nonviolent philosophy inherent in these sports.
- Train the child to leave the scene and get a drink of water every time he has the urge to hurt another child.
- Send a good-behavior certificate home with the child on days he stays within a certain number of aggressive acts. This reminds parents to reward his school behavior at home, and also fosters home-school contact. As well, if you do not send a letter home, parents should follow up with negative consequences (Ayllon, Garber, & Pisor, 1975).
- Do a sociogram with your class to find out who the aggressive child likes and doesn’t like, as well as who likes and doesn’t like him. You can use this information to control the grouping of students. Start off with safe groups, and as the child learns better interaction skills, try mixing him in with children he doesn’t like.
- Ask the class to make up a story about a child who always picked fights on other children, until one day… Discuss children’s endings to the story. This lets the aggressive child hear from his peer group, rather than an adult, the bad consequences of aggression (Collins & Collins, 1975).
- Video the aggressive child playing with a group of children so he can see how he takes over games. Also let the meeker children see how they allow themselves to be pushed around by the aggressive child, and encourage them to think of more assertive responses.
- Hold a class discussion on what children look for and don’t look for in friends. Invariably some children will mention they “don’t like friends who punch, kick, or threaten them.” Ask the class for suggestions on other ways children can communicate, besides fighting. This is a subtle way for the aggressive child to learn what other children think about his behavior, and it also gives him ideas on how he can change it.
- Help the child construct a Boiling Point List, sorting out what makes him boil over, simmer, and cool off.
- If two students are fighting, ask them to sit back-to-back in the middle of your classroom. Let each one tell his side of the story. Expect a difference of opinion. If they do not reach a compromise after a few minutes, ask the rest of the class for some ideas. Usually the pressure from other students to settle their disagreement, and the pressure to get out of the middle of the room, will bring a resolution (Maurer, 1985).
- If two children are fighting on the playground, ask them if they’d like to continue it in the classroom. If they say yes, clear a spot in your classroom and let them carry on while the other children watch. The other children will find it amusing for a while, but their interest will quickly die down. As they go back to their work, the fighters will find it harder and harder to keep up their spirits, eventually asking if they too can stop (Dreikurs, 1968).
- Settle differences between two children with an arm wrestle.
- In the case of spitting, ask the child to continue his spitting while the rest of the class watches (Dreikurs, 1968). Children quickly realize, the programmed spit is not nearly as much fun as the one they-re not supposed to do.
This strategy can also be modified to curb rock-throwing behavior.
- Ignoring or giving in to a child’s aggressive behavior because “he’s sticking up for his rights,” or “the other kid had it coming to him.” A tolerant attitude encourages children to rely on aggression more often. Clearly state your disapproval, and have children make some restitution or serve a punishment.