ERIC Identifier: ED436602 Publication Date: 1999-11-00
Author: Schwartz, Wendy Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Urban Education New York NY.
Preventing Violence by Elementary School Children. ERIC/CUE
Digest Number 149.
Young children face a vast and increasing array of challenges as they attempt
to develop prosocial competencies and a conciliatory, nonviolent approach to
life. They suffer from a lack of closeness with adults, but also from an
overabundance of exposure to graphic violence in the news and entertainment
media and, increasingly, in their homes and communities. All these forces affect
the temperament of children, and each child expresses a unique set of responses
to potentially inflammatory situations.
Mental health and education professionals generally agree that it is
essential to begin developing prosocial attitudes and behaviors in children at a
very young age because aggression that is not remedied nearly always leads to
later acts of delinquency (Slaby, Roedell, Arezzo, & Kendrix, 1995). This
digest presents an overview of effective antiviolence strategies for use with
elementary school children that educators can integrate into their schools and
PRINCIPLES AND GOALS OF VIOLENCE PREVENTION PRACTICES
most effective antiviolence efforts focus on measures that prevent all types of
children's bad conduct: "aggression", including undirected anger, such as
tantrums, and lashing out at others; "bullying", which is targeting someone
thought to be weaker; and "hate bullying", which is victimizing someone of a
different (and perceived to be inferior) gender, race, ethnicity, religion, or
sexual orientation (U.S. Department of Education, 1999).
Prevention measures seek to help children feel cared for, secure, and
attached to supportive institutions and individuals. In fact, the most critical
factor in promoting children's social development may be bonding with positive,
nurturing adults: teachers who offer acceptance and support, model prosocial
behavior, and convey the importance of having positive values (Gregg, 1998).
Student-school bonding, also important, results from children's active
involvement in the educational process; and their development and use of
behavioral, cognitive, emotional, and interpersonal competencies (Hawkins,
Farrington, & Catalano, 1998).
The most effective school antiviolence programs employ four strategies. The
first is "teaching social competence": specific instruction in positive
interpersonal skills (Gregg, 1998). Instruction can be consolidated in a
separate antiviolence curriculum, introduced to children as they are learning
other curriculum topics, or both. Students are trained to develop the following
competencies (Greenberg, Kusche, & Mihalic, 1998; Slaby et al., 1995):
* Understanding and recognizing the emotions of oneself
Accurately perceiving a situation to enable appropriate responses.
Predicting the consequences of personal acts, particularly those involving
Staying calm in order to think before acting, to reduce stress and sadness, to
replace aggression with positive behavior, and to control anger.
Understanding and using group processes (including peer mediation and conflict
resolution), behaving cooperatively, and effectively solving social problems.
Selecting positive role models and supportive mentors, and nurturing peer
Techniques that schools and teachers can employ to implement the second
strategy, "creating a positive, calm environment", are discussed below. The
third and fourth strategies, not discussed in detail here, are "establishment of
behavior standards and establishment of rules and regulations for responding to
ANTIVIOLENCE PROGRAMS AND POLICIES
Some educators advocate
a separate curriculum that promotes the above-described social competencies in
K-6 children. Second Step has such curricula for each of several grade groups
(Gregg, 1998). BrainPower teaches African American boys to interpret social cues
correctly and respond appropriately (Samples & Aber, 1998). The Promoting
Alternative Thinking Strategies (PATHS) curriculum develops emotional and social
competencies and helps reduce aggression (Greenberg et al., 1998).
Other theorists, however, believe that the overall school environment should
promote a prosocial approach to life, instead of just a separate prevention
program. They recommend that school personnel model and teach these competencies
across the curriculum (Noddings, 1996). The PeaceBuilders program, for example,
has five principles: (1) praise other people, (2) avoid put-downs, (3) seek wise
people as advisors and friends, (4) notice and correct hurts one causes, and (5)
right wrongs. The Resolving Conflicts Creatively Program takes a hybrid
approach; it trains educators to provide students with instruction in peer
mediation and bias reduction, and parents to resolve conflicts nonviolently at
home (Gregg, 1998).
The school safety movement is based on the belief that a focus on safety,
rather than implementation of individual antiviolence programs, gives students a
sense of security. It calms aggressiveness in at-risk children, alleviates fears
that provoke bad behavior, and promotes good behavior by all (Stephens, 1998).
STRATEGIES BEYOND THE CURRICULUM
Many overall approaches to
school organization, teaching, and classroom management can promote children's
caring and cooperation and minimize their behavior problems. They can be
employed as part of a schoolwide antiviolence program or curriculum, or be used
on an ad hoc basis. Here is a sampling of such strategies:
Schools seeking to eliminate students'
aggression establish the "norm of nonviolence" (Hawkins et al., 1998, p. 194).
They have a calm and predictable atmosphere that provides a sense of security
and limits the possibility that unforeseen events will trigger explosive
behavior. They specify and explain behavioral expectations, counter public and
familial messages of violence by providing prosocial alternatives to fighting,
and foresee and attempt to prevent possible bad behavior (Hawkins et al., 1998;
Walker, Colvin, & Ramsey, 1995). Also, schools with adequate facilities and
a population consonant with their size are more likely to be nonviolent (Samples
& Aber, 1998).
Inservice training for teachers can specifically train them to model
prosocial behavior; and to promote students' feelings of self-worth and empathy,
foster their achievement and develop appropriate expectations, respond to their
needs, and lower their aggression level (Greenberg et al., 1998).
CLASSROOM AND PLAYGROUND
Traditional means of "controlling" a classroom can actually exacerbate children's aggression. Alternative ways of
maintaining good conduct can be more effective. Teachers can work with students
to develop a list of rules for acceptable behavior. They can establish the norm
of cooperation and mutual respect and enlist everyone's support to ensure that
no students are isolated or bullied (Banks, 1997).
In general, it is more effective for teachers to deal with misbehaving
children quietly, in private, and with as little attention as possible (Walker
et al., 1995). Thus, they can ignore any students who are quietly misbehaving in
class (such as not reading along with the others) and approach them privately
later to discuss their reasons for not participating. Instead of showing anger
and/or publicly disciplining an unruly student, teachers can recommend
alternative, less disruptive behavior for getting attention. They can calm an
agitated child by helping to solve the precipitating problem and being firm
about not bestowing additional attention on the child if the scene is repeated.
Providing students with rewards for prosocial behavior in class or at play
deters aggression. Teachers can give students points for attendance,
preparedness, and performance that qualify them for an extra school trip, for
example. Parents can be kept apprised of their children's behavior through
reports on the number of points they are earning (Hawkins et al., 1998).
Teachers can organize cooperative play activities instead of winner-loser
games, and urge children to help, rather than taunt, those with less athletic
ability. Instead of responding to bad conduct on a playing field with punishment
or attention to the perpetrator, they can facilitate peer mediation for arguing
Through centers, classes, and private
meetings, schools can help parents promote the prosocial development of their
children and recognize and respond to early warning signs. They can help parents
understand the effects on their children of their own behavior and the
importance of supporting school violence prevention efforts. Educators can also
sensitively convey their own concerns about certain children and help families
secure interventions, including mediation and counseling for both victims and
perpetrators of bullying (Banks, 1997; Dwyer, Osher, & Warger, 1998).
Arguably, a school's most important antiviolence strategy may simply be helping
parents appreciate that dismissing a child's small behavior problem nearly
always results in the child's subsequent involvement in more serious antisocial
The most successful strategies to help children
develop social competence are those implemented as part of a comprehensive,
multidisciplinary approach to nurturing children at home, at school, and in the
community. Evaluations of existing programs can guide future program
implementation, as can the technical assistance provided to schools by
organizations such as the Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence's
Blueprints for Violence Prevention Program (Greenberg et al., 1998).
Public support for school antiviolence initiatives has been limited, however;
resources continue to be directed at social controls, such as juvenile
prosecution and detention. But besides increasing investments in youth violence
prevention, society needs to strengthen communities by helping parents provide
emotionally and economically for their children and controlling access to
weapons (Flannery & Huff, 1999). Finally, those elements in society
(including the news and entertainment media), which perpetuate the culture of
violence in the U.S., need to consider whether their message is obviating the
benefits of youth violence prevention efforts in the schools.
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