ERIC Identifier: ED351147
Publication Date: 1992-00-00
Author: Jewett, Jan
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Elementary and Early Childhood Education Urbana IL.
Aggression and Cooperation: Helping Young Children Develop
Constructive Strategies. ERIC Digest.
In the past two decades, our understanding of the early roots of children's
social behaviors and the importance of those emerging behaviors in the
development of overall competence has expanded dramatically. What understandings
from this knowledge base can help us support young children as they develop
strategies for dealing with complex interpersonal relationships among their
Aggression and cooperation represent two critical features in the child's
social domain. What do they have in common? Both emerge from the child's strong
developmental push to initiate and maintain relationships with other children,
beginning at a very early age. Peer relationships provide critical opportunities
for children to learn to manage conflict and work towards establishing intimacy.
Aggression and cooperation are two possible strategies for dealing with the
normal conflicts of early peer interactions. Both have important roots in early
family interactions, both are responsive to adult expectations and values, and
both can be responsive to environmental factors.
AGGRESSION AND COOPERATION: DEFINITIONS AND EMERGING
"Aggression" is defined here as any intentional behavior that
results in physical or mental injury to any person or animal, or in damage to or
destruction of property. Aggressive actions can be accidental actions, in which
there is no intentionality; instrumental actions, in which the child
deliberately employs aggression in pursuit of a goal; or hostile actions, in
which the child acts to cause harm to another person. Because peer interactions
in their earliest forms emerge from play in which infants treat each other as
they would treat a toy or interesting object--for example, one baby reaches over
and grabs the cheek of another--unintentional aggression is a common and natural
form of behavior for infants and toddlers. These accidental behaviors can enable
young children to achieve desired results (for example, grabbing a toy from
another child) and, in a short period of time, can easily develop into
instrumental forms of aggression. Aggressive behavior is a deterrent to
friendships and social success. Studies indicate that young children cite
aggressive behavior as a significant reason for disliking others. Research also
indicates that aggressive behavior is responsive to environmental influences and
can be encouraged or discouraged by experiences in home and school. Aggression
should not be confused with assertion--behavior through which a child maintains
and defends his or her own rights and concerns. Assertive behavior reflects the
child's developing competence and autonomous functioning and represents an
important form of developmental progress. Assertiveness also affords the young
child a healthy form of self-defense against becoming the victim of the
aggressions of others.
Much evidence suggests that children who exhibit instrumental and hostile
forms of aggression during the preschool years have been exposed, in early
family interactions, to adults who encourage, model, or condone aggression by
using discipline techniques that are punitive, rigid, and authoritarian;
ignoring or permitting aggressive actions by the child and other children;
providing or tolerating aggressive toys or aggressive images from television,
movies, and books in the child's surroundings; or modeling aggression in their
own interpersonal interactions.
"Cooperation" is defined here as any activity that involves the willing
interdependence of two or more children. It should be distinguished from
compliance, which may represent obedience to rules or authority, rather than
intentional cooperation. When children willingly collaborate in using materials,
for example, their interactions are usually quite different than when they are
told to "share." Cooperation, like aggression, has its roots in very early, even
preverbal, social interactions. Studies on the origins of prosocial behaviors,
which include cooperation, suggest that family variables related to the
development of prosocial behaviors include parental discipline techniques that
are authoritative rather than authoritarian and that offer the child free
expression of affection and nurturance. These techniques involve the use of high
expectations; competent communication; and inductive reasoning, in which parents
engage children in explanations of the reasons for family rules and limits.
Children who demonstrate a number of cooperative strategies and can attend to
the needs of others while also asserting and defending their own rights are more
likely to be socially successful and to establish reciprocal, mutually
satisfying friendships than are other children.
TECHNIQUES FOR REDUCING AGGRESSION AND FOSTERING
Because aggressive behavior can emerge as a normal behavior
during the second and third years of life, it is important not to assume that
such behaviors represent a personality trait. When adults assume that children
are being intentionally aggressive, the expectation for undesirable qualities
can become established and can lead to a "recursive cycle" (Katz and McClellan,
1991) in which children come to fulfill the expectations set for them.
Aggressive toddlers or preschoolers can benefit from support and
encouragement for replacing aggressive behaviors with more socially productive
alternatives. Important techniques include helping young children label and
verbalize their feelings and those of others, develop problem-solving approaches
to conflicts, seek and obtain assistance when in difficulty, and notice the
consequences of their aggressive actions for their victims. Age-appropriate
anger management techniques, and discussion of the causes and consequences of
interpersonal conflicts, can help both young children and their caregivers deal
with emerging aggressive behaviors. Adult guidance that is consistent,
supportive, nonpunitive, and includes the child in understanding the reactions
of all participants and the reasons for limits, will help even very young
children cope with aggressive behaviors.
How can parents and teachers recognize and foster the cooperative behaviors
which all children demonstrate as they develop? They can acknowledge children's
efforts to initiate social interactions in appropriate ways, affirm helping
behaviors, use positive discipline techniques and communicate their power,
communicate positive regard and high expectations for all young children, and
support each child's struggle to resolve interpersonal conflicts. Of critical
importance are classroom strategies that promote cooperative, rather than
competitive, endeavors; foster dramatic play techniques and reflective
strategies for thinking about and discussing social interactions; and enable
children to get to know and trust each other and work towards truly
PROGRAM POLICIES THAT FOSTER THE DEVELOPMENT OF
Many children begin to show interest in peers as early as
eighteen months. Early childhood educators can support the emergence of trusting
and positive interpersonal strategies by encouraging the formation of play
groups and regular social interactions that are supervised in a supportive
manner. Children benefit from consistent and sustained relationships in which
they can build trust, understand and predict the responses of their peers, and
gain confidence in their ability to cope with conflictual interactions.
Continuity of relationships can be nurtured. The grouping of friends and
acquaintances across the years of program service enables children to develop
and build on successful relationships.
Early childhood programs can help parents understand and deal with the full
range of young children's emerging social repertoires. Parents often need help
in addressing the common aggressive behaviors of young children in a
nonjudgmental and constructive manner. Educators can encourage parents to
provide regular opportunities for children to develop productive and sustained
friendships by providing continuity of access to potential friends, inviting
friends or potential friends to play at home, and helping children to continue
to see good friends even if they lose daily and convenient contact.
Our emerging knowledge about the complex factors
that enter into the development of social competence in the young child can be
put to valuable use. Young children can benefit from the understanding support
and guidance of the adults who help them develop constructive strategies for
dealing with the challenges of early peer relationships.
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