ERIC Identifier: ED429419
Publication Date: 1998-11-00
Author: Fitzsimmons, Mary K.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Disabilities and Gifted Education Reston VA. ERIC/OSEP Special Project on
Interagency Information Dissemination.
Violence and Aggression in Children and Youth. ERIC/OSEP Digest
As news media detail the increasingly violent acts perpetrated by students,
schools and social services throughout the country scramble to respond to the
public's horror at these acts and to the widespread fear for the safety of all
school children. Part of this response can include the experience and expertise
of special educators, who can offer the results of careful research, much of
which has been funded by the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP), to aid
communities in dealing with aggressive and violent students.
A few of the key elements that emerge from much of this research include:
* Troubled students need habilitative services instead of haphazard
punishment. A full continuum of educational, mental health, and other services
should be available to them.
* Aggressive and violent behaviors do not develop overnight and cannot
therefore be ameliorated or eradicated in short periods of time.
* The entire community is better off when troubled students are served more
* Schoolwide discipline policies need to be formulated and taught to all
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
Aggressive behavior is learned and
maintained in a manner similar to other behaviors. Three important factors in
behavior development and modification are modeling, positive reinforcement, and
negative reinforcement. Teachers and peers may be modeling inappropriate or
aggressive behavior without being aware of its undue influence on an aggressive
student. Similarly, they may reinforce disruptive behaviors either positively
(through attention to the student) or negatively (removal of the student from
class or similar constraint allows him or her to escape or avoid what is
perceived to be an aversive situation).
Aggressive students often exhibit deficits in social information processing;
that is, they are likely to misinterpret social cues and misassign hostile
intent to others, especially during times of stress. They are more likely than
others to have some social skills deficits such as poor impulse control, low
frustration tolerance, limited ability to generate alternative responses to
stress, and limited insight into the feelings of self and others. Social skills
training can be crucial to these students. These students also may be frequently
frustrated and yet have fewer skills than others to cope with the frustration.
Additional sources of frustration for these students include:
* Disorganized or inconsistent teachers.
* Lack of positive reinforcement.
* Irrelevant curriculum.
* Overexposure to punishment.
* Feelings of powerlessness.
THE STAGES OF FRUSTRATION AND APPROPRIATE RESPONSES
Anxiety: Student sighs or uses other nonverbal cues. Teacher can respond by
active listening and nonjudgmental talk.
2. Stress: Student exhibits minor behavior problems. Teacher can use
proximity control, boost student interest, or provide assistance with
3. Defensiveness: Student argues and complains. Teacher can remind student of
rules, use conflict resolution, and encourage student to ask for help.
4. Physical Aggression: Student has lost control and may hit, bite, kick, or
throw objects. Teacher can escort the student from class, get help, restrain
student if necessary, and protect the safety of the other children.
5. Tension Reduction: Student releases tension through crying or verbal
venting, or student may become sullen and withdrawn. Teacher can decide whether
to use supportive or punishment techniques (or both) and help the student gain
insight into feelings and behavior.
HOW TO RESPOND
A nurturing, caring environment is one
antidote to frustration and aggression. Teachers who are therapeutic demonstrate
a high level of self-awareness and self- confidence, realistic expectations of
self, and the ability to exhibit and model self-control in managing stress and
frustration. Therapeutic teachers can develop the type of nurturing environment
needed to establish trust and rapport with their students.
Many specific strategies are available to educators to help troubled
students. However, early intervention is by far the most important predictor for
success. Experts agree that if comprehensive intervention is not provided by
Grade 3 or 4, success in ameliorating aggression is unlikely.
HOW TO INTERVENE
Intervention depends on many factors
including the goals of the intervention. A universal screening procedure can
detect signs of antisocial behavior. Once these children have been identified,
there are three stages of prevention that influence the intervention strategies:
1. Primary prevention aims at keeping problems from emerging. First Step to
Success and other commercially available curriculums can be used to divert
antisocial young children from a path leading to adjustment problems.
2. Secondary prevention requires individually tailored interventions applied
to students who show at risk status. Individual counseling and one-on-one
behavior management plans are hallmarks of this stage of intervention. The
Second Step is an example of a commercially available curriculum designed for
3. Tertiary prevention involves intensive "wraparound" services that extend
beyond the school building to encompass family and social support services. It
is applied to the most severely at-risk students.
HOW TO PLAN
Sadly, today's educators need to be ready for
acts of violence and aggression. Some overall strategies to cope with students'
with aggressive and violent tendencies include:
1. Practice for a crisis. Prepare students and faculty just as they are
trained for the eventuality of a fire.
2. Train all staff to respond to student aggression. Precise methods to be
used, procedures to be followed, and role-playing should be a part of this
3. Dress appropriately. Low-heel shoes, loose-fitting garments, and the
omission of sharp jewelry and dangling earrings are recommended.
4. Move items of value out of reach.
5. Establish trust and rapport with students. Although rapport alone will
probably not eliminate violent or aggressive acts, it will enhance prevention
and intervention procedures.
6. Define behavioral expectations and apply consequences for rule compliance
and noncompliance. Clear identification of rules and other boundaries and
consistent application of consequences can help minimize aggressive acts.
7. Remain calm and in control.
8. Maintain a therapeutic attitude. Therapeutic adults are able to maintain a
willingness to understand students and to consider their emotional fragility.
WHAT THE LAW MANDATES
The Individual with Disabilities
Education Act (IDEA) Amendments of 1997 require educators to address the
behavioral as well as learning problems of students with disabilities. Teams
charged with developing an individualized education program (IEP) for students
with disabilities are required to conduct a functional behavioral assessment and
to implement behavior intervention plans that include positive behavioral
interventions and supports.
These and other IDEA mandates reflect awareness by legislators and the
education community of the importance of appropriate identification of student
problems, accurate assessment, and positive behavior supports. The measures
described are aimed at providing students who are at risk for or have committed
aggressive acts with the tools to handle their frustration and aggression in
alternate and socially acceptable ways.
For students with disabilities, including those who present challenging
behaviors, the IDEA also addresses issues such as staff training, students
bringing weapons to school, continuum of services, alternate placements, and
working with a student's strengths as well as his or her weaknesses.
This digest is based on the following sources:
Aggression and Violence in the School [Special issue]. (1998). Preventing School
Discipline: Behavior Intervention [Special issue]. (1998). Teaching
Exceptional Children, 30(4).
Myles, B. S., & Simpson, R. L. (1998). Aggression and violence by
school-age children and youth: Understanding the aggression cycle and
prevention/intervention strategies. Intervention in School and Clinic, 33(5),
Nelson, C. M. (1997). Aggressive and Violent Behavior: A Personal
Perspective. Education and Treatment of Children, 20(3), 250-262.