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The Angry and Aggressive Child - Anger and Aggression

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Introduction

Children who are angry and aggressive need support and coaching to help them manage their behaviour and responses in the classroom, on the playground, with friends, and at home. Although many children have occasional outbursts of anger and aggression, the children who consistently have difficulty controlling their emotions and behaviours are the ones who need support in developing social skills. Many teachers have at least one child in their classroom whose behaviours are so concerning that they need professional intervention.

Development

When we think about children's anger and aggression, we need to consider the stage of development as well as other factors such as gender, cultural background, and family and community circumstances. As children develop social skills, they are less likely to use aggression to solve problems, and the type of aggression they do use becomes more sophisticated. In early childhood, children frequently rely on physical aggression, but as they mature, they begin to use more verbal aggression and social aggression (which hurts another person's reputation and friendships).

Children's development depends on their personal characteristics that can either smooth the way or make it difficult for them to learn from their experiences. Development also depends on the abilities and skills of parents, daycare staff, and teachers to provide daily lessons in social and emotional learning. Most children are able to benefit from these lessons. They are on a timely and positive developmental path. When children's behaviours are typical of a younger age, this is a sign that they require additional support to catch up to their classmates in social and regulation skills (skills for managing their own behaviour). We need to be particularly concerned for those children who for some reason have not had adequate experiences and support to develop the social skills and regulation required for healthy relationships and successful school adjustment.

Gender

Teachers need to consider the behaviours of boys and girls through somewhat different lenses in order to determine which boys and girls are on a timely and healthy developmental path and which children are lagging behind. We know that boys and girls tend show their anger and aggression in different ways as a result of both their biological makeup, as well as their different socialization experiences. Boys are generally more physically aggressive than girls, making their anger and aggression more obvious to adults. Girls tend to develop social and language skills a bit earlier than boys. Girls, therefore, are earlier than boys in moving from physical aggression to more indirect or social forms of aggression (e.g., exclusion, gossip, non-verbal gestures, cyber bullying), which are less easy to detect, but still as hurtful and distressing.

Identifying risk of serious problems

Serious problems of anger and aggression are quite rare among school-aged children. The figure below indicates the approximate percentages of children who display different levels of angry and aggressive behaviour problems. The outer circle represents the vast majority of children who seldom exhibit serious anger and aggression problems. These children have well developed social skills and self control. The intermediate circle represents a minority of students with some difficulties with anger and aggression, but the problems are not persistent or very frequent. The centre circle within the figure represents those children who have the most serious problem and who are at highest risk for not managing in the classroom and not learning the skills that they need for healthy relationships and a productive life. These children can be identified by asking four questions:

  • How often do the problem behaviours occur?
  • How long has the child been showing these behaviour problems?
  • In how many settings does the child experience these problems?
  • How severe are the child's problems?

For more information, please see Pepler & Craig (1999) Making a difference in bullying. Making a difference in bullying

Appropriate intervention levels

Children who have different levels of difficulties controlling their anger and aggression require different types of intervention. The majority of children who seldom have problems expressing their anger in constructive ways and finding positive ways to resolve conflicts can benefit from the universal and whole school programs designed to promote social and emotional learning. Children who have occasional and moderate levels of problems controlling their anger and aggression will also benefit from the universal and whole school programs, but they may need additional focused support and coaching to express their feelings more constructively and resolve problems without being aggressive.

Finally, the children in our schools who are most at risk require the most intensive interventions. These children and their families need intensive interventions that focus on the children's relationship problems and associated emotional, psychological, physical, educational, and social adjustment difficulties. Since their problems have developed over a long period of time in many contexts, these children and their families need specialized attention from mental health professionals and ongoing support within the school.

For more information, please see Pepler & Craig (1999) Making a difference in bullying. Making a difference in bullying

When there is cause for concern

There are some general ways to identify when angry or aggressive behaviour is a cause for concern:

  • When a child is frequently angry and stays angry for a long time in situations that would not bother most other children of the same age, it may be a sign of a mental health problem.
  • When a child is frequently and persistently aggressive in situations where other children of the same age would not respond aggressively, it may signal the child's need for additional support.

Although it is important to be aware of behaviours that may signal the presence of a mental health problem, it is equally important not to jump to conclusions or impose unnecessary labels on children who, by their nature, are learning through trial and error. When children make mistakes by acting aggressively, it provides us with an opportunity to teach them so that they can manage better in the future. In the yellow and red light sections, we provide more details about how to identify the behaviours that might indicate serious problems for children and that may need to be referred for further assessment and treatment support.

Understanding Anger and Aggression in Children's Development

Step-by-step development of social and emotional skills

Anger and aggression are behaviours that help people survive, but these behaviours are not effective for healthy social relationships in school. For infants, who do not have communication skills, angry crying signals distress and the need for help. In early childhood, aggression often reflects children's lack of self control and abilities to solve problems in a positive way. As children mature, they develop language and social skills necessary for positive social interactions. Most children's angry and aggressive behaviour is short-lived and is not part of an established behaviour pattern based on lack of behavioural and emotional control. These occasional outbursts of anger and aggression that teachers observe among their students do not signal serious psychological and social problems. The frequency of anger and aggression, as well as the ways in which these disruptive behaviours are expressed, change as children grow older. When a child is showing behaviours that are typical of a much earlier stage or behaviours that are more severe or lengthy in duration than is typical, it is a sign that the child has not received adequate support for age-appropriate development.

A few children fall out of step

Children who display behaviours that are typical of an earlier stage need help catching up. When a classmate has taken a favourite toy away from a preschool child, it is normal for the young child to react by getting angry and at times hitting to retrieve the toy. At this early stage, children are still in the process of learning how to control their emotions and behaviours, so it is not unusual to see this type of outburst. When 10-year-old children react with this level of anger and aggression, it is a clear sign that they have not learned the necessary control of emotions and behaviour nor the necessary social skills to solve everyday problems. This signals a developmental problem: the child who is behaving in a much younger way needs to be taken back through the lessons missed in the early years. Children who are not keeping up with their peers in social development need remedial help, not unlike the help that we would provide for children who have fallen behind in reading or mathematics.

Boys and girls may act differently, but both need support

In general, boys tend to exhibit more overt displays of anger, often in the form of physical or verbal aggression, compared to girls. Because boys tend to be active and direct, teachers may find it easier to identify the boys who are having difficulties in their relationships. Girls, on the other hand, are socialized to keep their anger somewhat hidden and are likely to be aggressive in subtle ways that are not physical, but harm another's social relationships. If girls direct feelings of anger inward rather than out to someone else, they may begin to experience sadness and poor self-esteem. A small number of girls resort to physical aggression when angry and frustrated. These girls are not only out of step with their developmental level, they are out of step with their same-sex peers. Since they are not behaving in ways similar to other girls, they will have even more problems fitting in and finding friends. Regardless of how they show their anger and aggression, both boys and girls need support to overcome their social and emotional problems and to learn how to adapt to both the academic and social expectations of school. By learning to do so, they are likely to develop a stronger foundation for future relationships across their lifespan.

Troubled development from hitting to hurting

Children who lag behind in developing social and emotional skills are at risk for a wide range of problems as they proceed through elementary and high school. For healthy development, children must not only learn to control their emotions and behaviours, but they must also understand the impact of their behaviours on others, and value social connectedness. When children do not understand or care about how their behaviours affect others, they are at risk for using aggression to control and distress others, as in bullying.

We have come to understand bullying as a relationship problem, because children who persistently bully their peers are getting daily lessons on how to gain power over others by using aggression. Our research shows that bullying in elementary school leads to relationship problems, such as dating aggression in high school. The children who bully have not learned the important lessons of being sensitive to another's vulnerability and distress and of finding positive ways to gain status among their peers.

When children do not consider others and are not socially connected, they cannot develop a moral compass to help them meet the expectations that we as a society have for them. Children who fail to consider others have a difficult time differentiating right from wrong, or caring when they break rules and disappoint the adults in their lives. Children and youth who feel connected to their school are more motivated to stay in school and work to meet expectations. The sense of connection and belonging comes from the relationships that children experience at school with their teachers, other staff, and other students. When students feel as if they matter, as if people notice them and care for them at school, they become connected, engaged, and motivated in school. There is a tremendous opportunity for teachers to make a difference in their students' lives by promoting positive relationships and a sense of belonging and mattering. Staying in school is the best way to avoid a troubled pathway of delinquency leading to criminality.

Help foster resilience

Not all children experience problems in the same way. What may be a relatively minor challenge for one child may be very stressful and disruptive for another child. Children who are able to cope in situations of stress and in the face of challenges at home and school are considered resilient. Their resilience comes in part from their biological make up, such as an easygoing temperament; however, a child's personal characteristics are only part of the basis for resilience. Children's resilience is strongly promoted through positive relationships with significant adults, such as teachers. Therefore, even though these children are sometimes the hardest to deal with in the classroom, the children who are having the most difficulties with anger, aggression, and meeting the expectations are the children who need the most support for social and emotional learning. A teacher's support can make such a difference in supporting the development of the social skills, coping strategies, and resilience that all children need.



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Children tend to display more frustration and be most aggressive during the first few years of life. As their verbal and social skills develop, they rely less on aggressive behaviour to solve their problems. With language to express their needs, and increased control over their emotions and behaviours, children become more equipped to solve the inevitable and frequent problems of everyday life. At the same time, the development of verbal and social skills paves the way for more sophisticated forms of aggressive behaviour, such as insults and exclusion. The general pattern, therefore, is for physical aggression to decrease with age while verbal and social forms of aggression increase during childhood and early adolescence.<br /> <br /> Children in the preschool years are just beginning to learn how to control their emotions. Their social skills and language abilities are developing but have not yet become sophisticated. As a result, anger and frustration are often expressed through physically aggressive behaviour such as hitting, kicking, biting school staff or other students.</p> <br /> The majority of preschool aged children display some disruptive and aggressive behaviour. With the guidance of parents, teachers, and other adults, most young children learn to regulate their emotions and behaviours as they grow older.<br /> <br /> During this period, temper tantrums and yelling, as well as irritable, blameful, argumentative, and annoying behaviours are not uncommon.<br /> <br /> Throwing equipment and destroying property belonging to the school, other students or teachers occurs most frequently during this period. As children learn to regulate their emotions, this behaviour decreases.<br /> <br /> At the end of the preschool stage, aggressive behaviour may begin to emerge in different forms for boys and girls. Boys continue to rely on physical aggression to solve their problems, whereas girls social development advances more quickly and they tend to shift away from physical aggression and begin to use the more sophisticated forms of verbal and social aggression. Children begin to learn at an early age the power of words (in verbal aggression) and exclusion (isolating peers from the group) or attacks on the social relationships of peers. These behaviours may begin late in the preschool years but tend to develop most during middle childhood.<br /> <br /> Back to top

Some children exhibit periodic episodes of angry and aggressive behaviour when they are faced with difficult times. They may have individual problems (e.g., low self concept, failure at school) and social relationship problems (e.g., stress within the family or with friends) that put them at increased risk for anger and aggressive behaviour. When angry and aggressive behaviours become increasingly frequent and severe, this may signal that children require more intensive help to deal with their distress and to constructively channel their angry feelings and control their acting out and troubling behaviours.

Because of individual difficulties or inadequate socialization experiences, some young children have not yet gained the skills needed to regulate their emotions and behaviours. These children may persist in displaying aggression when others of their age have begun to learn self control and positive ways to solve social problems.

Children's angry and aggressive behaviour may become a problem if it begins to occur frequently and across many settings, such as both at home and at school. An increase in the frequency or severity of these disruptive behaviours may signal that the children are experiencing complex problems that may require more time and support than a classroom teacher can provide.

Early intervention, when a problem is just beginning to develop, is most effective. When preschool children have not learned to control their anger and aggression, a minimal amount of early support may be required to get them on track.

At this age, it is important that parents receive guidance in how to manage their children's anger and aggression effectively at home. Guidance from teachers and other professionals within the school system or within community agencies can help parents in promoting their children's social and emotional adjustment and coping skills both at home and at school.


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Children tend to display more frustration and be most aggressive during the first few years of life. As their verbal and social skills develop, they rely less on aggressive behaviour to solve their problems. With language to express their needs, and increased control over their emotions and behaviours, children become more equipped to solve the inevitable and frequent problems of everyday life. At the same time, the development of verbal and social skills paves the way for more sophisticated forms of aggressive behaviour, such as insults and exclusion. The general pattern, therefore, is for physical aggression to decrease with age while verbal and social forms of aggression increase during childhood and early adolescence.

During middle childhood, angry and aggressive outbursts usually become less common and thus are much more concerning when they do occur consistently.
Middle childhood is a time when children develop social skills and learn how to create and maintain relationships with their peers. Most children learn that angry and aggressive behaviour does not help build positive peer and adult relationships.

During middle childhood, most children have learned skills both to regulate their emotions and behaviours and to solve problems with non-aggressive strategies, leading to a normal decrease in the frequency of aggressive behaviours.

In middle childhood, it is not unusual for children to use verbal and social forms of aggressive behaviour. It is important for teachers and parents to identify and address these subtle aggressive behaviours so that children can learn about the impact of their behaviours on others. Isolated incidents of social or verbal aggression signal that a child is testing out behaviours or reacting to stresses in their complex social worlds. They do not signal serious mental health problems.

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Some children exhibit periodic episodes of angry and aggressive behaviour when they are faced with difficult times. They may have individual problems (e.g., low self concept, failure at school) and social relationship problems (e.g., stress within the family or with friends) that put them at increased risk for anger and aggressive behaviour. When angry and aggressive behaviours become increasingly frequent and severe, this may signal that children require more intensive help to deal with their distress and to constructively channel their angry feelings and control their acting out and troubling behaviours. Aggressive behaviours during middle childhood become increasingly directed towards people (rather than objects).

By this stage, most children are able to take the perspective of another and have learned that some actions are intentional and others are not. When children recognize that people can act with intentional and hostile motives, they may react with anger when they are at the receiving end of aggression. When another person accidentally causes a problem, children with emotions and behaviour that are not well controlled may mistake the action as intentional and retaliate.

If children enter school and continue to display physical and verbal forms of aggression, they may be at increased risk for continuing to approach social interactions and problems with this repertoire of difficult behaviours -- patterns of interaction are established and become more difficult to change.

Children who persist in using physically aggressive behaviours may experience many difficulties in the school context. Since they have not mastered the skills necessary for successful peer interactions and friendships, these children are more likely than nonaggressive children to be rejected by the peer group. The problems compound if these children become rejected: they are less exposed to other children who model positive behaviours and attitudes and they begin to form friendships with other children at the margins of the social group, who have been rejected for similar difficult behaviours.

Angry outbursts that involve throwing objects and destroying school or others' property occur infrequently during this period, but when they do, they can be very disruptive.


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Children tend to display more frustration and be most aggressive during the first few years of life. As their verbal and social skills develop, they rely less on aggressive behaviour to solve their problems. With language to express their needs, and increased control over their emotions and behaviours, children become more equipped to solve the inevitable and frequent problems of everyday life. At the same time, the development of verbal and social skills paves the way for more sophisticated forms of aggressive behaviour, such as insults and exclusion. The general pattern, therefore, is for physical aggression to decrease with age while verbal and social forms of aggression increase during childhood and early adolescence. Early adolescence is a period of great cognitive, emotional, physical, and social change. It is a time when teenagers seek independence from their parents as well as a sense of acceptance with peers; hence conflicts with parents and within the family unit tend to increase.

Although by this stage most teenagers have learned to regulate their behaviours and emotions, the changes in early adolescent years pose a challenge to most adolescents at one time or another. With puberty, both hormonal and brain changes may affect the control that young adolescents can maintain over their behaviours and emotions.

Most early adolescents rarely engage in serious aggression. When they do act out aggressively, their actions are more likely to be verbal or social rather than physical. As adolescents negotiate relationships within the home, school and peer contexts, most recognize that even occasional outbursts of anger and aggression may jeopardize their social connections.

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Some children exhibit periodic episodes of angry and aggressive behaviour when they are faced with difficult times. They may have individual problems (e.g., low self concept, failure at school) and social relationship problems (e.g., stress within the family or with friends) that put them at increased risk for anger and aggressive behaviour. When angry and aggressive behaviours become increasingly frequent and severe, this may signal that children require more intensive help to deal with their distress and to constructively channel their angry feelings and control their acting out and troubling behaviours. Anger displayed in the form of physical aggression tends to have decreased for most children by the early adolescent years.

Although overt or physical displays of aggression and anger tend to occur very infrequently (particularly for girls), indirect or masked aggression (including verbal or social) are much more common at this stage for both boys and girls. Verbal and social forms of aggression also cause a great deal of distress, particularly when they are used frequently or are severe.


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Introduction
Aggression is any behaviour that is aimed at harming another person. The term “aggression” encompasses a broad range of behaviours from minor verbal slights to severe physical assaults including: physical aggression, verbal aggression, social aggression, exclusion, bullying, sexual harassment, and racial aggression. It is important to recognize that aggression may be direct or indirect. Direct aggression is delivered face-to-face. Indirect aggression is delivered circuitously so that the person being victimized may not know who instigated the aggression.
 
Both anger and aggression are required for survival. Anger is required for survival because it serves important self-regulatory and social communication functions. Most, if not all, children and youth experience occasional outbursts of anger and aggression. However, some have difficulty controlling their aggression and these children and youth require extra support to help them learn positive ways to manage their aggressive behaviour. Parents, educators, and other socializing adults can teach young people to behave positively, rather than aggressively.
 
The common element in definitions of aggression is the intent to harm. This element of the definition presents a challenge to supervising adults because often children who have been aggressive deny that they meant any harm: "Oh, we were just having fun!" From their perspective, this may be true. Children's behaviour frequently starts as rough-and-tumble play or playful teasing and accelerates quickly beyond pretence to become harmful aggression. It is difficult for adults to determine whether children are pretending to be aggressive or are actually being aggressive. With teens, the challenge of supervision may be even greater since physical aggression becomes less common in this age group. When aggression is non-physical it becomes more subtle and easier to hide.
 
When children and youth deny that they are being aggressive, there are two factors to consider. First, think about whether the aggressor and the child or teen being victimized have equal status in the "playful" aggression. Even though both may say it's all in fun, being the target of aggression is distressing. The distress can be determined by looking carefully at facial expressions and body language. If you are unsure or concerned, speak with the person being victimized privately at a later time to determine his/her reaction to the situation and potential distress. The second factor in assessing "playful aggression" is to attend to your own reaction to the situation. If you feel uncomfortable or concerned, tell the children to stop their inappropriate play and direct them to stay apart for a while.
 

How does Aggression Develop?

The form, frequency, and function of aggression changes with age. Consequently, in identifying and assessing if aggressive behaviour is a problem, it is important to consider the age of the child or youth. For example, infants have limited communication skills and thus use anger and aggression to communicate. Aggression in early childhood reflects a lack of control and difficulty solving problems in a constructive way. In early childhood, the predominant form of aggression is physical, but as children age and develop problem solving and verbal ability, they become more likely to use verbal and social aggression. Older children develop better language/social skills that can allow for more positive social interactions and are less likely to be aggressive. Children are most aggressive in infancy and toddlerhood, however, aggression is most dangerous in adolescence and early adulthood. The majority of children grow out of aggressive behaviour by their mid-teens and consequently, anger and aggression are short-lived and do not signal a problem. Most adolescents have well developed social skills and self control and do not develop aggressive behaviour problems. About 5 to 10% of children, however, continue to show aggressive behaviour problems and those children require ongoing support as they are most likely to have long term problems. 
 
Gender
Gender plays an important role in the identification and production of aggression. Although the development of aggressive behaviour problems in girls is similar to that of boys in many respects, it is important to consider boys and girls separately because they demonstrate anger and aggression in different ways. The differences can be considered to be a function of both biology and socialization. Gender differences in aggression emerge as early as 3 years and remain throughout the age span. These differences are more salient for more severe forms of aggression.
 
 
Girls’ aggression may include more indirect and less physical aggression than boys’ aggression
There is a growing recognition that the typical forms and goals of girls’ aggression may be different than those of boys. Boys’ aggression is more likely to occur through a direct physical or verbal confrontation (e.g., pushing, punching, making threats of physical harm). Boys tend to exhibit more overt displays of anger than girls. A small number of girls resort to physical aggression when angry or frustrated but this is not typical. In general, girls are taught to keep their anger hidden and display their aggression in more subtle ways. Although girls’ aggression can take a direct physical or verbal form, it is often indirect and aimed at undermining another girl’s social relationships (e.g., social exclusion, spreading rumours).  These differences in aggressive behaviour are maintained throughout childhood and into adolescence and interventions need to be sensitive to these differences. Some key differences are discussed below.

Boys want status -- Girls want connections
The underlying goals of girls’ and boys’ aggression may differ in important ways. Boys’ peer groups tend to centre around themes of physical dominance and physical competence, whereas girls’ peer groups tend to focus on themes related to interpersonal relationships (i.e., the establishment and maintenance of close, intimate connections with others). With different goals for peer interactions, the motivation for girls’ and boys’ aggression may also differ. The most effective means for a boy to harm another boy may be by asserting his dominance directly through physical or verbal confrontations. In contrast, the most effective means for a girl to harm another girl may be by manipulating the peer group to destroy the social relationships of the girl being victimized and to enhance the aggressive girl’s status within that group.
For troubled girls, aggression may arise from misguided struggles to project a social identity of competence, attractiveness, and popularity in the face of any number of perceived threats to these qualities.   To build desired connections within their social group, girls may resort to aggression by setting up exclusion with an "in-group” and an “out-group". In these dynamics, one girl becomes a social pariah and others shun her, causing significant distress. For the remaining members of the group, however, there is often increased cohesion with a heightened sense of belonging and validation within the group.  

Compared to boys, girls’ aggression is often difficult to detect
Because of the largely covert and indirect nature of girls’ aggression, it is more difficult to detect and address than the direct physical aggression more typical of boys. Therefore, we need different strategies to identify this form of aggression. To crack the secrecy which often surrounds girls’ aggression, adults need to devise strategies that involve enlisting the help of other students. This can be accomplished by: (1) changing students’ attitudes towards the covert forms of aggression exhibited by girls, (2) equipping students to take prosocial, leadership roles in intervening in girls’ aggression, (3) legitimizing the experience of victims of covert aggression, and (4) providing a supportive atmosphere that facilitates girls’ abilities to report what is happening to them in the peer group.
 

Aggression and Peer Group Problems

Girls who are aggressive, particularly those who are physically aggressive, are more likely to be rejected and victimized by their peers than aggressive boys. We can understand this sex difference in response to aggression by considering what is normative for girls and boys. Physical aggression is more normative and accepted among boys because it is in keeping with the generally physical interactions among boys (e.g., contact sports and rough-and-tumble play). For girls, physical aggression is less typical and less accepted as it is atypical within girls’ peer groups. Peers react negatively to aggressive girls even though their aggression is often viewed as relatively minor and less frequent compared to the aggression of boys. Thus, girls who are moderately aggressive by male standards may not be identified as having a problem by parents and school staff, even though they are at equal or greater risk for negative psychosocial outcomes than highly aggressive boys.   It is important, therefore, to identify aggressive children and youth by comparing their behaviours to those of the same sex.
Despite these differences, many of the general principles for intervening with aggressive boys also apply to our efforts to help aggressive girls.  For example, it is likely that the behaviour of both aggressive girls and boys will be improved by interventions aimed at enhancing social-cognitive skills, parenting skills, and school climate. 
 
 

Identifying Serious Problems

The majority of children do not persist in their aggressive behaviour. Only 5% to 10% of children who are aggressive in infancy and toddlerhood maintain their aggressive and antisocial behaviour into childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. But how do we identify children who are at risk for the most serious and longest lasting problems?  High risk children need the most intensive interventions with a focus on relationship problems and emotional, psychological, physical, educational and social difficultiesThe problems developed over a long period of time and over many contexts need specialized attention in concert with mental health providers, the family, and support from the school environment.
 

 Identifying the high risk children can be done by asking five questions:

1.       How often do the problem behaviours occur? The more frequent the aggressive or angry behaviour, the more at risk the child or teen is for developing long term problems. 
2.       For how long has the problem been apparent? The longer the aggressive behaviour has been present (one day, one week, months, years), the more likely the risk for developing significant difficulties in the home, school or community.
3.       In how many settings does the child or youth act aggressively? The more settings (at home, at friend’s homes, at daycare, at school, in extracurricular activities) in which aggressive behaviour is demonstrated, the more likely the youngster is to develop long term problems with aggression.
4.       How severe are the problems? The number of aggressive incidents, as well as the type of aggressive incidents matter. The greater the number, and the more severe (i.e., hurts another child, hurts an animal) the more likely the child is at risk for problems to persist into adolescence and adulthood.
5.       How does the child or youth behave relative to his/her peers? Is the young person frequently angry? Does he or she stay angry for a long time in situations that would not bother other students of the same age? Is the child or teen persistently aggressive in situations where others of the same aged would not respond aggressively?
 
If teachers ask themselves these questions, it may help them become aware of the challenges they are facing with the individual. The answers may signal the presence of behaviours that are related to more serious issues. These are not questions that determine whether a problem exists at a clinical level, but rather, they signal that you may want to find professional support or extra resources. If you are concerned try not to jump to unwarranted conclusions but do seek professional support. And do keep working with the student to provide a safe and nurturing environment. In the following yellow and red light sections we will provide details on how to identify behaviours that may indicate a problem.



As mentioned above, angry behaviour in adolescence is not necessarily worrisome, so long as the youngster expresses that anger in an acceptable way. If we examine the list in the previous section showing behaviours indicative of anger, many are clearly unacceptable in the school setting. For example, there is probably no “green light” level of angry yelling, swearing, throwing things, assault, etc.  Where teacher judgement must be exercised, however, is in assessing the appropriateness of the student expressing anger in less dramatic ways such as spontaneous comments, discussions, drawings or written assignments.
 
Key concepts in this assessment are intensity, frequency and duration. That is, angry expressive behaviour is probably not worrisome if it:
  • is of manageable intensity (i.e., the student maintains or easily regains self-control),
  • only happens occasionally, and
  • occurs in episodes that last less than two minutes.
 
Another key consideration is the student’s ability and willingness to recognize inappropriate or misdirected expression of anger and exhibit remorse or apologize for it.
 
Aggressiveness presents similar challenges. First of all, teachers must judge the severity of aggressive behaviour in the context of school and classroom expectations, and also in the context of what is “normal” for the student involved. Although expectations don’t change from one student to the next, teachers routinely make allowances for student characteristics. So, an aggressive comment from one student might result only in a reminder to rephrase the statement, while the same comment from another might be a red flag that the student is acting out of character.
 
When anger and aggression are combined, the situation is more complex. The question that teachers face when judging the appropriateness of angry aggressive behaviour is this:  Is it ever acceptable for adolescents to express, resolve, dissipate or “handle” anger through aggressive behaviour?   The answer, again, depends on context. For example, in an argument or debate, verbal aggression fuelled by strong emotions, including anger, is believed by some to be an effective way to get others to consider your point of view. Similarly, anger-based aggression is commonplace in competitive sports, though the effectiveness of that strategy might be debatable.
 
Outside of such specialized circumstances, anger-driven aggressive behaviour is not acceptable in the secondary school classroom. That is, there is no “green light” level of outright aggression when it is a manifestation of anger.


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Anger and aggression move into the worrisome “yellow light” zone in a number of ways. First and foremost is when the student expresses feelings of anger or aggression in ways that are not appropriate for the school or classroom setting. Some examples are:
  • angry outburst of yelling, swearing, etc.,
  • temper tantrums, including refusal to comply,
  • spiteful or vindictive behaviour,
  • throwing things,
  • damaging or destroying property,
  • threatening or intimidating others,
  • assaulting others (hitting, kicking, slapping, biting, etc.),
  • fighting.
 
Teachers again must use judgement regarding the intensity, frequency and duration of such behaviours to determine if they are within the worrisome, yellow light zone. For example, if angry outbursts are mild but occur every day for a month, they would clearly be outside the green light zone and strongly suggest at least close monitoring. On the other hand, angrily slapping another student would clearly warrant some consequence, but it might not be considered yellow light behaviour if it were in response to a marked provocation and happened only once.
 
Clearly, in making these judgements teachers are well advised to consult with other school and/or Board staff, such as other teachers who are familiar with the student, as well as with parents.
 
Similarly, aggressive behaviour moves into the yellow light zone based upon its intensity, frequency and duration. Even subtle aggressive comments, verbal or written, might signal a need to monitor the situation if it occurs frequently over a long period of time, and/or if it is of such intensity as to make other students uncomfortable or afraid.
 
Additionally, aggression that is increasing relative to the teacher’s expectations of a particular student would be classified as a yellow light level of concern.
 
Finally, a student’s behaviour should be considered in the yellow light zone if there is a lack of self-awareness about anger or aggression, or if the student fails to recognize the effect his/her anger or aggression has on others.  A common signal here is a student’s lack of remorse or steadfast refusal to apologize.


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Observing behaviour that is clearly and unequivocally aggressive indicates that outside help is needed. Some of the behaviours discussed above are likely to fall into this zone even if observed only once, for example:
  • fire setting,
  • cruelty to animals,
  • threatening or assaulting a teacher or other authority figure.
 
With most other behaviours, however, it would be the combination of intensity, frequency and duration that would help the teacher decide if the line had been crossed into this red zone of severity. When angry and/or aggressive behaviours are occurring multiple times each week and are of sufficient intensity to disrupt the normal flow of classroom activities, the teacher needs to take action.
 
It may also be helpful for the teacher to examine his or her own feelings in order to better judge the severity of the student’s behaviour. Often, your own feelings of outrage, offense, protectiveness of the other students, and even anger, are indicative of the student’s level of impact on the classroom climate.


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Children's development, including problems of angry and aggressive behaviour, is shaped by both nature (heredity) and nurture (environment), interacting together. Children's nature is dictated by factors such as genetics, brain chemistry, and temperament, which may put the child at risk for problems, or may help protect the child from developing problems. These are known as "risk and protective factors". But nature cannot be separated from the settings and relationships in which children grow up (nurture) such as the family, peer group, school, and community, and these can also put the child at risk or provide protection.

In early childhood, the family context is the most influential and continues to be influential throughout childhood and adolescence. As children enter formal education, the school begins to serve an important socializing role. In late childhood and early adolescence, the peer group becomes increasingly influential.

Healthy relationships provide the foundation for healthy development. As humans, we need secure and trusting relationships throughout the lifespan, particularly in times of stress. The difficulties children experience in their early relationships, both at home and school, play a major role in the way they develop and learn to relate to others later in childhood and into adulthood.

Many risk factors (including genetic or biological risks) are prone to change and depend on the environment. For example, although difficulties with attention, hyperactivity, difficult temperament are risk factors for aggression, children's development of problem behaviour depends on the support that they and their families receive to cope with these risks. Thus, there are many social and biological risks for aggressive behaviour and generally, the more risks that children experience, the more likely it is that they will face developmental difficulties. These risks can be buffered by protective factors within the settings, and specifically by the relationships in which they grow up.

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Genes: Patterns of genes are thought to influence characteristics such as impulse control, the need for stimulation, activity level, anxiety, and tolerance for frustration. Although genes do influence development, the way these traits are expressed depends on the environment. Given caring and appropriate behavioural controls and support (both in the home and at school), children with these risks can develop emotional and behavioural regulation necessary for social skills. Because the interactions of genes (nature) and the environment (nurture) are so complex, no direct link has been found between genes and physical aggression.

Testosterone and sex hormones: People generally think that sex hormones, especially testosterone, are a root cause of aggressive behaviour. There is little evidence of any direct link between sex hormones and aggression. There is some evidence, however, that testosterone levels correspond to boys' dominance in their peer group. For some boys, dominance may be linked to aggression, as in bullying.

Temperament: Difficult temperament (fussiness, difficultness, difficulty adapting to new situations, slow to calm, and resistance to control) has long been associated with children's behaviour problems. We now recognize that children both shape and respond to their environments. Children who experience harsh or inconsistent discipline at home or school are at risk of behaviour problems. In contrast, children with difficult temperaments who experience warm, supportive, and consistent guidance from the adults in their lives do not tend to exhibit aggressive behaviour problems.

Abnormalities in brain structure or function (such as brain damage) are associated with childhood aggression. In adolescence, there is a link between aggressive and delinquent behaviour and lower intellectual functioning. Therefore, youth with brain abnormalities need a higher dose of protective support and intervention at home and at school.

Attention problems, impulsivity, and hyperactivity: Aggressive children are often overactive and have difficulties with attention and impulse control. These children are likely to have difficulties in school because of their problems in dealing with frustration and controlling their emotions and behaviours. As with children with a difficult temperament, children with problems of attention, impulsive behaviours and extremely high activity are primarily at risk for developing aggressive behaviour problems when these individual risks interact with environmental risks. In other words, when children with these problems experience risk in the family setting, such as high conflict or ineffective guidance for appropriate behaviour, they are more likely to develop aggressive behaviour problems.

Higher-order cognitive abilities: A link between aggression and children's ability to organize, plan, form goals, and self-monitor has been proposed. These are all skills that are vital to children's school success. Attention, impulse control and emotional regulation are also influenced by these cognitive abilities. It is not surprising, then, that children who are not skilled in these areas experience both academic and social difficulties.


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Family breakdown
 
Situations where children are raised by a single parent, usually the mother, are commonly cited as a contributing factor to significant anger, aggression and misbehaviour at school. But this is not a simple case of cause-and-effect. In fact, the vast majority of children from single-parent homes do just fine in school, both academically and behaviourally. It is a parent's good relationship with the child and interest in the child's academic and social activities that supports success. Although children from single-mother families, especially boys, do exhibit more aggressive, acting-out behaviour, this may be a result of "fatherlessness" rather than the single-parent family. When the birth father remains involved with the child, persistent misbehaviour is less likely. Nonetheless, this family structure is a clear risk factor, particularly since it is frequently accompanied by low socio-economic status or even poverty, which in turn often underlies anger and resentment.

Poverty
 
Poverty, even in intact families, can affect behaviour at school. Children who live in poverty often have emotional issues related to security, self-esteem and anxiety, as well as more basic concerns such as hunger, appropriate clothing and general deprivation. During the teen years, when one’s peer group status becomes vitally important, poverty can exact an even greater toll. Such children and youth are at risk for acting out behaviour motivated by anger, as well as more practically motivated behaviour such as stealing, aggression and fighting to defend one's self image from ridicule.
 
Frequent moves
 
Children who move frequently can also exhibit worrisome behaviour, often generated by feelings of social isolation, loneliness, helplessness or anger. There is considerable variation related to the child's temperament and the circumstances surrounding the moves (e.g., mom keeps getting promotions vs. dad keeps changing jobs vs. we keep getting evicted because we can't pay the rent).

Physical punishment
 
Parents who use physical punishment as their main tool for managing behaviour (not just an occasional mild spanking) are highly likely to produce children who are overly aggressive, fight, bully and intimidate others. Research has shown that children imitate or “model” their parents’ use of aggression, violence or intimidation to solve social problems in their everyday social interactions.
 
Parenting practices
 
Parenting practices, especially those related to discipline, have been linked to anger, aggression and general misbehaviour at school when they are:
  • overly strict or too permissive
  • cool and detached
  • chaotic and inconsistent
  • volatile and unpredictable
Some critics argue that no parent is perfect, therefore researchers can always find something they're doing wrong and then use that to explain the misbehaviour of the children. Although there might be some truth to this criticism, parent training programs have been shown to be highly effective in improving the behaviour of angry, acting out, aggressive children.
As well, some parents seem to value and even reinforce aggressive behaviour in their children, particularly boys. This relates to the learned aspect of aggressive behaviour alluded to earlier. Such parents appear to see aggressiveness as a positive trait that will make their children more successful in a competitive world.
 
Maternal depression
 
Children of depressed mothers are significantly more likely to exhibit challenging behaviour and to have difficulty relating to adults. Some suffer socially and academically because of having to assume extra home responsibilities to meet family needs. Some will appear depressed themselves. Others try to replace their mother's attention by seeking peer attention through clowning, acting out, defiance, aggression or even gang involvement.
 
Disturbed family histories
 
In addition to one or more of the factors noted above, children who exhibit the most disordered behaviour of the "red light" variety frequently struggle with other issues as well. These include:
  • abandonment
  • physical and/or sexual abuse
  • substance abuse in the family
  • incarceration of one or both parents
  • frequent changes in caregiver
Unless they have a markedly resilient temperament, these children will likely exhibit a range of disordered behaviours including aggression, fighting, angry acting out and classroom disruption.
 


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Children who have some form of disability often struggle to keep up with their peers academically, physically, and/or socially. In particular, children with developmental delays are generally slower in developing the language abilities and social skills necessary for effective problem solving. They may also lack the ability to understand another's perspective, which is essential for effective social interactions. Because of their developmental delays, children with autism or other developmental disabilities are more likely to have difficulties controlling their emotions and behaviours. Therefore, these children will need extra support to control their anger and aggression.

The problems for exceptional children arise from both individual and environmental risks. Children who lack certain skills may come to see themselves as different and peers may also become aware of the differences. Perhaps due to a lack of understanding, some children bully others who are different and vulnerable. When children with disabilities are bullied, they may become anxious, frustrated and/or angry. There is a risk that they will react to the abuse at the hands of peers by turning to bullying others. It is essential to be aware of these social risks for such children.


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When children do not understand and respect others' differences, they are at risk of bullying; culture and religion are one basis of diversity and potential risk for bullying and victimization. In their role as important socialization agents, schools must create safe and accepting environments for all students. There are universal or school-wide programs available that provide strategies for school administrators and teachers to create positive environments. These programs help students develop an understanding of diversity and promote social responsibility. Selected examples of such programs include: social skills training; peer mediation programs; school wide conflict resolution; programs that promote equity and diversity, and human rights programs.

Newly arrived immigrants or refugee children may have difficulty adjusting to their new surroundings due to the many changes they face. Language, culture, schooling, family losses, housing, environment, are but a few factors they and their families have to cope with on a daily basis. They may have also experienced trauma in their country of origin. Hence it is important to support these children and encourage appropriate behaviour if they are displaying anger and aggression.


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Circumstances in the Country of Origin

Children who arrive from very turbulent or even violent circumstances in their home country could be at risk behaviourally. Often, these children and their families have been traumatized in the course of their relocation, and may exhibit post-trauma symptoms. The longer the duration of the traumatic experience, the more severe the reaction and the harder it becomes to recover and develop a more positive and trustful view of the world.
Signs of trauma can include anxiety, poor concentration, easily triggered startle response, fear of leaving home and appearance of daydreaming (actually a sudden re-experiencing of traumatic events). These behaviours can bring about negative reactions from teachers or peers and lead to aggressive, argumentative or defensive reactions from the student.
 
Abuse at Home

A surprisingly large number of children and youth in Canada exhibit symptoms of trauma, yet only a small proportion of them are children who experienced violence or disasters in their home country or community. Most children with trauma-induced behaviour problems have either been abused (physically or sexually), or have witnessed the abuse of their mother.
This may seem shocking, but research bears it out. Recent reports suggest that as many as 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 8 boys will be abused in some way before the age of 18. Almost all will show some effects of this in their behaviour at school. In the case of abuse of women, Canadian statistics indicate that about 30% of women report being the victim of violence at the hands of their partner at least once. Almost 40% of these women report that their children witnessed the event(s). If the definition of "witnessing" is broadened to include simply hearing the abuse as it happens, that number increases to as much as 80%. In addition, in more than 30% of cases of woman abuse, the children are also abused, and this does not include the 20% of fetuses at risk when women are abused while pregnant.
To put the data into more concrete terms it appears that on average, in every Canadian classroom there are as many as 6 children who have witnessed the abuse of their mother, and in every elementary school there are as many as 70 girls and 35 boys who have been victims of abuse themselves. Clearly this is a major traumatizing factor affecting behaviour, and the results often include significant anger, aggression and disruptive acting out.
In fact, Canadian research has found that serious emotional and behavioural problems are 10 to 17 times more common in children from violent homes than in children from nonviolent homes. The most commonly reported behaviour problems in these children are:
  • aggression toward peers (and sometimes toward female teachers),
  • noncompliance,
  • anger and defiance,
  • destructive behaviour,
  • depression,
  • anxiety,
  • school phobia,
  • low self-esteem,
  • social problems.
Approximately 60% of children who witness or experience a traumatic event will develop post-trauma symptoms. As mentioned above, these might include:
  • hyper arousal ("deer in headlights" effect),
  • fearfulness,
  • anxiety,
  • irritability,
  • difficulty concentrating,
  • daydreaming,
  • angry outbursts.
Post traumatic behaviour is seldom recognized and is most often misidentified as some form of attention problem. Clearly this factor should be considered a major potential cause for the kind of angry, aggressive misbehaviour addressed here.
 
Death or Loss

Children who have suffered a significant loss might also display some of these behavioural issues. Children who have been relocated have also experienced loss of friends, a familiar school and neighbourhood, and adults they relied on such as teachers and after school caregivers.
Following the death of a friend or loved one, children show sadness, depression, concern about the future, and so on. Remember that anger is also a very normal part of the grieving process, and it can lead to some of the aggressive behaviours being examined here.
Of course, in most cases these behaviours triggered by loss are temporary. Educators have some knowledge of their cause and an understanding of the warmth and compassion needed to get the student through this difficult time.


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Children who have problems with anger and aggression require support from the adults who care for them at home and school. There are many myths about aggression. Some people believe that children "just grow out of it" or it is a "normal part of growing up". However, persistent anger and aggression can lead to very troubled pathways and may be a sign of serious mental or social problems. If children with these problems do not receive supportive interventions, they are at increased risk of engaging in illegal activities such as delinquency and substance use, as well as risky sexual behaviour, depression, and school drop out. There is also evidence that early aggressive behaviour problems can lead to sexual harassment and dating aggression in adolescence and adulthood. These early troubled relationship styles may lay the foundation for dating aggression and sexual harassment in adolescence and other relationship problems, such as domestic violence, in adult relationships. It is essential to catch these problems early in order to prevent future problems.

For the majority of children (70-80%), anger and aggressive behaviour problems are minor and transitory. With minor intervention and support (such as the universal programs offered in schools) these children will improve. A group of children (10-15%) will experience some concerning problems with aggressive behaviour. These children may require additional support and more specialized intervention in order to get them back on the right track. Finally, for a small proportion of children (5-10%), troubling and very severe aggressive behaviour problems will persist and require prolonged and comprehensive intervention to support their development and move them onto a more positive pathway. Since children's peer relationships provide an important context for their social development, it is important to promote positive relationship skills for all children.



All young children need adult support and guidance to help them learn to regulate their emotions and behaviour. Children need consistent support and guidance across all of the contexts in which they live, work, and play. Therefore, a partnership between schools and parents is important in helping children deal with their anger and avoid using aggression.

 

Children in the green light already have a range of social skills and benefit from a supportive setting that enables them to practise those skills and learn new skills. There are many strategies that are effective in creating a classroom environment that maximizes positive behaviour and minimizes children's aggressive behaviour.

  1. Teachers set the tone in their classrooms and children are sensitive to the tone and behaviours of their teachers. It is important for teachers to remember to speak they way that they want children to speak and to behave in a positive manner to model for their children.
  2. Children need clear guidelines as to what is acceptable and what is not. At the beginning of the school year, students can participate in creating a few key rules for the classroom. These rules can be posted and serve as a reminder to all.
  3. Appropriate consequences for aggression must be educational and should match the severity of the aggression. Examples of educational consequences might include: having a child help out, read a story about a child who has difficulties with anger and aggression, draw a picture of what to do differently next time, apologizing or repairing the wrongdoing.
  4. Consequences must be applied immediately and consistently. Consequences or interventions must be monitored closely and recorded to ensure aggression does not reoccur.
  5. If one consequence is not sufficient, then the discipline needs to be progressive, and at the same time educational. For example, if a child gets angry and aggressive during a game at recess, and is not able to control this behaviour by reading and talking about it, the next step might be to have the child sit out from that game for one or two recesses.
  6. There are some important strategies for teachers to remember in disciplining:
    • Children learn by making mistakes and they need help in learning from their mistakes.
    • Effective discipline unfolds in many small steps with increasing consequences, each of which teaches the child something.
    • In responding to anger and aggression, it is important that adults model positive problem solving strategies and avoid showing anger and aggression themselves (even if that is what they are feeling).
    • Teachers can promote respect and engagement by noting small behavioural steps in the right direction.
  7. Most children are aware that teachers disapprove of aggressive behaviour; therefore, they act out aggressively while the teacher is not looking and they use verbal and social forms of aggression that are harder to identify. In the classroom, aggression is more likely to occur when the teacher is focused on other children. On the playground, children are more likely to be aggressive in areas that are not closely monitored by teachers. With an understanding of the nature and subtle forms of aggression, teachers and other supervising adults may be more equipped to identify when it is occurring. Sometimes children who are on the receiving end of aggression will not speak up in the moment about their distress because of fear or shame. These children may be more open to talk about what happened in a private moment. If they explain, thank them for their openness and assure them that you will help to keep them safe.
  8. Children thrive on positive reinforcement -- it is the catalyst for positive social development. It has been suggested that children need 10 positives to every negative. Hence it is vital that teachers recognize and encourage children when they are engaging in positive behaviour, rather than only paying attention to their negative behaviours. This also promotes optimism that children can change their behaviour for the better, which will in turn help build healthy relationships in the classroom.

Regular and open communication with parents regarding children's development and any concerns is important to identify the early stages of developing problems and offer immediate and early intervention. Parents are important partners for schools in socializing children and children benefit when the messages and expectations are consistent across home and school.


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All of the strategies suggested for children in the yellow light area are suitable for the red light area children as well. It is important to begin with the least intensive strategies and work up until the child begins to show progress in development of emotional and behavioural control, as well as positive social behaviour. A small group of children will not be able to benefit sufficiently from the strategies suggested above. They will continue to make mistakes, but will not receive enough support to learn from them. The children who continue to demonstrate more anger than their peers of the same age, and display this anger in aggressive behaviour, may be at great risk for continuing on a troubled pathway through adolescence and into adulthood. There are remarkable opportunities to bring in support for these children while their pathways are still flexible and they have not become marginalized in the school system and alienated from it.

 

For these children with persistent, serious problems with anger and aggression, intervention will need to be intensive and comprehensive, including support of parents. In these cases, a referral to a children's mental health centre or school professional will be required to provide additional support for positive development. The child's case must be referred for discussion at the school's team meeting to involve other professionals in the intervention plan. The School Team should also discuss whether it is necessary to plan on restricting the child's time at school to only a partial school day schedule with a gradual re-introduction of the full day, or any other special accommodations that may be necessary.

Parents are essential partners in this process. If teachers are having difficulties with the child at school, it is likely that parents are also having difficulties at home. Taking time to explore how the child is at home with parents and siblings may open the door to parents' awareness and cooperation. Raising children in stressful circumstances is most challenging. Careful assessment must be conducted to determine the ways in which parents can be involved in the plans to seek additional treatment for their children. The counsellor assigned by the School Team could work with the family to make a referral for appropriate counselling outside of the school, or to reconnect with any counselling or children's services worker who may have had involvement with the family in the past. Also, keeping communication lines open with parents may lead to small steps that work: parents feeling respected and better able to share information in the long run, with a view to developing a better home-school partnership.

Once a child is receiving additional supports at a community clinic, it is essential that the lines of communication with the school are kept open. To maintain the improvements through interventions for aggressive children, it is important that the skills are transferred and practiced in many other settings, such as school. Children with anger and aggression problems pose a particular challenge because they have spent years learning how to use their anger and aggression to get what they want. It takes time for them to establish other behavioural patterns and see the rewards in controlling their emotions and behaviours and engaging in prosocial behaviours. If there is one adult to champion a child and recognize his or her strengths, this support can often be enough to shift a child from a troubled to a healthy pathway. Teachers are often these champions!


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Children who have problems with anger and aggression require support from the adults who care for them at home and school. There are many myths about aggression. Some people believe that children "just grow out of it" or it is a "normal part of growing up". However, persistent anger and aggression can lead to very troubled pathways and may be a sign of serious mental or social problems. If children with these problems do not receive supportive interventions, they are at increased risk of engaging in illegal activities such as delinquency and substance use, as well as risky sexual behaviour, depression, and school drop out. There is also evidence that early aggressive behaviour problems can lead to sexual harassment and dating aggression in adolescence and adulthood. These early troubled relationship styles may lay the foundation for dating aggression and sexual harassment in adolescence and other relationship problems, such as domestic violence, in adult relationships. It is essential to catch these problems early in order to prevent future problems.

For the majority of children (70-80%), anger and aggressive behaviour problems are minor and transitory. With minor intervention and support (such as the universal programs offered in schools) these children will improve. A group of children (10-15%) will experience some concerning problems with aggressive behaviour. These children may require additional support and more specialized intervention in order to get them back on the right track. Finally, for a small proportion of children (5-10%), troubling and very severe aggressive behaviour problems will persist and require prolonged and comprehensive intervention to support their development and move them onto a more positive pathway. Since children's peer relationships provide an important context for their social development, it is important to promote positive relationship skills for all children.



All young children need adult support and guidance to help them learn to regulate their emotions and behaviour. Children need consistent support and guidance across all of the contexts in which they live, work, and play. Therefore, a partnership between schools and parents is important in helping children deal with their anger and avoid using aggression.

 

Children in the green light already have a range of social skills and benefit from a supportive setting that enables them to practise those skills and learn new skills. There are many strategies that are effective in creating a classroom environment that maximizes positive behaviour and minimizes children's aggressive behaviour.

  1. Teachers set the tone in their classrooms and children are sensitive to the tone and behaviours of their teachers. It is important for teachers to remember to speak they way that they want children to speak and to behave in a positive manner to model for their children.
  2. Children need clear guidelines as to what is acceptable and what is not. At the beginning of the school year, students can participate in creating a few key rules for the classroom. These rules can be posted and serve as a reminder to all.
  3. Appropriate consequences for aggression must be educational and should match the severity of the aggression. Examples of educational consequences might include: having a child help out, read a story about a child who has difficulties with anger and aggression, draw a picture of what to do differently next time, apologizing or repairing the wrongdoing.
  4. Consequences must be applied immediately and consistently. Consequences or interventions must be monitored closely and recorded to ensure aggression does not reoccur.
  5. If one consequence is not sufficient, then the discipline needs to be progressive, and at the same time educational. For example, if a child gets angry and aggressive during a game at recess, and is not able to control this behaviour by reading and talking about it, the next step might be to have the child sit out from that game for one or two recesses.
  6. There are some important strategies for teachers to remember in disciplining:
    • Children learn by making mistakes and they need help in learning from their mistakes.
    • Effective discipline unfolds in many small steps with increasing consequences, each of which teaches the child something.
    • In responding to anger and aggression, it is important that adults model positive problem solving strategies and avoid showing anger and aggression themselves (even if that is what they are feeling).
    • Teachers can promote respect and engagement by noting small behavioural steps in the right direction.
  7. Most children are aware that teachers disapprove of aggressive behaviour; therefore, they act out aggressively while the teacher is not looking and they use verbal and social forms of aggression that are harder to identify. In the classroom, aggression is more likely to occur when the teacher is focused on other children. On the playground, children are more likely to be aggressive in areas that are not closely monitored by teachers. With an understanding of the nature and subtle forms of aggression, teachers and other supervising adults may be more equipped to identify when it is occurring. Sometimes children who are on the receiving end of aggression will not speak up in the moment about their distress because of fear or shame. These children may be more open to talk about what happened in a private moment. If they explain, thank them for their openness and assure them that you will help to keep them safe.
  8. Children thrive on positive reinforcement -- it is the catalyst for positive social development. It has been suggested that children need 10 positives to every negative. Hence it is vital that teachers recognize and encourage children when they are engaging in positive behaviour, rather than only paying attention to their negative behaviours. This also promotes optimism that children can change their behaviour for the better, which will in turn help build healthy relationships in the classroom.

Regular and open communication with parents regarding children's development and any concerns is important to identify the early stages of developing problems and offer immediate and early intervention. Parents are important partners for schools in socializing children and children benefit when the messages and expectations are consistent across home and school.


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Children who are experiencing some problems require all of the effective strategies provided to the children in the green light area and a bit more focused support. Children that are angry and acting out aggressively need support to develop the emotional and behavioural control, as well as the social skills, that are critical to effective social interaction. The type of support these children require depends on their areas of difficulties, and can often be delivered in moment-to-moment coaching throughout the day. These children need adult support to boost their social development and their capacity for successful relationships. They may benefit from interventions that help them recognize and express their feelings and manage their angry outbursts. They may also benefit from support to develop specific social skills, such as responding to provocation, thinking through problems the strategies for dealing with them, and the potential consequences of various actions. With focused support, these children's behaviours should improve, so that referral to a professional is not required.

  • Assess the Problem
    • Because children who have angry and aggressive outbursts differ so much, it is important to assess the specific difficulties that a child is experiencing in order to tailor the supports.
    • Speak with the child to understand his or her understanding of the problem with attention to what the immediate triggers for the angry and aggressive behaviour might be, but also attention to potential stresses in the child's life that may be underlying these outbursts. Observations of the child in class, during transitions, and at lunch and recess may also give clues as to the nature of the child's problems.
    • Determine the areas of skill that the child needs help to develop, including: empathy, controlling emotions and behaviours, social skills, and alternative problem solving. Some general strategies to support children in these areas of difficulties are outlined in a subsequent section.
  • Inform the Parents
    • Parents are partners: it is important to keep parents informed and also consult with them in creating a plan for school and home to encourage positive behaviour and reduce aggressive behaviour. Parents are also helpful in shedding light on the nature of the problem (for example, the age at which problem behaviours started). This knowledge will inform plans put into place to manage behaviour in the school and classroom.
  • Educate the Child
    • It is imperative to educate the child about what aggressive behaviour is, why it is not acceptable, and the reasoning behind the consequences. This must occur consistently, and immediately after the aggressive act. Development unfolds through trial and error; children need positive lessons to learn from their mistakes. Talking with children about what happened, why they reacted that way, and what they could have done differently may help them think before they react in the future.
  • Provide Educational Consequences
    • Consequences must provide support for students to learn the skills and acquire the insights they are lacking. In delivering consequences, focus on the problem behaviour and avoid labelling the child as the problem. Children are most eager to work for and please adults whom they value and feel close to. It is important to avoid being hostile and aggressive in disciplining children in order to educate them in alternative positive problem solving. Examples of educational consequences include:
      • Withdraw privileges (recess/lunch) and provide educational replacement activities such as a caring act, role playing the victim with teacher to develop empathy, reading and reporting a bullying or aggression story.
      • Making amends such as a letter of apology
      • Helping around the school, such as with younger children, or in the library. Sometimes these children need to be recognized for their positive behaviours.
  • Support the Child
    • Children are most likely to improve in problem behaviours when they receive positive support from the adults in their lives. There are many ways to approach supporting these children; other teachers may be able to provide some ideas. Children who experience yellow light problems may need more attention and more moment-to-moment support than green light children. The green light children may be helpful in giving support as well.
  • Keep Records and Monitor
    • A one-time effort to support yellow light children may not be enough to shift their behaviours. For interventions to be systematic and progressive, it is important to keep records of the problem behaviour and the consequences implemented. This record will provide a basis for future interventions and for reporting to the principal and parents. More information is provided in the section on How to Document a Problem Behaviour.
  • Build on the Positives with Positives
    • Children improve in positive behaviours when they receive positive reinforcement. All children have strengths and it is important to identify their strengths, help others see the strengths, and recognize children's progress.
    • When adults anticipate children's needs and provide momentary supports, it helps children to develop skills. Anticipating when children may experience problems and providing momentary coaching to help them think of others, stay cool, and remember expectations, may help children refrain from aggressive behaviour and interact positively.
    • There are several social skills programs that have been tested and proven. These will provide teachers with ideas for the types of strategies that they can use to support children who are experiencing problems with anger and aggression. Below are some strategies to use in developing children's skills in specific areas.
  • Specific strategies for promoting empathy
    • Goal: Help children label and recognize their own and others' feelings.
    • Support for identifying children's own feelings can be provided in the moment "I see you look upset; what are you feeling?" but also through more systematic social skills programs.
    • After they are able to recognize their own feelings, they will be able to learn to read others' feelings. This support is best provided in a "teachable moment", when a child has been aggressive and can be lead through an understanding of the effect of his or her behaviour on others: "How do you think John feels right now, after you called him that name?" 
    • Additional activities to promote empathy include: role plays, discussions, reading stories about victimization, media, opportunities to repair damage done, Support Group (no blame) Approach (http://www.happychild.org.uk/acc/tpr/mem/0103nobl.htm), Method of Common Concern (an intervention for bullying, first devised by the Swedish psychologist, Anatol Pikas), Restorative Justice (http://www.restorativejustice.org/), and programs designed specifically for this concern, such as the Roots of Empathy (http://www.rootsofempathy.org/).
  • Specific strategies to promote social skills
    • Goal: Help children control anger and aggression by stopping to regulate emotions and by planning an effective problem solving strategy.
    • Many problems of anger and aggression arise when children are flooded with emotions and act before thinking. It is important to help the child recognize what situations trigger a flood of emotions that result in reacting with aggression. Keep track of emotions and behaviours
    • Picking up the moment-to-moment opportunities for coaching will help children learn what is acceptable and not. It can also provide immediate feedback on the impact of aggressive behaviours on others. When teachers observe aggression in the classroom, in the hallways, and on the playground, it provides a "teachable moment". In this moment, children can identify their own and others' feelings and can learn by "rewinding" the action and replaying the interaction in a way that is not hurtful to others. Although it takes a minute or two to unpack problem situations, the teachable moment provides not only the potential for learning, but also for setting a positive tone for interactions in the school.
    • It is important to provide consequences that allow children to learn about the attitudes, skills and controls they need to acquire. When consequences are delivered in this constructive manner, they not only provide important education, but also reduce the likelihood that the child will become more angry and oppositional following the intervention.
    • Children with anger and aggression problems have missed the important early childhood lessons on how to control their emotions and behaviours. These children will need additional support in recognizing the signs that they are becoming agitated and angry and then learning strategies to control both their emotions and behaviour.
    • These lessons can be delivered through systematic anger management programs, but will be more effective if they are offered and rehearsed in the heated moment when children are likely to have difficulties. Teachers and parents can be most instructive if they are tuned into children's experiences and are able to recognize when child are becoming agitated. This is an opportune time to stop, ask the children how they feel, how their body feels (e.g., heart pounding, tense), and then enable the children to focus on strategies to calm themselves (e.g., counting to 10, breathing in and out to a count of 8) and restrict their aggressive behaviour (e.g., hands in pockets, walk away).
  • Specific strategies for endorsing alternative problem solving
    • Goal: Help child recognize a problem to be solved and to think about many different approaches to solving the problem, along with the potential outcomes of the various solutions.
    • Children's problems are challenging for them to solve. Not only are children unskilled, but their problems are probably with their age-mates who are also relatively unskilled.
    • If children lack emotional and behavioural control, aggression will be one of the first problem- solving strategies that comes to mind. It is important to teach about positive problem solving: how to do it and why. Research shows that aggression does not solve problems in the long term, and it may even create more problems. Training children to stop and think about what else they could say or do to solve their problems is one way to promote effective problem solving.
    • Alternative problem solving can also be supported through moment-to-moment coaching, as well as formal programs. When children are facing problems, teachers and parents can stop them and coach them to think of multiple strategies to approach the problem: "If that doesn't work, what else could you try?" "What did you try to solve the problem? that didn't seem to work, what else could you try?" . For these children, seeking an adult's help is often a solution that can prevent an outburst of anger and aggression.
    • As with other forms of effective relationship skills, adults are constantly on stage as models for children's learning. It is essential that teachers and parents model positive problem solving and the many ways to solve a problem.

Beyond the child's skills

This chapter has focused not only on the child's skills and capacities as they relate to the development of problems with anger and aggression, but also on the child's social environment. The child's family environment, classroom environment, and peer group have strong influences of the development of problem, and positive behaviours. Therefore, when considering interventions, the focus needs to extend beyond skill development in the children who present problems to reach the social contexts in which the child is living.

Teachers have the opportunity to shape both the classroom and the peer contexts to ensure that they are promoting positive interactions and are minimizing the opportunities for negative interactions. These negative interactions have been referred to as "deviancy training". Research has shown that antisocial youth reinforce each other for deviant behaviours, and this naturally increases the likelihood of deviant behaviours. There is also evidence that children become more aggressive in classrooms where there is a generally higher level of aggressive behaviour. In these classrooms, aggression seems to become the norm and many children learn to fit in by being aggressive.

To describe the kinds of interventions needed with classrooms and peer groups to reduce aggressive behaviours, we have chosen the metaphor of "social architecture". Social architecture refers to adults' efforts to design or structure children's experiences with peers in ways that optimize the opportunities for positive peer experiences and discourage negative peer experiences by reducing the opportunities for troubled children to be together and reinforce deviant behaviours. Teachers can be social architects at many levels to reduce the opportunities for aggressive and other forms of antisocial behaviour.

Social architecture in the classroom

  1. Seating arrangements

    Something as basic as where students sit makes a difference for aggressive children. Since these students are often disruptive, there is a tendency to move them to the margins of the classroom. This is also where they find themselves in normal peer groupings because, like teachers, peers do not find these students easy to interact with. When they are at the margins, aggressive children tend to find others just like themselves ; that is when the deviancy training begins and trouble starts to erupt for the teacher. The other problem that arises when aggressive children sit at the margins is that they seldom have the opportunity to be with sociable children who are important models and can set expectations for appropriate behaviours. The strategy for seating arrangement is:

    • Be sure to separate troubled children to reduce the opportunity for deviancy training
    • Try to ensure that a troubled child has opportunity to be surrounded by prosocial (social/positive) children.
  2. Grouping students

    When placing children in groups for an assignment, it is important to be aware of the natural processes that unfold in children's peer groups; they tend to associate with children who are just like themselves. Therefore, when a teacher asks students to get into groups for an assignment, the students who are very strong in the subject will come together, the students who are athletic or artistic might come together, and, of concern, the students who are disruptive may come together (in part because others will not choose them). It will maximize many aspects of learning if the groups are mixed or at least random, rather than letting the natural groupings occur. Therefore, the strategy for grouping students is:

    • Depending on the nature of the assignment, consider grouping with one child who excels in the subject, one who is artistic, one who is a strong leader, and one who might have learning or behavioural difficulties. Students with disabilities or differences also have strengths. These diverse groupings might help other students see those strengths, especially if teachers point them out.
    • There might also be a rational for randomly assigning students to groups and varying the groupings for many different activities and projects. In this way, you provide an opportunity for students to work with many others with whom they might not generally interact. This situation is not unlike what we expect for adults, who seldom have the opportunity to say with whom they want to work for a given project or committee.
  3. Forming teams

    There are often times at school when students need to be assigned to teams (e.g., spelling bees, baseball teams). The traditional means for this process is to pick a couple of students who excel at the task and ask them to pick their respective teams. For the students who are competent and socially accepted, this works well because they are among the first to be picked. For the students who are exceptional, either because of aggressive behaviour problems or for another reason, this process can be devastating as they are seldom picked as desired team members. Their assignment becomes a publicly humiliating process as the two captains debate as to which one has to take the unchosen student this time. Although teachers do not mean to create difficult social situations for the most vulnerable students, when they do not consider the peer dynamics and reputations, the situation can be painful and alienating for these students. The strategy is:

    • Form the teams through a random process, such as drawing names from a hat, the colour shoes children are wearing, or birthday months.
    • Form the teams with some designed process whereby there are standard groupings for a given week for all activities, then for the following week the groups change.
  4. Free time

    Social architecture is also an important consideration for children's free time, such as at lunch or recess. Groups of aggressive children should be kept apart as much as possible as they tend to spur each other on in deviant behaviour. Our research shows that when one child is aggressive, as in bullying, and another child joins in, the first child is likely to increase in both excitement and aggression. When this occurs, it is important to direct children to play apart. Free time and free range on the playground is a privilege, not a right. This privilege can be taken away and earned back through the educational consequences we discussed earlier.


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All of the strategies suggested for children in the yellow light area are suitable for the red light area children as well. It is important to begin with the least intensive strategies and work up until the child begins to show progress in development of emotional and behavioural control, as well as positive social behaviour. A small group of children will not be able to benefit sufficiently from the strategies suggested above. They will continue to make mistakes, but will not receive enough support to learn from them. The children who continue to demonstrate more anger than their peers of the same age, and display this anger in aggressive behaviour, may be at great risk for continuing on a troubled pathway through adolescence and into adulthood. There are remarkable opportunities to bring in support for these children while their pathways are still flexible and they have not become marginalized in the school system and alienated from it.

 

For these children with persistent, serious problems with anger and aggression, intervention will need to be intensive and comprehensive, including support of parents. In these cases, a referral to a children's mental health centre or school professional will be required to provide additional support for positive development. The child's case must be referred for discussion at the school's team meeting to involve other professionals in the intervention plan. The School Team should also discuss whether it is necessary to plan on restricting the child's time at school to only a partial school day schedule with a gradual re-introduction of the full day, or any other special accommodations that may be necessary.

Parents are essential partners in this process. If teachers are having difficulties with the child at school, it is likely that parents are also having difficulties at home. Taking time to explore how the child is at home with parents and siblings may open the door to parents' awareness and cooperation. Raising children in stressful circumstances is most challenging. Careful assessment must be conducted to determine the ways in which parents can be involved in the plans to seek additional treatment for their children. The counsellor assigned by the School Team could work with the family to make a referral for appropriate counselling outside of the school, or to reconnect with any counselling or children's services worker who may have had involvement with the family in the past. Also, keeping communication lines open with parents may lead to small steps that work: parents feeling respected and better able to share information in the long run, with a view to developing a better home-school partnership.

Once a child is receiving additional supports at a community clinic, it is essential that the lines of communication with the school are kept open. To maintain the improvements through interventions for aggressive children, it is important that the skills are transferred and practiced in many other settings, such as school. Children with anger and aggression problems pose a particular challenge because they have spent years learning how to use their anger and aggression to get what they want. It takes time for them to establish other behavioural patterns and see the rewards in controlling their emotions and behaviours and engaging in prosocial behaviours. If there is one adult to champion a child and recognize his or her strengths, this support can often be enough to shift a child from a troubled to a healthy pathway. Teachers are often these champions!


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Children who have problems with anger and aggression require support from the adults who care for them at home and school. There are many myths about aggression. Some people believe that children "just grow out of it" or it is a "normal part of growing up". However, persistent anger and aggression can lead to very troubled pathways and may be a sign of serious mental or social problems. If children with these problems do not receive supportive interventions, they are at increased risk of engaging in illegal activities such as delinquency and substance use, as well as risky sexual behaviour, depression, and school drop out. There is also evidence that early aggressive behaviour problems can lead to sexual harassment and dating aggression in adolescence and adulthood. These early troubled relationship styles may lay the foundation for dating aggression and sexual harassment in adolescence and other relationship problems, such as domestic violence, in adult relationships. It is essential to catch these problems early in order to prevent future problems.

For the majority of children (70-80%), anger and aggressive behaviour problems are minor and transitory. With minor intervention and support (such as the universal programs offered in schools) these children will improve. A group of children (10-15%) will experience some concerning problems with aggressive behaviour. These children may require additional support and more specialized intervention in order to get them back on the right track. Finally, for a small proportion of children (5-10%), troubling and very severe aggressive behaviour problems will persist and require prolonged and comprehensive intervention to support their development and move them onto a more positive pathway. Since children's peer relationships provide an important context for their social development, it is important to promote positive relationship skills for all children.



All young children need adult support and guidance to help them learn to regulate their emotions and behaviour. Children need consistent support and guidance across all of the contexts in which they live, work, and play. Therefore, a partnership between schools and parents is important in helping children deal with their anger and avoid using aggression.

 

Children in the green light already have a range of social skills and benefit from a supportive setting that enables them to practise those skills and learn new skills. There are many strategies that are effective in creating a classroom environment that maximizes positive behaviour and minimizes children's aggressive behaviour.

  1. Teachers set the tone in their classrooms and children are sensitive to the tone and behaviours of their teachers. It is important for teachers to remember to speak they way that they want children to speak and to behave in a positive manner to model for their children.
  2. Children need clear guidelines as to what is acceptable and what is not. At the beginning of the school year, students can participate in creating a few key rules for the classroom. These rules can be posted and serve as a reminder to all.
  3. Appropriate consequences for aggression must be educational and should match the severity of the aggression. Examples of educational consequences might include: having a child help out, read a story about a child who has difficulties with anger and aggression, draw a picture of what to do differently next time, apologizing or repairing the wrongdoing.
  4. Consequences must be applied immediately and consistently. Consequences or interventions must be monitored closely and recorded to ensure aggression does not reoccur.
  5. If one consequence is not sufficient, then the discipline needs to be progressive, and at the same time educational. For example, if a child gets angry and aggressive during a game at recess, and is not able to control this behaviour by reading and talking about it, the next step might be to have the child sit out from that game for one or two recesses.
  6. There are some important strategies for teachers to remember in disciplining:
    • Children learn by making mistakes and they need help in learning from their mistakes.
    • Effective discipline unfolds in many small steps with increasing consequences, each of which teaches the child something.
    • In responding to anger and aggression, it is important that adults model positive problem solving strategies and avoid showing anger and aggression themselves (even if that is what they are feeling).
    • Teachers can promote respect and engagement by noting small behavioural steps in the right direction.
  7. Most children are aware that teachers disapprove of aggressive behaviour; therefore, they act out aggressively while the teacher is not looking and they use verbal and social forms of aggression that are harder to identify. In the classroom, aggression is more likely to occur when the teacher is focused on other children. On the playground, children are more likely to be aggressive in areas that are not closely monitored by teachers. With an understanding of the nature and subtle forms of aggression, teachers and other supervising adults may be more equipped to identify when it is occurring. Sometimes children who are on the receiving end of aggression will not speak up in the moment about their distress because of fear or shame. These children may be more open to talk about what happened in a private moment. If they explain, thank them for their openness and assure them that you will help to keep them safe.
  8. Children thrive on positive reinforcement -- it is the catalyst for positive social development. It has been suggested that children need 10 positives to every negative. Hence it is vital that teachers recognize and encourage children when they are engaging in positive behaviour, rather than only paying attention to their negative behaviours. This also promotes optimism that children can change their behaviour for the better, which will in turn help build healthy relationships in the classroom.

Regular and open communication with parents regarding children's development and any concerns is important to identify the early stages of developing problems and offer immediate and early intervention. Parents are important partners for schools in socializing children and children benefit when the messages and expectations are consistent across home and school.


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Children who are experiencing some problems require all of the effective strategies provided to the children in the green light area and a bit more focused support. Children that are angry and acting out aggressively need support to develop the emotional and behavioural control, as well as the social skills, that are critical to effective social interaction. The type of support these children require depends on their areas of difficulties, and can often be delivered in moment-to-moment coaching throughout the day. These children need adult support to boost their social development and their capacity for successful relationships. They may benefit from interventions that help them recognize and express their feelings and manage their angry outbursts. They may also benefit from support to develop specific social skills, such as responding to provocation, thinking through problems the strategies for dealing with them, and the potential consequences of various actions. With focused support, these children's behaviours should improve, so that referral to a professional is not required.

  • Assess the Problem
    • Because children who have angry and aggressive outbursts differ so much, it is important to assess the specific difficulties that a child is experiencing in order to tailor the supports.
    • Speak with the child to understand his or her understanding of the problem with attention to what the immediate triggers for the angry and aggressive behaviour might be, but also attention to potential stresses in the child's life that may be underlying these outbursts. Observations of the child in class, during transitions, and at lunch and recess may also give clues as to the nature of the child's problems.
    • Determine the areas of skill that the child needs help to develop, including: empathy, controlling emotions and behaviours, social skills, and alternative problem solving. Some general strategies to support children in these areas of difficulties are outlined in a subsequent section.
  • Inform the Parents
    • Parents are partners: it is important to keep parents informed and also consult with them in creating a plan for school and home to encourage positive behaviour and reduce aggressive behaviour. Parents are also helpful in shedding light on the nature of the problem (for example, the age at which problem behaviours started). This knowledge will inform plans put into place to manage behaviour in the school and classroom.
  • Educate the Child
    • It is imperative to educate the child about what aggressive behaviour is, why it is not acceptable, and the reasoning behind the consequences. This must occur consistently, and immediately after the aggressive act. Development unfolds through trial and error; children need positive lessons to learn from their mistakes. Talking with children about what happened, why they reacted that way, and what they could have done differently may help them think before they react in the future.
  • Provide Educational Consequences
    • Consequences must provide support for students to learn the skills and acquire the insights they are lacking. In delivering consequences, focus on the problem behaviour and avoid labelling the child as the problem. Children are most eager to work for and please adults whom they value and feel close to. It is important to avoid being hostile and aggressive in disciplining children in order to educate them in alternative positive problem solving. Examples of educational consequences include:
      • Withdraw privileges (recess/lunch) and provide educational replacement activities such as a caring act, role playing the victim with teacher to develop empathy, reading and reporting a bullying or aggression story.
      • Making amends such as a letter of apology
      • Helping around the school, such as with younger children, or in the library. Sometimes these children need to be recognized for their positive behaviours.
  • Support the Child
    • Children are most likely to improve in problem behaviours when they receive positive support from the adults in their lives. There are many ways to approach supporting these children; other teachers may be able to provide some ideas. Children who experience yellow light problems may need more attention and more moment-to-moment support than green light children. The green light children may be helpful in giving support as well.
  • Keep Records and Monitor
    • A one-time effort to support yellow light children may not be enough to shift their behaviours. For interventions to be systematic and progressive, it is important to keep records of the problem behaviour and the consequences implemented. This record will provide a basis for future interventions and for reporting to the principal and parents. More information is provided in the section on How to Document a Problem Behaviour.
  • Build on the Positives with Positives
    • Children improve in positive behaviours when they receive positive reinforcement. All children have strengths and it is important to identify their strengths, help others see the strengths, and recognize children's progress.
    • When adults anticipate children's needs and provide momentary supports, it helps children to develop skills. Anticipating when children may experience problems and providing momentary coaching to help them think of others, stay cool, and remember expectations, may help children refrain from aggressive behaviour and interact positively.
    • There are several social skills programs that have been tested and proven. These will provide teachers with ideas for the types of strategies that they can use to support children who are experiencing problems with anger and aggression. Below are some strategies to use in developing children's skills in specific areas.
  • Specific strategies for promoting empathy
    • Goal: Help children label and recognize their own and others' feelings.
    • Support for identifying children's own feelings can be provided in the moment "I see you look upset; what are you feeling?" but also through more systematic social skills programs.
    • After they are able to recognize their own feelings, they will be able to learn to read others' feelings. This support is best provided in a "teachable moment", when a child has been aggressive and can be lead through an understanding of the effect of his or her behaviour on others: "How do you think John feels right now, after you called him that name?" 
    • Additional activities to promote empathy include: role plays, discussions, reading stories about victimization, media, opportunities to repair damage done, Support Group (no blame) Approach (http://www.happychild.org.uk/acc/tpr/mem/0103nobl.htm), Method of Common Concern (an intervention for bullying, first devised by the Swedish psychologist, Anatol Pikas), Restorative Justice (http://www.restorativejustice.org/), and programs designed specifically for this concern, such as the Roots of Empathy (http://www.rootsofempathy.org/).
  • Specific strategies to promote social skills
    • Goal: Help children control anger and aggression by stopping to regulate emotions and by planning an effective problem solving strategy.
    • Many problems of anger and aggression arise when children are flooded with emotions and act before thinking. It is important to help the child recognize what situations trigger a flood of emotions that result in reacting with aggression. Keep track of emotions and behaviours
    • Picking up the moment-to-moment opportunities for coaching will help children learn what is acceptable and not. It can also provide immediate feedback on the impact of aggressive behaviours on others. When teachers observe aggression in the classroom, in the hallways, and on the playground, it provides a "teachable moment". In this moment, children can identify their own and others' feelings and can learn by "rewinding" the action and replaying the interaction in a way that is not hurtful to others. Although it takes a minute or two to unpack problem situations, the teachable moment provides not only the potential for learning, but also for setting a positive tone for interactions in the school.
    • It is important to provide consequences that allow children to learn about the attitudes, skills and controls they need to acquire. When consequences are delivered in this constructive manner, they not only provide important education, but also reduce the likelihood that the child will become more angry and oppositional following the intervention.
    • Children with anger and aggression problems have missed the important early childhood lessons on how to control their emotions and behaviours. These children will need additional support in recognizing the signs that they are becoming agitated and angry and then learning strategies to control both their emotions and behaviour.
    • These lessons can be delivered through systematic anger management programs, but will be more effective if they are offered and rehearsed in the heated moment when children are likely to have difficulties. Teachers and parents can be most instructive if they are tuned into children's experiences and are able to recognize when child are becoming agitated. This is an opportune time to stop, ask the children how they feel, how their body feels (e.g., heart pounding, tense), and then enable the children to focus on strategies to calm themselves (e.g., counting to 10, breathing in and out to a count of 8) and restrict their aggressive behaviour (e.g., hands in pockets, walk away).
  • Specific strategies for endorsing alternative problem solving
    • Goal: Help child recognize a problem to be solved and to think about many different approaches to solving the problem, along with the potential outcomes of the various solutions.
    • Children's problems are challenging for them to solve. Not only are children unskilled, but their problems are probably with their age-mates who are also relatively unskilled.
    • If children lack emotional and behavioural control, aggression will be one of the first problem- solving strategies that comes to mind. It is important to teach about positive problem solving: how to do it and why. Research shows that aggression does not solve problems in the long term, and it may even create more problems. Training children to stop and think about what else they could say or do to solve their problems is one way to promote effective problem solving.
    • Alternative problem solving can also be supported through moment-to-moment coaching, as well as formal programs. When children are facing problems, teachers and parents can stop them and coach them to think of multiple strategies to approach the problem: "If that doesn't work, what else could you try?" "What did you try to solve the problem? that didn't seem to work, what else could you try?" . For these children, seeking an adult's help is often a solution that can prevent an outburst of anger and aggression.
    • As with other forms of effective relationship skills, adults are constantly on stage as models for children's learning. It is essential that teachers and parents model positive problem solving and the many ways to solve a problem.

Beyond the child's skills

This chapter has focused not only on the child's skills and capacities as they relate to the development of problems with anger and aggression, but also on the child's social environment. The child's family environment, classroom environment, and peer group have strong influences of the development of problem, and positive behaviours. Therefore, when considering interventions, the focus needs to extend beyond skill development in the children who present problems to reach the social contexts in which the child is living.

Teachers have the opportunity to shape both the classroom and the peer contexts to ensure that they are promoting positive interactions and are minimizing the opportunities for negative interactions. These negative interactions have been referred to as "deviancy training". Research has shown that antisocial youth reinforce each other for deviant behaviours, and this naturally increases the likelihood of deviant behaviours. There is also evidence that children become more aggressive in classrooms where there is a generally higher level of aggressive behaviour. In these classrooms, aggression seems to become the norm and many children learn to fit in by being aggressive.

To describe the kinds of interventions needed with classrooms and peer groups to reduce aggressive behaviours, we have chosen the metaphor of "social architecture". Social architecture refers to adults' efforts to design or structure children's experiences with peers in ways that optimize the opportunities for positive peer experiences and discourage negative peer experiences by reducing the opportunities for troubled children to be together and reinforce deviant behaviours. Teachers can be social architects at many levels to reduce the opportunities for aggressive and other forms of antisocial behaviour.

Social architecture in the classroom

  1. Seating arrangements

    Something as basic as where students sit makes a difference for aggressive children. Since these students are often disruptive, there is a tendency to move them to the margins of the classroom. This is also where they find themselves in normal peer groupings because, like teachers, peers do not find these students easy to interact with. When they are at the margins, aggressive children tend to find others just like themselves ; that is when the deviancy training begins and trouble starts to erupt for the teacher. The other problem that arises when aggressive children sit at the margins is that they seldom have the opportunity to be with sociable children who are important models and can set expectations for appropriate behaviours. The strategy for seating arrangement is:

    • Be sure to separate troubled children to reduce the opportunity for deviancy training
    • Try to ensure that a troubled child has opportunity to be surrounded by prosocial (social/positive) children.
  2. Grouping students

    When placing children in groups for an assignment, it is important to be aware of the natural processes that unfold in children's peer groups; they tend to associate with children who are just like themselves. Therefore, when a teacher asks students to get into groups for an assignment, the students who are very strong in the subject will come together, the students who are athletic or artistic might come together, and, of concern, the students who are disruptive may come together (in part because others will not choose them). It will maximize many aspects of learning if the groups are mixed or at least random, rather than letting the natural groupings occur. Therefore, the strategy for grouping students is:

    • Depending on the nature of the assignment, consider grouping with one child who excels in the subject, one who is artistic, one who is a strong leader, and one who might have learning or behavioural difficulties. Students with disabilities or differences also have strengths. These diverse groupings might help other students see those strengths, especially if teachers point them out.
    • There might also be a rational for randomly assigning students to groups and varying the groupings for many different activities and projects. In this way, you provide an opportunity for students to work with many others with whom they might not generally interact. This situation is not unlike what we expect for adults, who seldom have the opportunity to say with whom they want to work for a given project or committee.
  3. Forming teams

    There are often times at school when students need to be assigned to teams (e.g., spelling bees, baseball teams). The traditional means for this process is to pick a couple of students who excel at the task and ask them to pick their respective teams. For the students who are competent and socially accepted, this works well because they are among the first to be picked. For the students who are exceptional, either because of aggressive behaviour problems or for another reason, this process can be devastating as they are seldom picked as desired team members. Their assignment becomes a publicly humiliating process as the two captains debate as to which one has to take the unchosen student this time. Although teachers do not mean to create difficult social situations for the most vulnerable students, when they do not consider the peer dynamics and reputations, the situation can be painful and alienating for these students. The strategy is:

    • Form the teams through a random process, such as drawing names from a hat, the colour shoes children are wearing, or birthday months.
    • Form the teams with some designed process whereby there are standard groupings for a given week for all activities, then for the following week the groups change.
  4. Free time

    Social architecture is also an important consideration for children's free time, such as at lunch or recess. Groups of aggressive children should be kept apart as much as possible as they tend to spur each other on in deviant behaviour. Our research shows that when one child is aggressive, as in bullying, and another child joins in, the first child is likely to increase in both excitement and aggression. When this occurs, it is important to direct children to play apart. Free time and free range on the playground is a privilege, not a right. This privilege can be taken away and earned back through the educational consequences we discussed earlier.


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All of the strategies suggested for children in the yellow light area are suitable for the red light area children as well. It is important to begin with the least intensive strategies and work up until the child begins to show progress in development of emotional and behavioural control, as well as positive social behaviour. A small group of children will not be able to benefit sufficiently from the strategies suggested above. They will continue to make mistakes, but will not receive enough support to learn from them. The children who continue to demonstrate more anger than their peers of the same age, and display this anger in aggressive behaviour, may be at great risk for continuing on a troubled pathway through adolescence and into adulthood. There are remarkable opportunities to bring in support for these children while their pathways are still flexible and they have not become marginalized in the school system and alienated from it.

 

For these children with persistent, serious problems with anger and aggression, intervention will need to be intensive and comprehensive, including support of parents. In these cases, a referral to a children's mental health centre or school professional will be required to provide additional support for positive development. The child's case must be referred for discussion at the school's team meeting to involve other professionals in the intervention plan. The School Team should also discuss whether it is necessary to plan on restricting the child's time at school to only a partial school day schedule with a gradual re-introduction of the full day, or any other special accommodations that may be necessary.

Parents are essential partners in this process. If teachers are having difficulties with the child at school, it is likely that parents are also having difficulties at home. Taking time to explore how the child is at home with parents and siblings may open the door to parents' awareness and cooperation. Raising children in stressful circumstances is most challenging. Careful assessment must be conducted to determine the ways in which parents can be involved in the plans to seek additional treatment for their children. The counsellor assigned by the School Team could work with the family to make a referral for appropriate counselling outside of the school, or to reconnect with any counselling or children's services worker who may have had involvement with the family in the past. Also, keeping communication lines open with parents may lead to small steps that work: parents feeling respected and better able to share information in the long run, with a view to developing a better home-school partnership.

Once a child is receiving additional supports at a community clinic, it is essential that the lines of communication with the school are kept open. To maintain the improvements through interventions for aggressive children, it is important that the skills are transferred and practiced in many other settings, such as school. Children with anger and aggression problems pose a particular challenge because they have spent years learning how to use their anger and aggression to get what they want. It takes time for them to establish other behavioural patterns and see the rewards in controlling their emotions and behaviours and engaging in prosocial behaviours. If there is one adult to champion a child and recognize his or her strengths, this support can often be enough to shift a child from a troubled to a healthy pathway. Teachers are often these champions!


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The following information is not meant to supplant or contradict School Board or Ministry of Education policies, rules or guidelines. The intent is strictly to complement and support such established procedures and provide concrete, practical, and evidence-based strategies to assist teachers in meeting their disciplinary responsibilities.

Why should teachers do something about anger and aggression?

Dealing with anger and aggression in the classroom is a high priority for teachers and school administrators. This type of behaviour, even at normal or "green light" levels, is disruptive to the learning of the other students in the class, affects the mood and effectiveness of the teacher, and undermines the orderly, productive climate we expect in the classroom.
From the standpoint of the student exhibiting the behaviour, action must be taken because it can be a warning sign of worse to come. Aggressive behaviour in elementary school is often a precursor to significant academic, social and behaviour problems in subsequent years. In fact, children identified as hard to manage at age 4 have a 50/50 chance of experiencing serious behaviour problems in adolescence. They are at increased risk of:
·         engaging in illegal activities such as delinquency, violence and substance use
·         risky sexual behaviour
·         depression
·         dropping out of school
·         sexual harassment and dating aggression
·         domestic violence
Research also shows that from a young age aggressive children tend to be rejected by their peers, which can lead to significant social challenges during the adolescent period when the peer group becomes so important.

Underlying beliefs about dealing with aggressive behaviour

Some theorists suggest that there are in fact two types of aggressive behaviour patterns, proactive and reactive. They can be distinguished as follows:
Proactive aggression is characterized by:
·         goal directed aggression (i.e.,  designed to get or accomplish something)
·         unprovoked intentions to harm or coerce others
·         cool-headedness
·         overestimation of the effectiveness of aggressive behaviour
·         underestimation of impact on victim
·         origins in home and neighbourhood environments that value and reinforce aggression
Reactive aggression is characterized by:
·         overestimation of threats and dangers in the environment
·         tendency to interpret intentions and behaviour of others as hostile
·         inability to see a range of solutions to problems
·         high level of general anger and hostility
·         hot-blooded anger or fear responses
·         over-reaction to minor provocations
·         origins in home and neighbourhood environments that are abusive, unpredictable, and fear-inducing
Clearly, strategies for coping with aggressiveness will vary depending on which of these two patterns seems to predominate in any one youngster.

Basic Principles

As much as everyone agrees on the need to deal with aggressive behaviour, there is considerable disagreement over the question of how teachers might best approach it. Countless books and articles have been written on this topic, and they offer a myriad of philosophies, theories and practical applications. The ideas and suggestions that follow include much of this information, but are framed according to some clear underlying beliefs.
First of all, behaviour is heavily influenced by its antecedents (what happens just before) and especially by its consequences (what happens just after). However, the emotional and cognitive states of the child are also important. For example, teachers wouldn't be expected to respond in the same way to two seemingly identical temper tantrums, if one child was merely trying to get out of a detention, while the other was acting out anger feelings due to the death of a parent. Thoughts and feelings do count.
Secondly, adults can't control the behaviour of children, teens or anyone else. We can only control our own behaviour and certain aspects of the environment. Luckily that's usually enough, because the actions of adults, especially teachers, are remarkably important to children, even teenaged children. While that's good news, it does mean that we need to be aware of our own behaviour around children and youth so that we don't unintentionally influence their behaviour in a negative way. In fact that's a common problem, and teachers often are unwittingly playing a role in maintaining the very behaviour that's bothering them.

Basic Behavioural Principles:

 Focus on Prevention

·         Because behaviour is significantly influenced by its antecedents, or what has come before, the general day-to-day classroom and school environment plays an important role in determining how students will behave. The guidelines below are based on practices that are known to reduce opportunities or triggers for misbehaviour.
·         Create a classroom that is curriculum-focused, with ample opportunity for every student to experience academic success.
·         All students come to school wanting to be successful, and a good deal of misbehaviour is a result of either boredom or discouragement. Therefore, teachers won't usually have to deal with a lot of misbehaviour if they:
o   establish a structured learning environment that engages each student with the       curriculum,
o   maintain a brisk academic pace,
o   teach each student at a level where he or she can be successful, and
o   maintain optimism and high expectations for each student
Spend time at the beginning of each school year teaching behavioural expectations
·         Most teachers seem to feel that this shouldn't be necessary, but students face a wide variety of teacher styles and expectations when it comes to behaviour. For example, some teachers value student interaction in the learning process, and therefore have a high tolerance for the constant buzz of discussion in the room. Other teachers demand near silence in the classroom, particularly while they are working with small groups or individuals, or while seat work is underway.
·         Similarly, teachers vary in their expectations and in the rules they establish around such things as classroom discussions. Some teachers love chaotic, enthusiastic participation, while others demand orderly taking of turns. All expectations need to be taught directly just as one would teach content. It is also wise to allow students to have input and discuss and debate the procedures the teacher has established, especially with adolescents in the High School setting. Students should never have to guess or learn through trial and error when it comes to the teacher's expectations around behaviour.
Be consistent. Not perfect, since obviously that's impossible, but very consistent
·         If you spend time teaching your rules and expectations, then it would be disastrously unfair to bend them, ignore them or change them unannounced.
·          As well, a rule, procedure or expectation related to behaviour has to be applied equally to all the students, and teachers need to be reliably predictable from day to day, week to week, month to month. Kids, even teens, love well-established routines. They do not need to like or approve of every rule, but when the rules are enforced consistently, the students will at least respect your fairness.
Create a constant, unwavering climate of mutual respect
For the teacher, part of being respectful lies in trying to be consistent. Just as important, it means treating all students with respect, even when they are misbehaving. Teachers who rely on disciplinary measures that are overly punitive, demeaning, humiliating or disrespectful, are sure to escalate behavioural issues. When students are treated with respect and dignity, they generally return the favour.

Communicate with parents

Ideally, students should see their parents and their teachers as a united team with similar hopes for student success, and similar expectations for appropriate behaviour. Teachers should never miss an opportunity to communicate with parents, and to establish a relationship that is positive, open, supportive and child centered. Parents can be powerful allies in the task of behaviour management, since their co-operation creates a sense in the students that they are accountable for what they do beyond the limits of the school. On the other hand, if parents are not supportive, teachers can maintain high behavioural expectations without them. It's simply easier if the parents are "on the same page".
Remember that children are curious and exploratory and that's a good thing
·         Teachers should not feel offended or defensive when their students test them. In fact, experienced teachers expect testing behaviour and are prepared for it, especially early in the school year. When rules are established, expect that at least one student will need to ensure that they will be enforced. This is not because that student is "bad" or disobedient, but simply because students need to know.
·         These testing situations are really quite important. If students find that the rule is not enforced, that rule will cease to have any power over their behaviour. It’s vital, especially early in the school year, that you deal with rule violations promptly, calmly, respectfully, but firmly. Do this consistently, and you'll likely not have to deal with them again very often.
 
Pay attention to non-verbal communication
Some teachers may not believe that how you say something is more important than what you say, but research has shown that maintaining control in a classroom is really about communicating effectively and consistently. After all, teachers are powerful role models to their students. You need to pay attention to how you give directions, commands or requests. This involves learning how to control your voice and your body language so that students understand you're serious and you mean what you say.
Tips for "saying it like you mean it":
  • when giving a direct instruction make sure you're telling (e.g. Put your books away now, please.), rather than asking (e.g. Can we put our books away now, please?);
  • if a student needs to be confronted about misbehaviour, make direct eye contact and use a calm, strong (not loud) voice
  • be aware of the message your body language conveys and stand up straight, face the student, be assertive, "own the room"
  • don't accuse the student of any intent or interpret his or her behaviour as having some hidden agenda, just repeat your direction calmly and wait for compliance (noncompliance is covered below)
  • always sincerely thank the student when he or she finally complies so that the issue ends on a positive note
Behaviour Follows Rules
As complex as human behaviour is, there are still basic rules that govern our actions. Student behaviour in the classroom is rule-governed and surprisingly predictable. Most teachers are aware of these rules and have even studied them during their training, but few have been trained to take full advantage of these rules to create a classroom that is productive, orderly and enjoyable. Those who have accomplished this have often done it instinctively because of their own natural abilities and personalities. Below is a brief review of the rules that govern behaviour.
 
The rule of reinforcement: Behaviour that is followed by a positive result (a reward or reinforcement) is likely to occur frequently.
Your grandmother stated it as follows: "You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar." And indeed there is a common sense feel to this rule. Professionals who train animals use this rule religiously, yet many people feel that it's far too simplistic to be relevant to human beings. On the contrary, it's the single most powerful determinant of behaviour, and it's used in sports, business and industry to good advantage. It can be a powerful yet simple approach to developing the kind of behaviour that makes not only a good student, but a good citizen.
 
Following the rule of reinforcement in the classroom
In the classroom, closely monitoring behaviour, catching students in the act of being successful, and following that with positive feedback, praise, encouragement, check marks, smiles, or anything else that students value can be highly effective as a means of preventing aggression and other misbehavior. It also can be used to increase on-task behaviour, working cooperatively, work completion, paying attention, and so on. Teachers often use this strategy in younger grades but it has been shown to be similarly effective with older students and even adults.
As well, children are highly imitative, and will model behaviour that they see being rewarded. This is why we often hear that misbehaviour is "contagious", but in truth, any behaviour that results in a public reward is contagious in this way.
Corollary: Any behaviour that is frequently repeated must be getting rewarded
This gives us some insight into the most common misbehaviours teachers deal with in the classroom such as talking, disrupting, and breaking rules. Somehow, something or someone must be rewarding these persistent, annoying behaviours. In a disturbingly large number of cases, the "someone" is actually the teacher, and the reward is attention.
It's very difficult to convince people that attention is such a powerful reward for children and teens, that they crave it even when it's negative. But it's true. Research has repeatedly shown that when teachers respond to misbehaviour solely by paying attention to it, even when that attention is in the form of scolding, correcting, or disapproving, the misbehaviour increases in frequency. The result is a frustrated teacher who then looks for a way to punish the misbehaviour to make it stop.
A better solution in most cases is for the teacher to change the dynamic. If a student misbehaves, make a mental note that perhaps that student is craving attention. Why that may be is an interesting question but right now let's concentrate on teaching the student a better way to elicit attention from an important adult. Let's ignore the misbehaviour and wait for the student to do something more appropriate, even if it's only sitting quietly for a moment or two. At that point, the teacher goes into action. Now the teacher can approach the student and give him or her all the attention required.
Principle:
If attention is given just for inappropriate behaviour, the student is being taught to misbehave to get rewarded with attention.
When attention is given for appropriate behaviour, it's that appropriate behaviour that is reinforced and therefore is more likely to occur again.
In more severe cases of misbehaviour, especially with older students, it may not be teacher attention that is maintaining the problem. It could instead be peer attention or a need for power and control, or some other powerful reward. In such cases, more complex reinforcement systems are required, and that will be dealt with later on.
 
The rule of extinction: A behaviour that is occurring frequently will gradually disappear if the reward stops.
Unfortunately, this rule is frequently misunderstood. In fact, simply withdrawing reinforcement and doing nothing else differently might actually make matters worse.
Example: A student reacts angrily when challenged by difficult seat work, distracting others by slamming books shut and muttering about “stupid questions”. When told to stop, she does. But a few minutes later she's loudly expressing anger again until once more told to quiet down. This cycle typically continues for some time. Analyzing the situation, the teacher concludes that the student is getting a lot of attention for this behaviour, so he decides to ignore it. This appears to work for a while, but then the student begins to disrupt again, this time getting aggressive and loud. In fact, if all the teacher does is ignore it, the behaviour is likely to get more and more disruptive until it can't be ignored any longer and then the teacher gets angry.
The problem here is that the rule of extinction cannot be used by itself. Merely ignoring misbehaviour won't solve the root problem: namely that the student for some reason needs teacher attention.
Ignoring misbehaviour works only if combined with the reinforcement of an appropriate behaviour that's incompatible with that misbehaviour.
So in our example, ignoring the student should be the first step. The second step is to shower the student with attention, help and positive feedback as soon as she signals in any appropriate way that she’s having difficulty. This would reinforce appropriate help-seeking behaviour such as raising a hand, making eye contact with the teacher or even just looking confused. It's essential to use these two strategies together, and when you do they are amazingly powerful. Of course you need to be patient and consistent, which brings us to the next rule.
The rule of persistence: Behaviour change takes time and usually involves small steps with frequent setbacks.
Start small, and do not be discouraged if progress is slow and not so steady. For example, we all know that students who are having difficulty in math or science won't catch up overnight. If a youngster gets 5 out of 100 on a test, we know we have a lot of work to do and will need to be diligent, persistent, patient and optimistic if we're going to get the student caught up. Yet when a student is experiencing difficulties with behaviour, we tend to expect instant success just by yelling at him.
New learning involves the same process whether it's math, science or behaviour. Teaching anything new requires an organized plan and good teaching practices. We need to expect plateaus and setbacks, but persevere anyway, and praise any little bit of progress, whether it's a move from 5/100 to 10/100 on a test, or from 20 temper outbursts in a morning to eighteen. The time is well invested.
The rule of prompt delivery: When you reward positive behaviour, you need to do it right away. The longer you wait the less power the reward has to sustain the behaviour.
You have violated this rule if you have ever:
  • told students they can have a reward at dismissal time for good behaviour throughout the day
  • promised a student a reward at lunch time if they have "a good morning"
  • noticed a student working unusually well and waited until recess to compliment him or her
The rule of partial reinforcement: Once a behaviour seems to be established, we should begin reinforcing it only occasionally, rather than every single time the behaviour occurs.
If we continue to reinforce a behaviour every time it occurs, we actually weaken it, probably because the reinforcement becomes just a part of the background noise of the classroom instead of something special. So once a behaviour has become reliably established, we gradually move to a "partial reinforcement schedule" where students get attention or a pat on the back every few times you catch them behaving well. The goal is to eventually "fade" out the reinforcer altogether and have the behaviour become self-sustaining.
That seems to contradict the Rule of Prompt Delivery, but it doesn't. The key here is that the Rule of Prompt Delivery is important when you're trying to change behaviour or establish a new behaviour. Partial reinforcement is all about maintaining good behaviour once it's established.
III. Using Punishment
The research is clear that positive reinforcement strategies are by far the most powerful way a teacher can deal with misbehaviour. However, there are times when positive approaches simply aren't practical, and the use of punishment needs to be considered. There are rules for the use of punishment as well, and if you violate those rules the situation will get worse. The misuse of punishment can also lead to significant side effects such as:
  • anger
  • mistrust and/or avoidance of authority figures
  • self-esteem issues
  • avoidance behaviours such as lying, sneakiness or blaming others
Below are the rules for using punishment strategies effectively.
The rule of planned punishment:
·         Punishing strategies should only be used as part of an overall behaviour management plan, and applied to achieve certain objectives.
·         Punishment should never be used when the teacher is angry, or applied as "a gut reaction" to a student’s behaviour. It needs to be carefully thought out.
·         The rule of no surprises: The first step in using a punishment strategy is to explain it to the student.
If a punishment strategy is to be effective, the student needs to know:
  • exactly which behaviours will be punished
  • exactly what the punishment will be
Guidelines for explaining these points to the student:
  • Choose a time when the student is behaving appropriately and approach him or her for a private, serious talk
  • Calmly explain that you are worried about his or her behaviour, and that you fear it's creating academic and social problems for him or her, and may damage the student-teacher relationship
  • Express concern for the welfare of the student and his classmates
  • There should be no hint of emotions such as spite, revenge or anger
Begin with one or two specific behaviours that have been bothering you, and that you can define in a very clear, unambiguous way. One of the ways students tend to test a strategy like this is to exploit a lack of clarity (e.g. "You said not to touch the other kids; you didn't say I couldn't kick them.") Again, there should be no surprises. If a legitimate misunderstanding arises, or something occurs that you didn't consider, apologize, redefine the system, and begin again. Although it isn't easy, the ideal situation is where the student really feels it's a partnership aimed at helping him do better.
The warning rule: Whenever possible, you should issue a warning before the punishment.
Example: "This is a warning. If you poke Mike again I'll have to move your seat."
The hope is that the warning all by itself will control the behaviour so that:
  • you don't have to punish the student, and
  • you create an opportunity to praise him (e.g., "Thank you for stopping. I was really proud of you choosing to stay with your friend. Good job.").
The rule of "Choice": Whenever possible you should use the word "choice" in your warning.
Example: "You have a choice, stop the shouting or get a detention."
This little word has tremendous power. It clearly illustrates to the student that he has control of his own behaviour and he makes his own decisions. We want students to realize that inappropriate behaviour is a choice they make, not something that happens to them or that is someone else's fault. That's why we hold them accountable, because they have choices. As well, using that word allows you to be more sympathetic when punishment has to be meted out, e.g., "I was really sorry you made that choice because I know how much you enjoy sitting with Mike's group. Maybe next time you can avoid the problem by making a better choice."
The rule of follow-through: When you've given a warning, and given a reasonable time to respond, you must follow through if the student fails to comply.
The quickest way to make your warnings meaningless is to repeat them, or to fail to do what you said you would do. Students realize immediately that you don't really mean it, and their behaviour will soon be out of control.
The rule of persistence: Be diligent, persistent, patient and optimistic when using punishment strategies to try to change behaviour.
Change takes time and involves small steps with frequent setbacks. Start small and do not be discouraged if progress is slow and not so steady.
The rule of prompt delivery: When you punish an unacceptable behaviour, you need to do it right away.
Just as in the case of reinforcing good behaviour, the longer you wait, the less power the punishment has in curbing the inappropriate behaviour.
The rule of balance: Remember to keep rewarding the good behaviour.
Whenever a punishment strategy is set up, there is always the danger of becoming too focused on it and completely forgetting that punishment by itself is a really poor behaviour change agent. Only when pairing the use of punishment with the continued reinforcement of the behaviour you want to encourage, will you have a viable program to effect positive change.
The rule of professionalism: Remember why you're using punishment.
Professional teachers use punishment because it's a tool that can sometimes help to change a student's behaviour. And you want to change the behaviour because it's interfering with the learning of that student and/or the other students in the class.
Professionals don't punish students because
  • they're angry
  • or because they dislike the student
  • or to pay him or her back for disrupting the class
Corollary to the rule of professionalism: Always employ punishment while you're calm.
This may not be easy since aggressive, angry, non-compliant behaviour can create complex emotions in the teacher. But as a professional it's imperative that the use of punishment never becomes personal.
Separate the behaver from the behaviour: It's never the student that we find unacceptable or unwelcome in the classroom, it's the behaviour.
The message to all the students always has to be "I respect you and I'm pleased to have you in my class. But that behaviour is unacceptable and I won't tolerate it." Anything else is simply unprofessional.
 



In about 70% to 80% of adolescents normal day-to-day occurrences of angry or aggressive behaviour tend to be minor, short-lived, and usually just annoying. To some extent, they are rooted in the continuing need for independence typical of this stage of development, so students will often question, challenge authority and assert themselves. There is great temptation to simply ignore the majority of these behaviours, and often that’s not a bad idea. However, constant ignoring without an overall plan for discouraging this behaviour is very likely to result in escalation. Therefore even with this “green light” level of anger or aggression, a preventative, targeted approach is recommended.
 
Tips for everyday training to help prevent this behaviour:
·       At the beginning of the school year, review classroom rules and behavioural expectations. Discussion and input can be encouraged, but the final result should be a few clear rules that must be adhered to. The rules in your class don’t need to be the same as in any other teacher’s class, but they should be reasonable given the age and maturity level of the students. Repeat the rules often throughout the day to the entire class, especially when rule violations occur.
·       Also early in the school year, review expectations regarding acceptable communication styles. Clearly and simply define expectations regarding situations where anger or aggression might be an issue. Examples might include disagreeing with the teacher or other adults, heated classroom discussions, receiving unexpectedly low marks, etc. Discuss the appropriate way to handle these situations politely rather than getting argumentative, angry or aggressive. Repeat these expectations often, especially when violations occur.
·       Be mindful of the impact of your own behaviour. If you expect the students to control their anger and aggression, you must model that kind of self-control yourself.
·       Focus on the rule. Don’t focus too much attention on students who violate a rule, since that might inadvertently reinforce the misbehaviour.
·       Frequently note everyday instances of polite, mature communication, and subtly reward that behaviour with eye contact, smiles, and positive comments (both public and private).
·       Take note of instances where a student obeys rules, promptly follows directions, or takes issue with a teacher request in an appropriate, polite manner, and subtly reward that with positive feedback.
·       Remember that positive comments and praise are usually more effective with adolescents if done privately to avoid negative peer reactions, especially in the early part of this age range.
·       The combination of ignoring inappropriate behaviour while rewarding appropriate behaviour should be an automatic, ongoing, second nature kind of thing. With practice it can be highly effective.
 
 
Observe, monitor and encourage
Teachers need to develop really good skills of observation and monitoring. Look for the early signs of anger or aggressive behaviour, or signs that a particular student might not be getting much in the way of positive feedback, then target that student for praise and encouragement whenever appropriate. At this point, the teacher must make a conscious decision to alter the youth’s behaviour in order to influence the behaviour of the students, by looking extra hard for any opportunities for positive contact.
 
Calmly correct
If the anger or aggressiveness is escalating and can’t be ignored, the initial reaction should be a private conversation to calmly point out the problem to the student and have him or her acknowledge that more self-control is required. Indicate that further escalation of this behaviour will not be tolerated. This kind of correction strategy can be used only once or twice, then if the behaviour continues you know there must be some kind of reinforcement involved.
 
Determine what is reinforcing and maintaining the misbehaviour. Questions to consider:
·       “Since behaviour is influenced by its antecedents, is something triggering the anger or aggression such as the onset of a particular activity or event? If so, does the student have a problem with these activities?”
·       “Since behaviour that’s occurring frequently must be getting rewarded, can I figure out what is rewarding these behaviours?”
·       “Are other students present, and if so is it usually the same ones?”
·       “Since adolescents are extremely peer focused, are other students triggering or rewarding the anger or aggression in some way?”
·       “Am I rewarding the behaviour by allowing it to alter the class schedule, the nature of some activities, or my expectations of the student?”
·       “Am I paying too much attention to this student’s anger or aggression, and missing what he/she is doing well?”
·       “Does the behaviour tend to occur only in my class or are other teachers having similar problems with this student?”  
·        “Does the behaviour seem to be goal directed? That is, is the student trying to accomplish something such as getting attention or avoiding a particular task?”
 
The importance of good observation skills,positive verbal and non-verbal communication, as well as strong self-awareness, cannot be overemphasized.
 
An example
We’re trying to discover the antecedents (what has come before) that trigger angry or aggressive behaviour, as well as the reinforcement (what comes after) that is maintaining it, and then somehow alter them. For example, a student might have difficulty with anger and aggression mainly in math class. One possibility then is that the student is having difficulty with the academic demands in math. The misbehaviour might reliably produce a long, drawn out confrontation with the teacher, followed by a one-on-one discussion about better self-control, which in the end allows the student to spend far less time on math.
 
The best course of action would be to first determine the student’s ability to handle the math curriculum. If he or she is struggling to follow the math lessons, the solution would involve academic support. If the student can handle the math, but is avoiding it for other reasons, such as conflict with the other students in the math class, a dislike of the math teacher, or boredom, the approach to take would vary accordingly. It’s important to ensure that the misbehaviour does not accomplish its goal of avoiding math.
 
Consider negative consequences
Sometimes, manipulating whatever came before the behaviour makes no difference, or it is too difficult to eliminate whatever is reinforcing the behaviour (e.g. attention from the peer group). At this point a negative consequence (punishment) will need to be considered. With adolescents, one effective consequence usually involves “time out”, which really means time away from the reinforcement of being a part of the class with the peer group. Therefore, time out should mean exclusion from the room to avoid continuing attention from the peer group. Whenever possible this should be done in a way that is subtle and helps the student preserve dignity in the eyes of his or her peers. This is not easy, but will help to avoid a “grandstanding” reaction where the student uses the situation to impress the class with his or her attitude and rebelliousness.
 
Begin each day with a clean slate
This will help ensure that the student isn’t discouraged by having to overcome “yesterday’s baggage”, and can help you determine if the consequence has altered the behaviour or not. If it has, then you have the opportunity to reinforce the good behaviour and make it more likely to prevail.
 
Applying the strategies
The techniques described above are pretty simple, but that does not mean that they are easy to apply. Effective teachers need to:
·         be fairly high energy
·         move about the room constantly
·         observe while they teach.
·         catch and reinforce any positive efforts
·         interact with the students in an ongoing and spontaneous manner, but
·         also plan to ensure that all students get attention and positive feedback for the things they do well, including following directions, completing work, interacting positively with others, being helpful.
 
Maintaining a well-ordered classroom can be exhausting but highly important work. But some students might still show a tendency to anger easily, have tantrums, act aggressively and generally fail to control themselves. When this kind of behaviour becomes intense, frequent and long-lasting, it moves into the Yellow Light Zone and the teacher will need to consider providing more intensive behavioural support.
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A focused behaviour management plan
When adolescent students exhibit angry or aggressive behaviour that is serious and  worrisome and does not respond to the general strategies described above, the next steps require a more structured approach to observing and analyzing behaviour, and to manipulating the consequences that follow targeted behaviours. Seeking support, such as that of a colleague in the school, would go a long way toward ensuring success with the following steps. In most high school settings there are Guidance Teachers available to assist with student difficulties, and this might be a source of support for a subject teacher coping with an angry or aggressive student.
 
1. Observe the student and collect data
List observed angry or aggressive behaviours that are frequently troublesome. Define the behaviours in a specific, observable way. A target behaviour has to be described in such a way that anyone coming into the classroom off the street could see it and recognize it.
 

Useful behavioural descriptors might be:
·       yells in the classroom
·       has angry outbursts when agitated
·       has tantrums
·       draws or writes with inappropriately aggressive themes
·       swears
·       spiteful, vindictive behaviour
·       throws things when angry
·       damages or destroys property
·       threatens or intimidates others
·       assaults others
·       fights
 
 
It might take a few days to carefully compile such a list just through observation.
 
2. Count how often these behaviours occur
List five or six of the behaviours on a page on a small clipboard and carry it around with you, recording a check mark beside each whenever you see it occur. Another adult such as a colleague or volunteer might be better able to carry out this step from a seat at the back of the room, but that’s not essential.
 
This counting phase should continue for about two weeks to ensure that you get a good continuous sample of behaviour over time. It’s not necessary to count every minute of every class. In fact, 2 to 4 observation periods per day, each no more than 10 minutes long, should do. Make sure you sample as many different points in the timetable as possible, especially those where anger or aggression seems to be frequent.
 
3. Pick target behaviours to work on
Guidelines for this selection process:
·       start small - pick only one or two behaviours to work on initially
·       choose behaviours that are troublesome enough to be worth working on, but not so serious that they demand significant consequences beyond the classroom, such as suspension
·       pick behaviours that are clearly defined and very easily observed even by anyone who walked in off the street
·       choose behaviours that are discrete, with a clear beginning and end, so that they can be easily counted
·       choose behaviours that occur often, at least several times per day, since infrequent misbehaviours tend to take longer to overcome
 
4. Determine how appropriate behaviour might be rewarded
In the green light area, rewards were informal and social, such as eye contact, smiles, positive comments, praise. But in the yellow light zone, we are likely dealing with students who haven’t responded to these. This does not mean that we should stop using these informal social reinforcers. It simply means we may have to increase their power by pairing them with something more concrete.
 
  Text Box: Common examples that teachers use with this age student include:
            •	school supplies (pens, pencils, markers)
            positive notes to parents
            •	nutritious treats
            •	restaurant coupons
            •	free time or time on the computer
            •	choice of work group
            •	permission to move seat
            •	permission to listen to music
 
Another common approach is to use points or checkmarks which act as a reinforcer because they can be “cashed in” at the end of a predetermined period for prizes such as those listed above. However, some experts suggest that the best prizes can be determined by either asking the student, or observing what he or she tends to do when given free time.
 
5. Think about negative consequences or punishments
This is something that we hope will be used rarely, if ever, but it’s absolutely essential that the teacher is prepared beforehand with an array of negative consequences and a thoughtful plan for when and how they will be used.
 
The most common punishments include:
·         being moved to seat closer to the teacher and/or isolated from peers
·         exclusion (sending the student back to his/her seat, into the hall or down to the office)
·         loss of privileges such as participation in an activity or field trip
·         loss of points or tokens being accumulated toward a reward
·         negative notes to parents.
 
 
6. Formulate the plan.
This is a written description of how you intend to observe the targeted behaviours, count them, deliver rewards and/or punishments (and what those will be), chart results and share the outcomes. It is important to discuss the plan with the school principal, the Guidance Teacher (if involved) and the parents* as well as the student, and this should be done at a stage where the plan is in draft form so that these key people can have input.
 
*Important to Note: In some jurisdictions students in this age range, particularly those over 16, have legal rights to privacy that preclude school staff from sharing information with parents unless the student agrees. This issue should be thoroughly discussed with the school administrator early on in this process to avoid inadvertently violating these rights.At the same time, other legislation may require the reporting of certain inappropriate or dangerous behaviour to school or community authorities, and students need to be informed of this in conjunction with discussions of their rights to privacy.
 
Involve the student
The contribution of the student in this age range is essential. It’s very important that the student understands that this program is being implemented because the anger and aggression are interfering with his or her progress, and/or the progress of the other students. Obviously, the focus should be on helping the student, and he or she should feel a valued partner in the process, rather than the person this is being “done to”.
 
The student must have a full understanding of the program including the specific behaviours that will be rewarded or punished, and how these consequences will work, whether it’s removal from the class or accumulating checkmarks to earn ten minutes of free time.
 
Accentuate the positive
In formulating the plan, it’s important to build in as much positive reinforcement as possible. Even when the targeted behaviours are inappropriate or unacceptable, the plan should specifically include the reinforcement of desired behaviour that is opposite to or incompatible with the targets. In practice this might mean that the teacher, in full view but in a very subtle way, puts check marks on a page each time the student demonstrates self-control in situations that often trigger anger. Assuming the check marks are important to the student, watching these accumulate should be motivating and eventually result in more of this desired behaviour. But equally important, while recording checkmarks the teacher is smiling and quietly making positive comments following compliant behaviours, and simply ignoring non-targeted behaviours for now.
 
 
Important Tips:
·       Reward academic achievement
Doing academic work is incompatible with virtually all unacceptable behaviours. Offering a complete, structured menu of reinforcers for various degrees of completed work is always a good program component to consider. With these older adolescents, the reinforcers for completed work might include marks, though this should never be the main tool for controlling behaviour, and the teacher should be completely confident that the student is capable of doing the work.
 
·       Keep it flexible
The plan should be a dynamic document that changes as the student’s behaviour improves. Keep in mind that when first training a new behaviour, you need to try to provide reinforcement each and every time an appropriate behaviour is observed. As the behaviour becomes more frequent and ingrained however, it’s more powerful to reward appropriate behaviour intermittently. This sounds complex, but in fact is quite a natural flow over time.
 
·       Be discrete
With these adolescent students, public praise or attention might often be counter-productive due to the negative peer attention it can attract. Teacher praise and attention are still powerful reinforcements for these students, but perhaps mainly when delivered in a low-key manner or in private.
 
7. Implement the plan
Be consistent, persistent and vigilant
If you can have some help in the classroom in the first few days, all the better, since it’s so important that very little is missed and the student gets rewarded a lot and punished only rarely. Expect a range of reactions from the student, including testing and bargaining, but before long the program should be working fairly smoothly. Also expect that progress will not be steady or continuous. Behaviour tends to improve in a “choppy” fashion, with two steps forward and one back, so again, it’s important to persist with the program even when there appear to be setbacks.
 
It is vitally important that you continue to count the behaviours that have been targeted, as well as opposite or incompatible appropriate behaviours, and if these can be charted or graphed by you or the student it increases the power of the program.
 
Important to Note: Document everything.
Documentation is important:
·       it demonstrates that you are aware there is a problem and tried to do something about it
·       it provides a clear, concrete description of the problem
·       it records your observations as a professional teacher
·       it provides a vehicle for sharing your observations with administrators, parents and consultants
·       it can be a framework for planning appropriate interventions
·       it prevents needless and unhelpful repetition of strategies that were unsuccessful
·       it provides a record of the supports that have been provided for the student.


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When an adolescent student exhibits anger or aggression that is so severe as to be clearly in the Red Light Zone, professional counseling is definitely required. Also, Board and Ministry "safe schools" policies, codes of behaviour, disciplinary procedures and risk assessment protocols will need to be consulted to ensure that the student himself or herself, as well as the teachers, staff and other students, are not at risk of violence.
 
Teachers will likely require assistance in the classroom to manage the situation until the student can get professional help. Acquiring such assistance can be a long, drawn-out process. In the meantime, it will be necessary for the teacher to control the behaviour to whatever degree possible, and a written management plan will be essential.
 
The plan should include documentation of:
·       your observations
·       the exact nature of the student’s angry or aggressive behaviour, particularly any instances of violence
·       when and where such behaviour occurred
·       who else was present
·       any behaviour management strategies which have been applied (successfully and unsuccessfully).
 
To attempt to control red light behaviour, a structured approach to manipulating the consequences (both positive and negative) that follow targeted behaviours will need to be rigorously applied. Significant support from a colleague such as a Guidance Teacher, or administrator will be essential. Typical steps in this process include:
 
1. Collect data
 The teacher should begin by listing observed behaviours that are seriously aggressive and/or anger-driven. It is important to define the behaviours in a specific, observable way in clear, concrete language. Examples of descriptors of seriously angry or aggressive behaviour include:
·         has violent temper outbursts that stop class activity
·         writes or draws violent scenarios, (especially if identifies characters in these scenarios as real people)
·         swears excessively and ignores directions to stop
·         directly refuses to comply with teacher requests/directives
·         throws, damages destroys or property
·         tries to intimidate teacher
·         threatens teacher
·         assaults others, especially if this includes adults
·         initiates fights
·         sets fires
·         exhibits cruelty to smaller children or animals
 
Sometimes it’s helpful to cluster observed behaviours into categories such as:
·         interaction with peers
·         interaction with teachers
·         academic work
·         behaviour in the halls
·         free time behaviour.
 
 
2. Count how often these behaviours occur
Put five or six behaviours on a page on a small clipboard and carry it around with you, recording a check mark beside each whenever you see it occur. Another adult such as a Guidance Teacher, other colleague or volunteer will be better able to carry out this step from a seat at the back of the room, since these behaviours will usually require immediate intervention by the teacher.
 
The process of counting behaviours is important, since without this data initial improvements (which are likely to be slight), might be missed. As well, this period of intense observation of a student may reveal that there are patterns involving the point within the timetable, social context or academic context, that weren’t otherwise apparent. This information can be useful later.
 
3. Pick target behaviours to work on
Guidelines for this selection process:
·         choose behaviours that serious, but not so serious that they demand significant consequences beyond the classroom, such as suspension
·         pick behaviours that are clearly defined and very easily observed even by anyone who walked in off the street
·         choose behaviours that are discrete, with a clear beginning and end, so that
            they can be easily counted
·         unlike yellow light behaviours, red light behaviours are usually not all that frequent during any one class. As a result, rather than selecting one or two behaviours to work on, the teacher can in fact work on several behaviours that can be classified as seriously aggressive.
 
4. Determine how appropriate behaviour might be rewarded
Preferred rewards in the green and yellow light areas were informal and social, such as eye contact, smiles, positive comments, praise. But in the red light zone, we are dealing with students who haven’t responded to these, and whose misbehaviour is far more serious. This does not mean that we should stop using these informal social reinforcers. It simply means we may have to increase their power by pairing them with something more concrete.
 
Common examples that teachers use all the time with this age range of students include:
·         school supplies (pens, pencils, markers)
·         permission to listen to music while working
·         positive notes to parents
·         nutritious treats
·         restaurant coupons
·         free time or time on the computer
·         permission to change work groups
·         permission to move seat.
 
Important note: With the latter two in the list above, care must be taken that any other students affected are comfortable with the aggressive student joining their group or moving to a nearby seat. Close monitoring will be necessary.
 
Another common approach is to use points or checkmarks which act as a reinforcer because they can be “cashed in” at the end of a predetermined period for prizes such as those listed above. This type of “token economy” may well prove necessary, at least initially, for a program to be effective with these serious misbehaviours.
 
5. Think about negative consequences or punishments

With red light behavior, punishments will likely have to be used frequently in the initial stages, so it is essential that the teacher is prepared beforehand with an array of negative consequences and a thoughtful plan for when and how they will be used.
Text Box: Common punishments used with adolescents include:
•	exclusion (sending the student back to his/her seat, into the hall or down to the office)
•	moving to a less preferred seat or work group
•	notes or phone calls to parents
•	suspension
•	loss of privileges such as participation in an activity or field trip
•	loss of points or tokens being accumulated toward a reward.

6. Formulate the plan

The plan is a written description of how you intend to document the targeted behaviours and deliver rewards and/or punishments. It is absolutely essential to discuss and develop the plan in partnership with the school administrators and any Guidance Teacher involved, and that the parents* and the student are fully informed and have a chance for input.
 
*Important to Note: In some jurisdictions students in this age range, particularly those over 16, have legal rights to privacy that preclude school staff from sharing information with parents unless the student agrees. This issue should be thoroughly discussed with the school administrator early on in this process to avoid inadvertently violating these rights. At the same time, other legislation may require the reporting of certain aggressive, violent or dangerous behaviour to school or community authorities, and students need to be informed of this in conjunction with discussions of their rights to privacy.
 
Involve the student
The involvement of the student at this age level is very important. It is crucial that the student understands that the program is being implemented because the misbehaviour is interfering with his or her progress, and the progress of the other students. Obviously, the focus should be on helping the student, and he or she should feel like a valued partner in the process, rather than the person this is being “done to”. With these adolescent students their participation in the planning phase is essential.
 
The student must have a full understanding of the program including the specific behaviours that will be consequenced, and how the consequences will work, whether it’s removal from the class or accumulating checkmarks to get ten minutes of free time. Simple programs are preferable, since complex strategies are more difficult to implement and can become discouraging.
 
Accentuate the positive
In formulating the plan, it is important to build in as much positive reinforcement as possible. Even when the targeted behaviours are negative, the plan should specifically include the reinforcement of desired behaviour that is the opposite of, or incompatible with the targets. In practice this might mean that the teacher, in a subtle way obvious to the student, puts check marks on a page each time the child responds to direction appropriately. Assuming the check marks are important to the student, watching these accumulate should be motivating and eventually result in more of this desired behaviour. But equally important, while recording checkmarks the teacher is smiling and quietly making positive comments following compliant behaviours.
 
Important to Note:
·       Reward academic achievement: Doing academic work is incompatible with virtually all unacceptable behaviours.
Offering a complete, structured menu of reinforcers for various degrees of completed work is always a good program component to consider. With these older adolescents, the reinforcers for completed work might include marks, though this should never be the main tool for controlling behaviour, and the teacher should be completely confident that the student is capable of doing the work.
 
·       Overlook the small stuff
Given the seriously aggressive and disruptive nature of the targeted behaviours, it will likely be necessary to simply ignore less serious or nontargeted misbehaviour during the initial stages of the program. Otherwise you risk being in a constant disciplinary mode that would quickly discourage the student and the teacher.
 
·       Be discrete
With adolescent students the importance of the peer group must always be kept in mind. Some programs can harness that peer influence in a positive way, but very often the influence is negative and needs to be minimized as much as possible. This will be difficult of course, given the often public nature of angry or aggressive behaviour, but it still should be a guiding principal whenever possible.
 
7. Implement the plan

Be consistent, persistent and vigilant
You will require help in the classroom in the first few days, since it’s so important that the student gets rewarded a lot and punished infrequently. Expect a range of reactions from the child, including testing, bargaining, temper outbursts and so on, which might well persist for some time. It is vitally important that you continue to count the behaviours that have been targeted, as well as incompatible appropriate behaviours, and if these can be charted or graphed by the student on a daily basis it increases the power of the program.
 
Use outside resources where possible
Students exhibiting red light behaviour are unlikely to be “cured” by the use of programs such as described above, without some form of outside counseling or therapy being provided as well. The likelihood of that happening varies with location, resource availability, home situation, and many other factors. Nonetheless, the teacher must attempt to provide programs that will improve behaviour and maintain the student’s chances for success.
 


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