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All images and posts written by and copyright to Amanda Clements (nee Gray) 2009-2012 unless otherwise indicated.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Helping siblings and peers deal with aggressive behaviour

Please read the post on Roger’s Chain of Action first or this probably won’t make much sense….

Teaching siblings and peers about the reason for aggression

One of the things we need to do is help to promote some understanding of why one child may be more aggressive than another. This can be done in many different ways, but we need to make sure that we do it in a way that doesn’t label or stigmatise the child who is being aggressive.

For example, I just posted a u-tube video about my book, Dave is Brave. One of the things I highlight is that the book can be use to promote understanding of why children may be behaving a certain way.

In the book Golly is seen to be behaving like a “bully”, knocking children over, taking their toys and so on. As we follow the story we learn that one of the reasons he may have been doing this is that he wanted to play but was unable to articulate this. The questions to be used by teachers and parents at the back of the book highlight this and could be used to help promote empathy in children if they have a child with language and/or social/behavioural difficulties in the classroom.

General discussions about anger, fear, frustration, or playing games like charades where children are trying to get their intentions across without words can also be used to promote understanding of reasons behind aggressive behaviour.

But that is just the beginning. We also need to teach children ways they can protect themselves from aggression in their siblings or peers without increasing the chances of them being hurt. This is where Roger’s chain of reaction may come in useful.

Step one: Tactical ignoring

It is possible to teach children to ignore aggressive behaviour that is not threatening or aimed at themselves. For example, if a child with autism is having a melt-down because something is out of place or their routine is disrupted, their behaviour may be what we traditionally see as a tantrum rather than aggression aimed at other children.

In this case you could have a rule or agreement within your classroom or home that this behaviour will be ignored. You may need to discuss with peers and siblings that if someone is angry or frustrated, and they are banging things or screaming or even throwing things in a way is not threatening to them:
- That they should just keep working or playing.
- That their peer/sibling is not angry at them, just finding it difficult to cope.
- That mum/dad/carer/teacher will deal with the situation.

Step two: Simple direction, rule re-statement, or question and feedback.

If the aggression is a result of difficulties with social activities such as sharing toys and so on, you could teach siblings or peers to use prompting phrases like:
- “Use your words/picture cards/point”
- “Tell me what you want”
- “Do we need to get mum/dad/Ms X?”

These could be accompanied by a gesture such as the one used by Dave in Dave is Brave. And make sure you help the children recognise that they should speak calmly and confidently in these situations.

Step three: Repeat step two or take child aside and give them a clear choice.

If it doesn’t work the first time, teach siblings/peers to try at least three times before calling in the teacher – but only if the child is not significantly hurting them.

Step 4: Isolation, time-out, exit from the room.

As discussed in the previous post, you should have a crisis management plan for when behaviour is putting others at risk of being significantly hurt. At this point, peers/siblings could be taught one of two actions.

1. If they are not being closely supervised by an adult, to remove themselves from the vicinity of the child and seek adult help.
2. If they are being closely supervised by an adult, to calmly follow an agreed crisis procedure. This should be practiced just as a fire drill might be practiced.

Many schools have “lock down” procedures in place. For example, I heard of one school whose children promptly and calmly protected themselves with their chairs and filed out of the classroom in response to a teacher’s signal. Then they were re-located to a different room which was then locked so that the child (who was being supervised by a teachers aide) could not cause harm. The children then continued learning whilst procedures were put in place to help the child who was distressed and displaying aggressive behaviour – which may include calling in the police in extreme cases.

Reference for Roger’s chain of action:
Brady, L. & Scully, A. (2005). Engagement: Inclusive Classroom Management. Sydney: Pearson Education.

Safety in schools NSW DET document:

Crisis management flow-chart from the Spastic Centre


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