From a KidsMatter perspective, interventions for managing aggressive behaviour need to:
- help prevent aggressive behaviours
- promote positive interactions and behaviours between children and
- intervene early when aggressive behaviours are occurring
In terms of specific interventions for managing aggressive behaviours in children, plans differ for different diagnoses and children. For example, if a child is diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, visual cues such as a calming picture in the classroom may help but may not be appropriate for another student. This is why assessment is vital for understanding each individual’s developmental, social, cultural and environmental influences that affect the type of intervention implemented.
More general strategies align with the ABC model of behaviour that focus on prevention and early intervention. The antecedents can be an emphasis of the preventative interventions and the consequences can be focused on for interventions when/if the aggressive behaviour re-occurs. These interventions need to take a long term view of repercussions of aggressive behaviour in the future (e.g. child may not complete secondary school), need to be intensively supported by the education staff and need to be regularly reviewed for effectiveness. Furthermore, safety is paramount and education staff need to follow the school’s safety protocols (e.g. removing an aggressive child from classroom) to ensure a safe environment before implementing other strategies when aggressive behaviour occurs. Some general school-based strategies and interventions are as follows:
Self-regulation – needs to be taught and modelled, and children need opportunities to practise self-regulation in groups and individually to enable them to learn to keep a balance and control their emotions and reactions. Some of the strategies below can help children self-regulate.
Anger rating scale or thermometer - helps children become more aware of their angry feelings so they know when to use calming strategies. Draw a thermometer with scale points zero to 10, with descriptions at each level (e.g. 0 = calm, 5 = quite cross, 9 = extremely angry/’losing it’). Talk about the body signals that accompany each level. Ask children to rate their anger and monitor it over time to see if it changes. This encourages them to look for the signs of angry feelings and to see if they can lower their anger levels. It is much harder to change anger when it is high, so when the rating goes above 6 it is usually best to teach children to move away from the situation. They can move to a special quiet space or ask an adult for help.
Breathing exercises – there are many different breathing techniques available; slow deep breathing can have a very calming effect. Getting children to breathe in deeply and breathe out very slowly can help to calm angry feelings.
Visualisation - have children visualise a very relaxing scene in their minds. For example, they might imagine themselves ﬂoating on an air bed in a swimming pool. You can combine deep breathing with visualisation.
Robot/rag doll technique – helps children release muscle tension. Children tense up all muscles in the body and visualise themselves as robots. Have them hold this tense state for approximately 15 seconds. Then ask them to release all the tension and visualise themselves as rag dolls, with all muscles very loose, and stay relaxed like this for 15 seconds.
Coping self-talk – involves children being encouraged to say things to themselves to calm down e.g. “take it easy”, “it is ok if I am not good at this”, “chill out”. It can help to model this self-talk by making a point of saying it out loud e.g. “I won’t let this get to me”, “I’m going to cool down”.
Reward appropriate non-aggressive behaviour – helps reinforce and increase the likelihood of positive non-aggressive behaviour occurring. Opportunities to praise and reward children’s self-regulation need to be taken, for example, in an instance where a child may have previously become angry or aggressive the positive self-regulation is rewarded through praise (“you were great waiting your turn and staying calm”). It is important to reward even small attempts at emotional regulation and control to start to build and shape positive behaviours/self-regulation in the child.
Avoid reinforcement of aggressive behaviour – aggressive behaviours can be reinforced through attention. Nagging or punishing children for acting aggressively can reinforce the aggressive behaviour. Having natural consequences for minor issues can assist but it is important to avoid consequences that reinforce the aggressive behaviour.
Academic expectations – need to be reasonable and ongoing academic support is needed (e.g. through individual learning plans) based on the child’s assessment results and capacity.
Calmer classrooms - are based on trauma-informed practice but can also assist in preventing aggressive behaviours in classrooms. Calmer Classrooms take a whole-class approach by incorporating calming spaces, routines, activities and opportunities for self-reflection and growth that can help prevent aggressive behaviours. In a ‘calmer classroom’ you might notice:
- Daily short relaxation/meditation at the beginning of every session.
- Children being given a good reputation to live up to, for example, public as well as private praise given to class group, other teachers, parents and visitors to classroom.
- A curriculum focused on a different value each week e.g. politeness, respect, honesty, integrity, kindness.
- A downtime corner with bean-bag, body-sock, books, games, fidget toys, etc.
- Opportunities for heavy muscle work for students who need to move to self-regulate e.g. running errands, digging school garden
More information, specific examples and case-studies can be found in the KidsMatter webinar on managing aggressive behaviours in primary school children.