How to Support Students with Aggressive Behaviors

Fighting Children
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There are many reasons behind aggressive behavior in children. As teachers, it's important to remember that these kinds of behavior issues can spring from environmental stresses, neurological issues or emotional coping deficits. Rarely is the aggressive child simply a "bad kid." Despite the varied reasons behind the aggressive behavior, it can be addressed with success when teachers are consistent, fair, and relentless in establishing a one-on-one connection.

What Does the Aggressive Child's Behavior Look Like?

This child will often antagonize others and is drawn to physical fighting or verbal arguments. She might be the "class bully" and have few real friends. He prefers to solve problems by winning fights and arguments. Aggressive children often threaten other students. These students often fear the aggressor, who delights in showing herself as a fighter, both verbally and physically.

Where Does Aggressive Behavior Come From?

The aggressive child usually has a lack of self-confidence. He gains it through aggressive behavior. In this regard, aggressors are first and foremost attention seekers, and they enjoy the attention they gain from being aggressive. The aggressive child sees that power brings attention. When he threatens other children in the class, his weaker self-image and lack of social success falls away, and he becomes a leader of some renown. The aggressive child usually knows that his behavior is inappropriate, but the rewards for him outweigh the disapproval of authority figures.

Are Parents to Blame?

Children can be aggressive for many reasons, some of them related to conditions that may be hereditary or home environments that are unhealthy. But aggression is not "handed down" from parent to child. Parents to aggressive children who are aggressive themselves should be honest with themselves and recognize that while they are not responsible for these behaviors in their children, they may be part of the problem and certainly can be part of the solution. 

Interventions for Classroom Teachers

Be consistent, be patient and remember that change takes time. All children need to know you care about them and that they can contribute to their environment in a positive way. By committing to a one-on-one relationship with the aggressive child, you will deliver this message to her and help to break the cycle.

  • Never ignore inappropriate aggression, but do not get drawn into a power struggle with the aggressor.
  • Be firm, but gentle. The aggressive child can handle your tough side, but he will succumb to gentleness.  That's what he really wants—the right kind of attention.
  • Deal one-on-one with the aggressor and devise a plan for her to take control of her own behavior. 
  • Be genuine. Successful teachers know that when they establish a one-on-one relationship with the aggressor, success soon follows. 
  • Provide opportunities for this child to act appropriately and get some badly needed attention, give him responsibilities and provide praise.
  • Catch the aggressor behaving well and provide immediate, positive feedback. In time, you will see that the aggressive behaviors will start to diminish.
  • Provide her with activities that bring forth leadership in a positive way, always let her know that you care, trust and respect her. Remind her that it's the inappropriate behaviors that you don't like.
  • Provide as many methods as you can for this child to take ownership of his inappropriate behavior. Suggest how such conflicts can be handled the next time.