How to Handle Aggressive Behavior in the Classroom

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 issues can spring from a multiplicity of causes. It may be tempting to label this student as "an aggressive child," yet rarely is the child simply a "bad kid," and it is important to isolate the child's behavior from their person.

Even though the aggressive behavior may sometimes seem to be the only prevalent aspect of a child's personality, it can be addressed with success when teachers are kind, consistent, fair, and relentless in establishing a one-on-one connection.

What Does Aggressive Behavior Look Like?

A child with aggression issues often antagonizes others and is drawn to physical fighting or verbal arguments. They might be the "class bully" and have few real friends. They may prefer to solve problems by winning fights and arguments. Children displaying aggressive behaviors often threaten other students, and these students in turn often fear the aggressor, who delights in showing themselves as a fighter, both verbally and physically.

Where Does Aggressive Behavior Come From?

Children can be aggressive for many reasons. Their behavior, whether inside or outside the classroom, can result from environmental stresses, neurological issues, or emotional coping deficits. Some children have (hereditary) disorders or illnesses, that make it difficult for them to manage their emotions.

Sometimes, a child with these tendencies also lacks self-confidence and aggressive behavior is how they make up for it. In this regard, children who display aggression are first and foremost attention seekers, and enjoy the attention they receive from being aggressive.

The child sees that power brings attention. When they threaten other children in the class, their weaker self-image and lack of social success fall away, and they become a leader of some renown.

These behaviors as well as the reasons behind them may sometimes be connected with lack of connection. The child may not be receiving the sufficient amount of love, connection, or affection that they need, and they try to get at least some of these through aggression. Aggressive behavior is a very secure way of connecting with others—even if it is in a very negative way.

Be it lack of connection of self-confidence, the child usually knows that their aggressive behavior is inappropriate, but the rewards outweigh the disapproval of authority figures.

Are Parents to Blame?

For other children, their living conditions—interactions of and with people around them, as well as the larger environment they live in, or any past trauma—have played a part in behavioral patterns. Children are born with a full range of emotions, and it is the role of their environment—of people around them—to teach them how to navigate their feelings.

So, while parents are not entirely responsible for all facets of their children's personalities or their actions, parents who themselves are aggressive or have trouble controlling their emotions should be honest with themselves and recognize that they may be part of the problem and certainly can be part of the solution. 

Interventions for Classroom Teachers

Be kind, be consistent, 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. To deliver this message to them and help to break the cycle, commit to a one-on-one relationship with the child who struggles with aggressive tendencies.

  • Avoid power struggles: Never ignore inappropriate aggression, but do not get drawn into a power struggle with the aggressor.
  • Be firm, but gentle: The child who exhibits aggressive behavior can handle your tough side, but they will succumb to gentleness. That's what they really want—the right kind of attention.
  • One-on-one: Deal one-on-one with the child. They will thus receive the full attention they crave, their reputation in the class won't sink even lower, and they will feel respected by you. 
  • Be genuine: Successful teachers know that when they establish a one-on-one relationship with the child, where the child feels genuinely cared for by the teacher, success soon follows. 
  • Responsibilities and praise: Provide opportunities for this child to act appropriately and get some strongly needed attention; give them responsibilities and provide praise.
  • Search for positives: Catch the child behaving well and provide immediate, positive feedback. In time, you will see that the aggressive behaviors will start to diminish.
  • Leadership: Provide the child with activities that bring forth leadership in a positive way, always let them know that you trust, respect, and care about them. Remind the child that it's only the inappropriate behaviors (and not them) that you don't like.
  • Help them own it: Provide many methods for the child to take ownership of their inappropriate behavior. Help them devise a plan to take control of their own behavior, and suggest how such conflicts can be handled the next time.