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Aggressive Behavior (page 3)

By — Pearson Allyn Bacon Prentice Hall
Updated on May 1, 2014

Social Skills Deficits

Some have proposed that students act aggressively because they lack alternative skills that would allow them to choose a socially acceptable behavior to deal with a provocative situation in an assertive rather than aggressive manner (Dubow, Huesmann, & Eron, 1987; Hollinger, 1987; Strain, Guralnick, & Walker, 1986). Dubow and others (1987) report the need for students to develop social competence before they experience a history of reinforcement for solving problems with aggressive behavior. Strain and his colleagues (1986) outline a number of reasons for aggressive behavior in students that focus on development of social behavior. They maintain that students often have a limited repertoire of social problem-solving behaviors. Often, due to environmental interactions and opportunities for modeling, aggressive behaviors are manifested as the only choice for situations that require problem-solving skills.

Neel, Jenkins, and Meadows (1990) found results that conflict with those of researchers who report that aggressive behavior was caused by deficits in social skills. In their study of 19 preschoolers, ages 3 to 4, Neel and his colleagues found that students who were aggressive demonstrated similar usage of social skills compared with their nonaggressive peers. They conclude that students who were aggressive used a number of social problem-solving strategies just as their nonaggressive counterparts did. The difference was that students who were aggressive used more intrusive types of strategies (e.g., barging into a game) compared with the more socially acceptable strategies used by their nonaggressive peers (e.g., asking for information and questioning before joining the group). A number of authors have suggested this in previous research (e.g., Melloy, 1990; Strain et al., 1986). The findings of Neel and others suggest that the development of social competence in students who are aggressive should concentrate on strategy content rather than on the number of strategies within the student's repertoire.

Melloy (1990) describes several types of peer acceptance of students who demonstrate aggressive behavior. Some students who are aggressive are accepted as leaders by their peers because their peers are afraid to reject them. Other students who are aggressive are often rejected by their peers. A common scene on a playground is for a group of students to terminate their play and move to another area when an aggressive peer tries to join the group.

In the long run, a history of rejection by one's peers can lead to a dependence on less desirable peers and membership in deviant subcultures, which often leads to social maladjustment (Center, 1990; Weinberg & Weinberg, 1990). Students in these subcultures are frequently reinforced for engaging in aggressive behaviors.

Interventions for Aggression

Functional Assessment

Sasso and his colleagues (1990) have demonstrated that social skills training could assist elementary and junior high students in acquiring, maintaining, and generalizing social skills as alternatives to aggression.

The authors report on a study that took place over an entire school year with three aggressive students, ages 8, 10, and 13, receiving special education services. The subjects were part of a larger class of eight students in a large, midwestern elementary and junior high school. The students were all integrated into regular classes for at least one class period per day. Students were taught social skills using the structured learning approach and the curriculum from Skillstreaming the Elementary School Student (McGinnis & Goldstein, 1984). Pertinent to the Sasso et al. study was the training of replacement behaviors for aggression that serve the same function of the inappropriate behavior. These alternative behaviors included accepting consequences, dealing with accusations, negotiating, responding to teasing, asking permission, and staying out of fights.

Following intervention, all of the students in the study reduced levels of aggressive behavior in comparison to baseline levels and generalized these more appropriate behaviors to their regular classroom and other school settings. Use of social skills training along with positive reinforcement for appropriate behaviors are among the current promising practices in teaching students alternative behaviors to aggression.

Using cognitive behavior management (CBM) strategies, students are taught to use techniques such as self-talk and self-instruction to deal with stressful situations. Etscheidt (1991) used CBM with 30 adolescents, ages 13 to 18, who demonstrated aggressive behavior. The purpose of the study was (a) to determine the effectiveness of cognitive behavior management on the reduction of aggressive behavior and increases in prosocial behavior, and (b) to determine whether the addition of positive consequences would increase the effectiveness of cognitive training.

One group of students was exposed to cognitive training from the Anger Control Program Model (Lochman, Nelson, & Sims, cited in Etscheidt, 1991). The intent of the program was to assist students "in modifying their aggressive behaviors by altering their cognitive processing of events and response alternatives" (Etscheidt, 1991, p. 110). During training, students in group 1 participated in 12 lessons with these goals:

  • Self-awareness
  • Exploration of reactions to peer influences
  • Identification of problem situations
  • Generation of alternative solutions to problems
  • Evaluation of solutions
  • Recognition of physiological awareness of anger arousal
  • Integration of physiological awareness
  • Self-talk and social problem-solving techniques to reduce aggressive behavior

The students were also taught to use the following five strategies in problem situations:

  1. Motor Cue/Impulse Delay: Stop and think before you act; cue yourself.
  2. Problem Definition: Say how you feel and exactly what the problem is.
  3. Generation of Alternatives: Think of as many solutions as you can.
  4. Consideration of Consequences: Think ahead to what might happen next.
  5. Implementation: When you have a really good solution, try it! (Etscheidt, 1991, p. 111)

The students in group 2 received cognitive training and were positively reinforced for use of the skills taught. A control group received no cognitive training or positive consequences for use of the training strategy.

The results of the study indicate a significant decrease in aggressive behavior and a significant increase in self-control behavior in group 1 and group 2 students compared with the control group. No significant differences between groups 1 and 2 were noted. The author attributes this to the fact that, prior to cognitive training, a behavior management program existed in the students' classroom. Adding additional positive consequences may not have been as effective because of this factor.

Students were found to be more responsive to behavior change when they were reinforced for acceptable behavior than when they were merely punished upon engaging in unacceptable behavior (Meadows, Melloy, & Yell, 1996). Building relationships with students and providing meaningful curriculum in a positive classroom climate were also effective in reducing aggressive behavior and increasing acceptable school behavior (Abrams & Segal, 1998). Goal setting, behavioral contracts, and token economies were other behaviorally based interventions that teachers used effectively in promoting and supporting acceptable replacement behavior for aggression (Ruth, 1996). Behavior reduction strategies including suspension and exclusionary time-out were not effective in assisting students (especially older students) to change aggressive behavior to prosocial behavior (Costenbader & Markson, 1998; Maag, 1996).

Schoolwide and Classroom Rules

Principals and teachers must make it clear that there is a zero-tolerance rule for aggression on school grounds. All aggression exhibited on school grounds must be consistently followed with a specific consequence such as participation in a school service project, contacting parents, and so on. This agreement should be shared with all students and their families and, again, to be effective, it must be dealt with consistently and openly so that all students receive the message that aggression will not be tolerated.

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