Problems in Relationships (page 2)
Aggressive behavior is one of the most challenging problems for parents, teachers, and children (both the aggressor and the victim). Any act that intentionally hurts another person physically or psychologically is aggression. At times, adults differ in their definition of aggression with some calling certain behaviors assertive (taking charge but not hurtful) and others labeling the same behaviors aggressive. Two common types of aggression are reactive aggression and proactive aggression.
In reactive aggression, a child is responding defensively and with a show of anger to a perceived provocation. In proactive aggression, the child often has a goal in mind and may not show overt signs of anger. Their actions may be to obtain an object or a position of power. The bully is attempting to intimidate or dominate another person (Schwartz, Dodge, and Cole, 1993). When children express aggressive behavior in the peer group, it usually reduces their acceptance. For example, a study by Dodge (1983) showed that boys who exhibited inappropriate, disruptive, antisocial, and aggressive play behaviors were often unpopular.
Inappropriate aggression may be due to a lack of appropriate social skills and/ or having too high a level of anger to be able to control it. When children do not know how to express their feelings or needs effectively, they need help. Adults can teach or model for these children appropriate words, ways to approach someone for an object or a turn, and how to defend assertively and not aggressively the objects in their possession. Children need to practice these skills. In the process, children require adult support until these responses become part of their social repertoire. When children are successful, their anger is also reduced.
Some children are aggressive because they cannot cope with their high levels of anger and frustration. Their actions often escalate both their levels of anger and frustrations. It is crucial to help these children to respond in ways that reduce the anger and not cause them to get into more trouble. They need techniques for taking control of their feelings and for using socially acceptable ways to release them. Pounding clay, kicking a ball, running, hitting a nail into wood, and water play all can substitute for inappropriate aggression. Again, children need adult support while they are attempting to behave in an acceptable manner.
Teasing is generally defined as persistent behavior intended to irritate, provoke, confuse, or otherwise annoy someone (Katz and McClellan, 1997). However, not all teasing is harmful. Some teasing can be fun and even the target of the teasing can laugh. This kind of teasing is often reciprocal. Our concern is over the harmful teasing that occurs, causing the person being teased to feel hurt, sad, humiliated, or angry. Some young children who are teased learn effective social skills that will help them in dealing with teasing later in life (Ross, 1996).
Reasons for Teasing
Children tease for a number of reasons.
- Attention. Children want attention even if it is negative.
- Imitation. These children may mimic teasing that they see around the house, in the schoolyard, or they may be victims of teasing by older siblings. Their parents may also use aggressive discipline.
- Feelings of superiority or power. They may feel superior or powerful when putting someone down (Olweus, 1993)
- Peer acceptance. They may feel teasing is cool and may help them to be accepted by the popular children.
- Misunderstanding differences. Some children target anyone who is different rather than trying to understand them. This could have to do with physical, emotional, learning, cultural, or ethnic differences.
- Media influences. Children experience teasing, putdowns, sarcasm, and a lack of respect on many children's television programs (Freedman, 1999).
How Parents and Teachers Can Help
Parents should listen to their child and try to see the situation from the child's eyes. Show concern rather than an overreaction so as not to escalate the child's fear or anger. Teasing cannot be prevented and children cannot control what others say to them, but they can control their reactions and become less vulnerable.
Some strategies to teach children are:
- Self-talk. Encourage children to plan what they can think about or say to themselves to remain calm when they are being teased (Bloch, 1993).
- Ignore. Help the victim to avoid reinforcing the teaser by getting angry, crying, or showing any reactions of concern. Tell the child not to look at the teaser in the face and walk away if feasible. However, if a pattern of teasing is well developed, ignoring the behavior may not help initially.
- Visualization. Help children visualize a way to prevent the words from getting to them. What kind of a protective shield could they imagine to be encompassing them? Help children have the power to ignore the message, at least outwardly.
- Agree with the fads. Have the child say to the teaser, "You're right" or "That was a stupid thing for me to say" to take the wind out of the teaser's sails. This may be one of the easiest ways to diffuse the comment (Cohen-Passey, 1995).
- The child could say, "So?" The child is telling the teaser that it does not matter or that he or she could care less. Bill Cosby, in The Meanest Thing, uses this concept.
When or How a Teacher Should Intervene
The intent of teasing and its effects vary. Teachers must look at the setting in which the teasing is taking place, the relationship between teaser and the teased, whether or not there is reciprocal teasing, and the tone or intention. Does the teasing occur in front of a group of children rather than in play with a friend? Does the teasing have a hostile tone with an apparent intention to inflict psychological pain? Are there overtones of racism, sexism, or any stereotyping (Katz, 1997)?
Teachers can intervene in many ways. When teachers assess the setting, such as the playground, they may find that there are not enough interesting activities available, or the supervision may be poor, or the area may be too crowded. If the teasing involves any kind of stereotype, this is an opportunity for a discussion or antibias activities in the classroom. The recipient of the teasing might be helped t, react in ways to defuse the situation.
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