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Dr. Ken Shore's
Classroom Problem Solver

Student Aggression


Aggressive students present a significant challenge for teachers. An aggressive child can engender a climate of fear in the classroom, creating anxiety among other students and distracting them from their schoolwork. The student who is the cause of that fear also warrants your concern. Her aggressive behavior might signal that she is a troubled child and/or cause her to be shunned by her peers; it also might be a harbinger of problems she will display as an adolescent and adult.


Make it clear to students that aggressive behavior is unacceptable. When discussing class rules at the beginning of the year, inform students that they are not allowed to hit or push under any circumstances. You also might let them know the consequences for aggressive behavior in your classroom. Review and reinforce the rule as necessary throughout the year. Encourage students to tell you immediately if they observe physical conflicts. When you become aware of such physical conflict, take immediate action to stop it. That sends a message to students that you will do whatever is necessary to ensure that your classroom is a safe haven.

Try to identify when and where a student is aggressive. Look for a pattern in the incidents so you can anticipate their occurrence and take steps to avoid them. When aggressive incidents occur, you might want to make a note of when they occurred, what was going on at the time, who was the target of the aggression, what happened right before and right after the incident, and how others responded. That kind of behavioral assessment might help you determine what triggers the behavior, what reinforces it, and most importantly, what to do about it.

Teach students conflict-resolution skills. Children might resort to aggression because they lack the words or skills to solve problems non-physically. Help them learn to resolve conflicts without acting aggressively by teaching them the basics of talking things out: staying calm; allowing each person to have his or her say without being interrupted, blamed or put-down; using "I messages" to convey feelings; and considering another's point of view. Designate an area of your classroom as a "peace corner," a place where students can go to settle conflicts and decide on a resolution. After they have spent time in the peace corner, students should inform you of their decisions.

Have a student who is prone to aggression engage in activities that make aggressive behavior less likely. When she appears tense, suggest such tasks as drawing a picture, working with clay, taking a walk, writing in a journal or squeezing a ball to help her release her frustration. You might want to give the student an item to carry or suggest that she put her hands in her pockets at those times when she seems prone to using her hands inappropriately or seems to be on the verge of an outburst.

Connect with the aggressive student. An aggressive student might distrust teachers and view them as adversaries. Try to gain the student's trust by listening attentively to what she says and showing respect for her thoughts and concerns. Find a few minutes every so often to talk with her about her interests and hobbies. Help her start the day out on a positive note by giving her a high five or making an upbeat comment when she walks in the door. She might make better choices if she feels supported and accepted by you.

Obtain in-school counseling for an aggressive student. You might ask the guidance counselor or school psychologist to counsel her. She might need guidance about resolving peer conflicts and finding alternative ways of behaving. She also might need help interpreting the behavior of her peers if she tends to perceive hostile intent when none is intended.


About Ken Shore

Dr. Kenneth Shore is a psychologist and chair of a child study team for the Hamilton, New Jersey Public Schools. He has written five books, including Special Kids Problem Solver and Elementary Teacher's Discipline Problem Solver.

Click to read a complete bio.