Curbing aggressive behaviour in students

Curbing aggressive behaviour in students

Aggression effects academic performance and wellbeing of the students. Sonia P Thomas suggests protective measures to reduce aggression.

Aggressive behaviour of students at school is a wakeup call to all stakeholders, including teachers, parents and concerned citizens. Students at all levels are engaged in aggressive behaviour that include mild acts such as bullying, teasing and annoying others, truancy, and disrespect for school authority to more severe acts like assault, robbery, rape, alcohol abuse, child abuse and criminality.

According to Spielberger, psychologist, aggression is a destructive or punitive behaviour that is directed towards people or objects, whether or not that behaviour ever results in its intended goal of harm or destruction. Aggression comes in the way of academic performance and personal wellbeing of students. Often, students who exhibit aggressive behaviour are associated with peers who have similar characteristics, and this will perpetuate their aggressive behaviour and increase rejection by nonaggressive peers.

Significance of school setting

Although students first learn social and emotional skills from within their families, it is the school setting that offers the first significant experience for most students about negotiated social roles, opportunities, conflicts and interpersonal relationships in larger groups. Further, school and classroom environment are an ideal laboratory in which students see and exhibit their aggressiveness. Since schools are extremely intricate environments, and peer relations a remarkably complex construct, aggression may be best understood within the school environments in which students operate.

Causal factors

Many factors that are responsible for aggression among children at schools.
Teacher and peer rejection: Teacher and peer rejection in interpersonal relationship is one of the causes of aggressive behaviour in students. Students expect respect and acceptance from their teachers and peers. When they experience a feeling of disrespect/ humiliation they tend to be aggressive and violent.

Cognitive appraisal: Students’ perception and interpretation of their school environment and peer relationship can cause aggression. When a student engages in the evaluation of an incident or events and if he/ she experiences threats to self-efficacy, physical well-being, and personal coping abilities, that can direct the individual to be aggressive.

Process of identification: Students learn to be aggressive through by identifying with aggressive models from films, video games and real life. They learn new tactics to express aggression and shed all inhibitions to be aggressive by constant exposure to such models. 

Peer relationships: Peer group is a significant means of interpersonal relationships. If one’s peer group models aggressive behaviour during interaction or playing, the risk of learning the aggressive behaviour is greater.

Family influence: Families are strong socialising forces. Students who are affected by their parents’ marital discord, conflict, alcohol and drug use are at greater risk for becoming aggressive. Through negative family interaction, parents communicate aggressive and violent behaviour. Children copy the behaviour they observe at home and imitate at school.

Personal factors

Personal factors include all the characteristics of a student such as personality traits, attitudes, belief, family background and genetic predispositions.

Attitudes are general evaluations students hold about themselves, their peers, objects, and issues. Positive attitudes towards violence can cause aggression in certain students. Students who believe that conflict is better than cooperation as to  resolve daily challenges may be more prone to aggressive behavior.

Forms of aggression

Physical aggression: It is the physical expression of aggression such as hitting, kicking, tripping, shoving, and taking things from others, pushing and pulling. 
Verbal aggression: It is the verbal expression of aggression such as yelling, insulting, saying he or she is going to hurt the other one, calling the other bad names, and teasing.

Indirect aggression: Indirect aggression can be a destructive behaviour in which the other person is not wounded physically or directly but in a winding way through manipulations such as shutting the other one out of the group, becoming friends with another as a kind of revenge, ignoring, gossiping, telling bad or false stories, planning secretly to bother the other one, saying bad things behind the other one’s back, saying to others, ‘Let’s not be with him or her’, telling the other one’s secrets to a third person, and writing small notes criticizing the other one’s hair or clothing.

Relational aggression: It is a deliberately unfriendly behavior designed to hurt another person through words or other nonphysical means.  It thus has common characteristics with verbal aggression in which the means to do harm is verbal, and indirect aggression which is defined as a concealed kind of aggression.

Protective measures

Identifying the specific forms of aggression in classrooms can provide accurate prevention of aggression in students. School authorities and teachers should be aware of the various causal factors of students’ aggression and administer protective measures in classroom environment for students to be non-aggressive.

Positive school or classroom climate: Initiative of the teacher to provide positive classroom atmosphere to all the students is an essential protective factor to reduce aggression in students. Avoiding labeling from the part of teachers such as brilliant, average and below average intelligence or smart and coward can reduce the tendency for students to be aggressive in the classroom.

Coping skills: Efficient coping skills such as writing and speaking affirmatively, creating positive self-images through visualization, and replacing hurtful thoughts with helpful thoughts can reduce the tendency of aggressive behaviour in students.

Awareness of Consequences: Students can be made aware of the stringent proscription against expressions of aggressiveness or serious consequences such as suspension from school and other forms of mild and severe punishments.

Social intelligence: Social intelligence is the ability to establish interpersonal interactions by understanding self, peers and the school environment. School and teachers can help students to be skilled in reading the nonverbal cues and make inferences from the behaviour of the peers. Classroom environment can be used as the stage, and real life situations can be enacted by students through role plays in the class. Thus, students learn to understand social perceptions, insights, norms and interpersonal awareness which will reduce the tendency to be aggressive.

Generate empathy: Empathy is the ability or tendency to be vicariously aroused by the affective state of another person. Students need varying intensity of affective support to grow to maturity. Classroom environment should increase the level of empathy in students.  Teachers are the best philanthropist of this ingredient to students. Constant interactions with the teachers should help the students learn to be sensitive toward the feelings of other students.

Problem solving skills: Problem solving training emphasizes a wider array of possible solution to perceived social problems. Students can be trained on verbal assertions, finding alternative solutions and compromise solutions.

Encourage rational thinking: Rational thinking can correct cognitive distortions and biases associated with hostility and aggression.

Classroom environment can encourage students to search for reasons and proof for their beliefs. Arranging group discussions, sharing and shared activities will help students realize their cognitive distortions. These protective measures provide promising avenues for reducing aggression and violence in students through interventions. Multi-system prevention program which include teacher, parent and school is the most promising approach to reducing aggression.

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