by Elementary School Children
ERIC Identifier: ED436602
Publication Date: 1999-11-00
Author: Schwartz, Wendy
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Urban Education New York NY.
Young children face a vast and increasing array of challenges as they attempt to
develop prosocial competencies and a conciliatory, nonviolent approach to life. They
suffer from a lack of closeness with adults, but also from an overabundance of exposure
to graphic violence in the news and entertainment media and, increasingly, in their
homes and communities. All these forces affect the temperament of children, and each
child expresses a unique set of responses to potentially inflammatory situations.
Mental health and education professionals generally agree that it is essential to begin
developing prosocial attitudes and behaviors in children at a very young age because
aggression that is not remedied nearly always leads to later acts of delinquency (Slaby,
Roedell, Arezzo, & Kendrix, 1995). This digest presents an overview of effective
antiviolence strategies for use with elementary school children that educators can
integrate into their schools and classrooms.
PRINCIPLES AND GOALS OF VIOLENCE PREVENTION PRACTICES
The most effective antiviolence efforts focus on measures that prevent all types of
children's bad conduct: "aggression", including undirected anger, such as tantrums, and
lashing out at others; "bullying", which is targeting someone thought to be weaker; and
"hate bullying", which is victimizing someone of a different (and perceived to be inferior)
gender, race, ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation (U.S. Department of Education,
Prevention measures seek to help children feel cared for, secure, and attached to
supportive institutions and individuals. In fact, the most critical factor in promoting
children's social development may be bonding with positive, nurturing adults: teachers
who offer acceptance and support, model prosocial behavior, and convey the
importance of having positive values (Gregg, 1998). Student-school bonding, also
important, results from children's active involvement in the educational process; and
their development and use of behavioral, cognitive, emotional, and interpersonal
competencies (Hawkins, Farrington, & Catalano, 1998).
The most effective school antiviolence programs employ four strategies.
ANTIVIOLENCE PROGRAMS AND POLICIES
- teaching social competence;
The first is "teaching social competence": specific instruction in positive interpersonal skills (Gregg,
1998). Instruction can be consolidated in a separate antiviolence curriculum, introduced
to children as they are learning other curriculum topics, or both. Students are trained to
develop the following competencies (Greenberg, Kusche, & Mihalic, 1998; Slaby et al.,
- Understanding and recognizing the emotions of oneself and others.
- Accurately perceiving a situation to enable appropriate responses.
- Predicting the consequences of personal acts, particularly those involving aggression.
- Staying calm in order to think before acting, to reduce stress and sadness, to replace
aggression with positive behavior, and to control anger.
- Understanding and using group processes (including peer mediation and conflict
resolution), behaving cooperatively, and effectively solving social problems.
- Selecting positive role models and supportive mentors, and nurturing peer
- creating a positive, calm environment;
Techniques that schools and teachers can employ to implement the second strategy,
"creating a positive, calm environment", are discussed below.
- establishing behavior standards; and
not discussed in detail here
- establishing rules and regulations for responding to violence
not discussed in detail here
Some educators advocate a separate curriculum that promotes the above-described
social competencies in K-6 children. Second Step has such curricula for each of several
grade groups (Gregg, 1998). BrainPower teaches African American boys to interpret
social cues correctly and respond appropriately (Samples & Aber, 1998). The Promoting
Alternative Thinking Strategies (PATHS) curriculum develops emotional and social
competencies and helps reduce aggression (Greenberg et al., 1998).
Other theorists, however, believe that the overall school environment should promote a
prosocial approach to life, instead of just a separate prevention program. They
recommend that school personnel model and teach these competencies across the
curriculum (Noddings, 1996).
The PeaceBuilders program, for example, has five principles: (1) praise other people, (2) avoid put-downs, (3) seek wise people as advisors and friends, (4) notice and correct hurts one causes, and (5) right wrongs.
The Resolving Conflicts Creatively Program takes a hybrid approach; it trains educators to
provide students with instruction in peer mediation and bias reduction, and parents to
resolve conflicts nonviolently at home (Gregg, 1998).
The school safety movement is based on the belief that a focus on safety, rather than
implementation of individual antiviolence programs, gives students a sense of security.
It calms aggressiveness in at-risk children, alleviates fears that provoke bad behavior,
and promotes good behavior by all (Stephens, 1998).
STRATEGIES BEYOND THE CURRICULUM
Many overall approaches to school organization, teaching, and classroom management
can promote children's caring and cooperation and minimize their behavior problems.
They can be employed as part of a schoolwide antiviolence program or curriculum, or
be used on an ad hoc basis. Here is a sampling of such strategies:
Schools seeking to eliminate students' aggression establish the "norm of nonviolence"
(Hawkins et al., 1998, p. 194). They have a calm and predictable atmosphere that
provides a sense of security and limits the possibility that unforeseen events will trigger
explosive behavior. They specify and explain behavioral expectations, counter public
and familial messages of violence by providing prosocial alternatives to fighting, and
foresee and attempt to prevent possible bad behavior (Hawkins et al., 1998; Walker,
Colvin, & Ramsey, 1995). Also, schools with adequate facilities and a population
consonant with their size are more likely to be nonviolent (Samples & Aber, 1998).
Inservice training for teachers can specifically train them to model prosocial behavior;
and to promote students' feelings of self-worth and empathy, foster their achievement
and develop appropriate expectations, respond to their needs, and lower their
aggression level (Greenberg et al., 1998).
- CLASSROOM AND PLAYGROUND
Traditional means of "controlling" a classroom can actually exacerbate children's
aggression. Alternative ways of maintaining good conduct can be more effective.
Teachers can work with students to develop a list of rules for acceptable behavior. They
can establish the norm of cooperation and mutual respect and enlist everyone's support
to ensure that no students are isolated or bullied (Banks, 1997).
In general, it is more effective for teachers to deal with misbehaving children quietly, in
private, and with as little attention as possible (Walker et al., 1995). Thus, they can
ignore any students who are quietly misbehaving in class (such as not reading along
with the others) and approach them privately later to discuss their reasons for not
participating. Instead of showing anger and/or publicly disciplining an unruly student,
teachers can recommend alternative, less disruptive behavior for getting attention. They
can calm an agitated child by helping to solve the precipitating problem and being firm
about not bestowing additional attention on the child if the scene is repeated.
Providing students with rewards for prosocial behavior in class or at play deters
aggression. Teachers can give students points for attendance, preparedness, and
performance that qualify them for an extra school trip, for example. Parents can be kept
apprised of their children's behavior through reports on the number of points they are
earning (Hawkins et al., 1998).
Teachers can organize cooperative play activities instead of winner-loser games, and
urge children to help, rather than taunt, those with less athletic ability. Instead of
responding to bad conduct on a playing field with punishment or attention to the
perpetrator, they can facilitate peer mediation for arguing students.
- PARENT INVOLVEMENT
Through centers, classes, and private meetings, schools can help parents promote the
prosocial development of their children and recognize and respond to early warning
signs. They can help parents understand the effects on their children of their own
behavior and the importance of supporting school violence prevention efforts. Educators
can also sensitively convey their own concerns about certain children and help families
secure interventions, including mediation and counseling for both victims and
perpetrators of bullying (Banks, 1997; Dwyer, Osher, & Warger, 1998). Arguably, a
school's most important antiviolence strategy may simply be helping parents appreciate
that dismissing a child's small behavior problem nearly always results in the child's
subsequent involvement in more serious antisocial actions.
The most successful strategies to help children develop social competence are those
implemented as part of a comprehensive, multidisciplinary approach to nurturing
children at home, at school, and in the community. Evaluations of existing programs can
guide future program implementation, as can the technical assistance provided to
schools by organizations such as the Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence's
Blueprints for Violence Prevention Program (Greenberg et al., 1998).
Public support for school antiviolence initiatives has been limited, however; resources
continue to be directed at social controls, such as juvenile prosecution and detention.
But besides increasing investments in youth violence prevention, society needs to
strengthen communities by helping parents provide emotionally and economically for
their children and controlling access to weapons (Flannery & Huff, 1999). Finally, those
elements in society (including the news and entertainment media), which perpetuate the
culture of violence in the U.S., need to consider whether their message is obviating the
benefits of youth violence prevention efforts in the schools.
This Digest was developed by the ERIC Clearinghouse on Urban Education, with
funding from the Office of Educational Research and Improvement, U.S. Department of
Education, under contranct no. ED-99-CO-0035. The opinions in this Digest do not
necessarily reflect the position or policies of OERI or the Department of Education. ERIC Digests are in the public domain and may be freely reproduced.
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