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Aggression in the Second Plane

February 21, 2019

 

If we think of the First Plane of development as a time when the child is building their cognitive filing cabinets, classifying and categorizing the world and relationships within it, the Second Plane of development is when those files get filled with as much information as the child has access to. In the classrooms, you'll see far more abstract materials for Elementary aged children, more opportunities for reading and more reliance on the child's experience with language to master new content. The same is true for preventing or responding to children's aggression in the Second Plane. While children's aggressive behavior in the First Plane is often a result of a developmentally predictable lack of self-restraint and lack of language, children's behavior in the Second Plane should reflect more maturity in each. 

 

 Typically developing children should have the self-restraint and language skills to be able to resolve most conflicts without aggression. If you're caring for a child who is not, it's important to sort out what's missing. Is there a developmental issue that is interfering with the child's self-control? Children with less developed executive functioning and self-restraint skills are more likely to be aggressive. But those impulse issues can also interfere with children's academic growth, their ability to make and maintain friendships, and their healthfulness. 

 

We know that children with strong, trusting relationships around them demonstrate more consistent self-control. And even in instances in which a child's chemistry or genetics may predispose them to impulse issues, the degree to which the environment around them is reliable, predictable and trustworthy still matters. Look to the environment itself to see if children can trust adults to keep them safe there. Do classroom rules change without notice? Are some children held to different standards than others? Children in Elementary will have enough cognitive growth to notice, and especially in the justice-sensitive window of the Second Plane, will care deeply about whether they perceive rule-makers in their environments to be reliable and fair. 

 

Offer children lots of opportunities to practice self-control before there are conflicts. Use simple, "When/Then" statements to help predict your expectations and provide assurance that you will follow through. "When you have put away your work, then we can talk about what you've got planned for this weekend." "When your sister is finished sharing about her day, then it will be your turn to tell us about yours." Framing expectations this way gives children something to rely upon in response to their own self-restraint; just be sure you actually follow through with whatever you've offered will happen later! 

 

For children who struggle with impulsivity, incorporate regular reminders before potentially troublesome times to re-connect them with your expectations and the environment's norms. "We are going to go to the playground. Can you remind me how to walk in the hallway so we don't disturb other classrooms?" "It is challenging to get our grocery shopping done at busy times of day. Let's think through what we might encounter before we go into the store." In the classroom, you can practice impulse control with simple games that require children to restrain themselves, like Red Light/Green Light or Freeze Dances. Once you've established the rules for the game, change the directions. Play rounds in which you let the children know they should move on "red" and be still on "green." Shifting the language associated with the rules requires children to think about the game more carefully and makes for more complicated practice. 

 

Remember, too, that the ability to regulate one's own behavior doesn't emerge overnight. A child who struggles with self-restraint in Elementary school will need time to consistently practice, over weeks or months, as they develop the ability to control their impulses. It's worth it, though: research suggests that permissive parenting or teaching models in middle childhood contribute to more discipline issues for children in adolescence. Instead, set firm boundaries for your expectations of children's behavior and encourage children to be involved in meeting those expectations. Practice planning behavior before you're "in the mix of things," and encourage children to self-talk through highly stimulating times. 

 

If, despite your practice, a conflict with aggressive behavior does occur, respond quickly and firmly. Children at this age should be able to understand and articulate why they were (frustrated/wronged/angry/etc) and to identify ways to resolve the conflict. While you need not yell (and, indeed, you undermine the strength of your influence when you do,) you should state clearly and firmly that using our bodies in anger is inappropriate. Ask the child to identify what the outcome of their aggression was, and ask them to ask the other person involved what they need to do to resolve the problem. While insisting on a child "saying sorry" does not necessarily build genuine remorse, helping an angry child to slow down, notice the consequences of their behavior and make amends is a natural consequence of a lack of self-restraint. 

 

Finally, as with all children's behavior, look for patterns. Are there particular times of day when a child is more likely to be aggressive? Are there possible issues with their diet or need for movement that might precipitate the conflict? Are there particular combinations of children who tend to spark each other's frustrations? Can you develop structured, supervised times to break the habits that small groups of children may have formed? Children's ability to predict, observe and reflect on their behavior, and to articulate each, is essential in helping them to take ownership over their own behavior.

 

Even in challenging times, remember that children are looking to you to understand the limits of appropriate behavior. Keep your cool. Lower your voice. Talk to your child privately and away from the audience of children who are not involved. Just like adults, children are often embarrassed immediately after losing their cool. Remind them that you know they are capable of demonstrating better restraint in the future, as you help them to take responsibility for correcting the consequences of their immediate behavior. While we all make mistakes, we learn the most from them when we are given the chance to make them right, forgiven and helped to avoid them in the future. 

 

 

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