Aggression in Children and Behaviours in the School

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Abstract

This report observes characteristics of aggression and lack of aggression in children’s classroom behaviour, as well as identify a typical popular child and a rejected child. Each child comes from different circumstances and family influences that affect their aggression characteristics and how they perform in school. I noticed differences in aggression depending on the gender and developmental differences. Observations took place in a Grade one public elementary school classroom located in Kitchener, Ontario. Students were observed during recess, lunch periods and on regular Friday afternoon schedules for eleven weeks. Two children, Leah who shows popularity and stability, and Peter who shows neglect and instability, were observed interacting with other children and authority figures. Leah is exposed to a positive and nurturing environment in her home and Peter is exposed to negative family influences and a stressful environment at home. Both students are exposed to different nurturing environments that in turn, reflect different characteristics of aggression.

Context

I completed my Community Service Learning placement at a public elementary school in Kitchener, Ontario for children from kindergarten to grade six. The students attend school five days a week, not including weekends. The school day begins at 8:50AM and ends at 3:10PM with two nutrition breaks. This elementary school’s vision is to teach the students to care for themselves, each other, the school, their community and the world. The school has a strong ESL program for newcomer students and a prominent nutrition program for low income students to provide them with nutritious snacks and a healthy breakfast in the morning. The school strives to provide a nurturing learning environments and a strong community.

I volunteered for eleven Friday afternoons for three hours and fifteen minutes each day. I was placed in a grade one classroom compromised of eighteen children. The children were either 5 years old or 6 years old if they had an early birthday. My responsibilities varied each week depending on the subject schedule. Some of my responsibilities included supervising, assisting students during work periods, assisting the teacher during activities and preparing materials for the students. My biggest responsibility was running a project in small groups about important people around the school. In small groups of fours and threes, I assigned each group an important member of the school community. Individually and in small groups we prepared interview questions centred on our social studies topic, responsibility. Together, we rehearsed each week until we felt ready to interview our important person. The interviews were recorded on the school’s iPad and I made the interviews into a short film that highlights each group member and their personal interviews. I got to observe how the children work together and interact in a small group and large group setting, and observe their learning as they develop knowledge and skills within each subject.

When I first began this placement, I was unaware of the backgrounds of each of the children and their temperaments. After a few weeks past, I began to get to know each child’s skills and abilities, as well as the type of home they come from. This helped me understand each child’s behaviour whether they were more temperamental or a more independent and capable child. I learned how to handle more disobedient children and how to calm down children with behavioural issues. The most important thing I learned during this placement, was how to adjust to different circumstances and disruptions throughout the day.

Grade one is a big change for these children because this is the first year for the majority of them are experiencing a full day of school and a structured day of different subjects. This new routine and environment may provoke new behaviours and aggression within peers.

Observational Data

The grade one classroom dynamic was quite new to me, there were many different types of children and a range of personalities to learn from. I experienced many conflicts within the classroom and types of aggression from different types of children. As I got to know the family background and personalities of each children, I began to make connections between home environments and aggression in each child, gender and developmental differences.

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Leah is a well-behaved child. Although she can be quite talkative which can cause disruptions in class, Leah does well in all her activities and follows instructions Leah comes from a typical family environment that display approval and affection which creates a climate where she strives to be a well-behaved and independent child. She is quite popular among her peers and they identify her as the neatest writer, the best speller and the smartest girl in the class. Many of her peers like to use her work as an example to guide their own and try to follow her behavioural patterns to also gain praise from teachers. She works well with her peers and attempts to assist them when they need help. Her talkative personality gets her into trouble, however she immediately corrects her behaviour without a second thought. There are many times where Leah was told to sit down and focus on her own work rather than worrying about others and she immediately applied corrective behaviour. She takes pride in being a good example for the class.

In contrast, Peter is an extremely aggressive and neglected child not only in the school but during afterschool hours as well. Peter deliberately causes disruptions in the classroom, does not follow rules and requests special treatment. Peter shows maladaptive behaviour, manipulation and aggression when he is not given attention or what he wants. I continuously have to address Peter’s inappropriate behaviour with the principle and his mother. Peter comes from a low-income family with a single mother of four children. The children live an unstable home life because they are constantly being evicted from apartments and finding temporary places to stay. The mother goes to work in the evenings and finds it difficult to monitor her children. His peers identify him as silly and always in trouble. In the classroom, Peter is very confident in his work although it is not strong academically. Peter works well with the other children; however, many children do not enjoy being in the same group with him because he is always silly.

Leah responds well when teachers address her aggression with encouraging alternative solutions and shows very adaptive behaviour. Sometimes Leah is protective of her belongings and space, and is unhappy when they are violated. Leah reflect more verbal aggression and attitude when this happens. Peter is more physically aggressive such as pushing, punching and kicking. Peter also uses verbal aggression towards his peers and teachers such as curse words and ill-mannered statements. Teachers in the school use different discipline techniques for each child. Leah is easier to discipline because she seems to learn from her behavioural issues. The teacher and myself, tend to ask Leah to apply more prosocial responses such as sharing and using nice worlds to express herself to her peers. Peter is harder to discipline because he seems to like to push the limits of how much he can get in trouble. The teacher tends to use time-outs to discipline Peter and he is only allowed back into the room when he is ready to behave with the rest of the class. Peter responds well to this form of discipline for a short amount of time until he begins causing trouble again.

Theory Discussion

While attending my placement and my developmental psychology class, I observed many parallels within the children and aggression in developmental psychology. Knowledge from developmental psychology allowed me to gain a deeper understanding of the children in the classroom. I was able to observe the connection between the child and environment, and how it affects their aggression (Krettenauer, 2019). I can also see the gender differences and aggression between each child. The boys are more physically and verbally aggressive than the girls (Krettenauer, 2019). I also observed the types of aggression from the children and how they developed as they matured. Some of them display more reactive aggression by harming another peer deliberately. Other show proactive aggression in order to get the object, more space or extra privileges. (Shaffer et al., 2019). Over the course of eleven weeks, working with and observing the children on their regular classroom behaviour, it led to confirmation on developmental psychology theories.

Environmental factors can be an indicatory of aggression or lack of aggression. Peter comes from a particular low socioeconomic background. Studies show that there is a correlation between social class and levels of aggression. Males in particular from the lower socioeconomic strata exhibit more aggressive behaviour compared to the same age and gender from the middle class (Shaffer et al., 2019). Peter can be productive and non-disruptive when he is given special treatment such as working one-on-one with a teacher or myself. He is able to manage himself if there is undivided attention on him. However, in any other setting Peter influences his peers around him to be disrespectful and goes on to make noises, not sit properly and causes disruptions in the class. Peter comes from a low-income house hold and a single mother that works. Low income parents live stressful lives that does not allow them to monitor or manage their children’s behaviour, whereabouts, friends and activities (Shaffer et al., 2019). Peter tells me stories of his friends setting small fires in buildings, going to stores alone and where he learns curse words. These factors show this mother’s inability to monitor him at all times.

This results in aggressive behaviours I observe in school. Peter has a record of fighting with other children, especially in older grades, and require special supervision on the school yard. Peter shows a negative attitude towards teachers and consistently talks back defiantly. Peter’s actions reflect the results of lack of parental monitoring (Shaffer et al., 2019). On the other hand, Leah comes from a low-income family with only one parent working. Although she is from a lower socioeconomic stratum, Leah’s mother is a stay at home mom for her three children. Leah’s mother monitors her children’s whereabouts and provides supervision. Leah’s mother manages her children’s education and homework, and monitors their choice of friends and activities. This keeps Leah in safe boundaries so she does not participate in aggressive and delinquent behaviours. Leah consistently has her reading done each week, homework done every night and minimal conflict between other peers. Leah does not participate in any physical conflicts and follows instructions at all times. This confirms the effect of parental monitoring and managing on a child’s aggression.

There are clear sex differences in aggression between Peter and Leah. This may be because of social influences such as how parents play with their children. Parents tend to play rougher with boys than with girls, and react negatively to aggressive behaviour in girls than to boys (Shaffer et al., 2019). Boys are encouraged to enact more aggressive themes, such as playing with guns, army weapons and other symbolic implements of destruction. These themes actually promote aggressive behaviour (Shaffer et al., 2019). Although destructive themed toys are limited in the classroom, Peter tends to choose the big truck to roll over his peers Lego creations or knock over blocks. He also chooses to use the dinosaur toy to destruct and crush things in the classroom. His actions for disrupting his peers is always reprehended, but he is allowed to continue using the toy in the same way as long as he destructs his own Lego he made. Leah tends to choose to colour during free periods and play with dolls with the other girls in the class. They simply pretend play with the doll house and recreate a family dynamic. There was a time all the dolls were being used, so she opted to play with the Lego with her other friends. Peter came by with his usual intent on using the truck to roll over the Lego pieces. Leah joined in took another toy to run over the pieces as well. Both children got in trouble for this, however Peter was allowed to continue on his own and Leah was sent to play with the other girls and dolls. In this situation, the girl was discouraged from aggressive play and the boy was encouraged to continue playing on his own. This confirms how social influences can be an attribute in making boys more aggressive than girls.

Aggression changes with age and declines as the child gets older. However, there is a small group of children that continue to reflect a stable display of physical aggression and it becomes a cause for concern in their development. The most common type of aggression I see in the classroom is proactive aggression. In the classroom, we teach the children to share and to allow peers to take turns so it is fair. However, there are many instances where children are unwilling to share and convert to proactive aggression to get what they want. Leah will sometimes be proactive when her peers want to use the same things she is using. Such as pencil crayons, toys, sit at the same carpet space as her. Leah will stay calm however her actions are cold. She will either silently take it away when they are not looking or use verbal aggression to get them out of her personal space. Although Leah shows some aggression, it is not regular. Leah does not have a history of being continuously aggressive throughout preschool and grade one, and reflect the theory that aggression declines as a child’s moral development develops. Peter uses more reactive aggression during school. When something does not go to his intent, Peter reacts by fighting with other children, pushing his peers and acts impulsively (Girten, 2016). Peter becomes quite emotional and verbally aggressive during these situations. Peter has a history of aggression throughout his preschool years into grade one. He is part of the small sample that that displays high levels of physical aggression consistently into the beginning of middle childhood. This may be a sign to be concerned for his development and the school is making efforts in disciplining his behaviour and providing him with the resources to help him.

Conclusion

In conclusion, my placement observations confirmed many existing theories of aggression in children. From my placement at this Waterloo regional public school in a grade one classroom, I was able to observe how environmental factors affected a child’s aggression, gender differences in aggression and different types of aggression as the child develops. These theories were observed in mainly two children, Leah and Peter. These students showed a strong degree of evidence to conclude these theories. These observations are helpful in understanding children’s development because we can use this information not only predict aggressive behaviour in the future but also help understand the reasons behind each child’s aggressive behaviour.

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