30 MARCH 2005


School Notes: Children and anger management

Over the last decade, my staff has reported an unfortunate change in some of our students' behavior.
Teachers, principals, social workers, counselors and school psychologists have shared stories of younger and younger children 殿cting out. We have experienced kindergarten children throwing things across the room as well as exhibiting an array of other anti-social and defiant behaviors. Anger in children has been steadily increasing in the last 10 years; this is a trend that is mirrored across the state and nation. According to the Connecticut State Department of Education's 2001 position statement on student support services, 溺any students must overcome challenges that place them at risk for educational failure, including poverty, family dysfunction, emotional trauma, linguistic and ethnic differences and community violence.

Where do angry feelings come from? According to T. Berry Brazelton, M.D., and Joshua D. Sparrow, M.D., 溺ost often anger arises when our well-being appears threatened. If we feel endangered or slighted, anger is the likely result (excerpted from Mastering Anger and Aggression the Brazelton Way, 2005). As human beings we seem to have been genetically programmed this way; 吐ight or flight has long been recognized as a biological reaction among members of our species. In fact, Brazelton and Sparrow continue, 殿nger can set off a physical response flushing, sweating, heart-pounding, breathing fast that pushes us toward aggressive action. It's hard for children and young adults to concentrate on learning when they're angry or upset.
As a result, the district has sought out new training and research to address these issues. The first program we have implemented at Dunbar Hill, Helen Street, Ridge Hill, Spring Glen and Hamden Middle Schools is called Positive Behavior Support (PBS). PBS features an affirming approach to teaching positive behavior expectations. Staff at these schools has been trained to deescalate potentially explosive situations. In addition, Church Street School has initiated a 鉄uper Kids assembly and recognition program to accomplish the same goals. We are in the final planning stages of implementing student support centers in every school. These centers focus on alternatives to suspension by providing tutoring, counseling and consequences for inappropriate behavior. The funding for these programs has been from various grants the district pursued and received.

Programs such as PBS feature strategies to help children control their anger, such as one described in Brazelton and Sparrow's book. 徹ne first grade teacher shows her students how to pay attention to angry and over-excited feelings by describing the 'Escalator of Trouble.' She teaches them to notice when they've stepped on the escalator and how high they've ridden, that is, when the feelings start, and how strong they can get. Their anger seems to push them higher and higher, out of control. But unlike a real escalator, the children can safely jump off before they reach the top. In this way, they consciously learn to stop before they get to the top floor, or into the most trouble.
At each school, we also have a Student Assistance Model (SAM) team, comprised of a cross-section of certified staff trained to intervene positively in a child's life if he/she seems to be developing a pattern of problematic behavior. SAM teams not only deal with angry children, but also those who may be withdrawn, upset, academically at-risk or acting out. The Hamden Public School system also employs social workers, school psychologists and guidance counselors, all of whom work either with individuals or groups of students experiencing common problems.

It is my opinion that the rise in these behaviors has its roots in several factors. First, our society has witnessed unspeakable acts of horror involving children in school settings, such as Columbine, Russia, and most recently, Red Lake, Minnesota. Second, the amount of violence on television and in the movies has increased dramatically, and exposure to these media is more readily available than ever. Digital cable and satellite television offer 途ound the clock assault on the senses. Third, video games have also become increasing violent with many of the most popular depicting robbery, murder, mayhem and more. Fourth, both our society and our schools have also had to deal with the effects of illegal drugs and other substance abuse. Many pediatricians, psychiatrists and psychologist have postulated that such exposure to violence can have a numbing effect, especially on children.
As educators in the Hamden Public School system, we will continue to search for ways to help our students appropriately deal with angry feelings; however, we need the help of parents, guardians, grandparents, relatives and the community to limit and monitor television viewing, video games and internet consumption of our children and youth. By working together we can effectively combat the external forces that negatively impact our students.

Alida Begina
30 March 2005

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