Physical Aggression

The definition of Physical Aggression varies from professional to professional. Some do not distinguish between aggression directed against objects (more accurately characterized as “property destruction”), aggression directed against the self (more accurately characterized as “self-injurious” behavior) and aggression directed against others through verbal means (more accurately characterized as “verbal aggression”). Although the definition of physical aggression may be more or less inclusive of these various behavioral anomalies, several intervention principles are common in addressing aggressive behavior:

An immediate limit-setting response is necessary. It is inappropriate to “ignore” aggression, especially if someone is being injured.

The immediate limit-setting response must not be reinforcing – if the child wants to leave the room, and you take the child out of the room when he behaves aggressively, then you’ve effectively reinforced aggression.

It may not be possible, or legally permissible, for the treatment provider to implement “contingent exclusion” without the assistance of the adult caretaker. Regulations regarding the use of physical restraint vary from location to location. Physical restraint (holding the child to prevent movement) is not recommended by most professionals, may jeopardize the health and safety of the child, and may be illegal, depending upon its implementation.

The use of physical guidance, physical prompting or other means of redirecting (moving) the child to a less-stimulating or less-dangerous setting is usually permissible, but it is always preferable to redirect the child through the use of verbal means. This depends upon the existence of rapport between the child and the treatment provider.

The treatment provider is always “icing on somebody else’s cake.” In a school, the “cake” is the teacher or classroom aide. At home and in the community, the “cake” is the parent, adult babysitter, or other adult, who is responsible for the child (daycare staff, etc). When physical aggression occurs, it is almost always necessary to “get the cake involved” quickly.

Aggression is usually “the tactic of last resort,” when other modes of communication have failed. To reduce aggressive tendencies in children, it is almost always necessary to work on improving communication skills.

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