I was brainstorming with one of my former student teachers about a child she is working with who exhibits violent behavior when everything doesn't go smoothly in class. During the conversation I was reminded of a student I taught a number of years ago. He had been the 'terror of the school' prior to coming into my 2nd grade class. I was baffled how a K-1 student could cause such problems in a school setting.
Jimmy had a violent temper and when angry he would hit anyone in his path, including adults. He was a little leery about me at the beginning (his first male teacher), but soon settled into his usual routine. Since he was so physical, I decided to capitalize on that energy. Our classroom was near an outside door that led to a large playground. I made a deal with Jimmy and told him that he could have some fresh air time if he ever felt angry and wanted to hit something. I told him that from that point on I wanted him to excuse himself, go outside and run to the fence and back until he calmed down and felt like he could re-enter the room. I made sure he knew this wasn't a punishment, but an opportunity to calm down. For this particular child, it worked and by December he could calm down by putting his head on his desk.
In the meantime, I found out a little more background about Jimmy and found there were violent episodes in his home. It makes sense that children who observe violence may react in the same way. With the social worker also involved in teaching Jimmy coping skills, he lost the title of 'terror of the school' and became a successful student.
Talking with my student teacher reminded me of the steps that I go through when working with a 'challenging' child:
1. Work on building a positive relationship with the child.
2. Try to find out the root of the problems.
3. If necessary, replace physical aggression with physical exertion.
4. Keep working on the problem. It may take 20 different procedures to find one that works for that child. Don't be cynical, be systematic.