Decreasing Preschool Aggression

  • Situation

    I am a child care aide for an after school program and work with children ages 4 to 6.  I currently have a 4 year old in my group who is showing extreme signs of violence.  She is fine one minute, but when is set off, sometimes simply by not being allowed to be line leader, starts in a violent fit of rage.  She hits, kicks, bites, smacks, pulls hair and clothes and screams.  Usually all of this is directed towards myself or another teacher, but also towards other children.  She has left bruises and marks on people during this.  Her mother says she feels we are provoking her and it is our fault.

  • Summary

    Aggressive behaviors can be a frightening and frustrating experience for caregivers and professionals.  To determine interventions or ways to decrease these behaviors it is very important to determine the function or reason for the behavior.  An ABC chart can provide information regarding the function or reason.  Research currently states that common reasons include: communication issues, frustration, escape/avoidance, an effort to obtain something, or possible sensory issues.

    Examples of ways to decrease these behaviors include reinforcement of alternative behaviors, use of visual supports to engage students, providing communication systems and providing replacement behaviors.  Examples of these strategies follow,  along with resources to access more information.

  • Definition

    ABC chart – An ABC chart, or Antecedent, Behavior, Consequence chart is an observational tool to help determine the function of a behavior.  The observer tracks and charts what occurs before the behavior, the behavior that occurs, and what happens after the behavior occurs.  Once a function is determined an intervention can be identified.


    Reinforcement of Alternative Behaviors – A reinforcer is provided when another more appropriate behavior is used by the child.  An example may be appropriate use of a communication device versus aggressive behaviors.


    Structured Choice – A structured choice option is an intervention that gives a child a sense of control over a situation by providing choices. Structured choice interventions are used to prevent or de-escalate interfering behaviors and to increase appropriate behaviors


    Visual Supports – Visual supports are tools that support a child’s understanding of events throughout their day and to assist in decreasing anxiety. Visual supports may include pictures, words, objects, arrangement of the environment, visual cues within the environment, schedules, timelines, and scripts.

  • Quick Facts

    • Child's Age: 3-5, 6-10, 11-13, 14-17
    • Planning Effort: Moderate
    • Difficulty Level: Moderate
  • Pre-requisites

    Completion of an ABC chart noting what is happening before, during and after the behavior to determine the reason.

  • Process

    1. Begin the process by completing a form called an ABC chart that will provide information about the behavior.  Note on the chart what was happening right before, during and after (refers to responses by others around the child ) the behaviors occur.  It is important to work with all adults involved with the child.  If the behaviors occur at home, parents and staff should work together to determine the reasons.

    2. With this information try to determine if the child needs assistance with communication, wants something, is frustrated, trying to escape an activity or person, gaining sensory input or seeking adult attention.

    3. Once you feel confident in the function/reason for the behavior, begin to decide on an appropriate intervention or strategy that will decrease the behavior.

    • If the reason appears to be due to the inability to communicate, work with a Speech and Language therapist and all the members of the team (staff and family) to determine the best mode of communication.  This may include use of pictures or an augmentative device.  Support the child in using the system to access something, obtain adult attention or to communicate an appropriate “no”.
    • If behaviors occur when demands are placed on the child consider decreasing demands and building in structured choices.  In the case of line leader – providing choices regarding what days she can be a line leader may provide a sense of control.  Placing her picture on a calendar for those days can provide a visual support.
    • If the behavior is determined to be sensory related, try to provide a rich schedule that includes movement activities that may include: yoga poses, jumping jacks, wall push-ups, and/or breathing activities.
    • Provide a visual schedule of the daily activities at home and at school. If the student can see what will happen on a schedule, it may help to decrease anxiety that could lead to inappropriate behaviors.  In the case given regarding being first in line, provide a schedule for the days the student is first in line.
    • If the child is observed engaging in appropriate behavior, reinforce, reinforce and reinforce!

    Enlist the support of a Behavior Specialist if aggressive behaviors are at high rates/intensity or if the behaviors continue after implementation of strategies.


  • Documents and Related Resources

    ABC-sample (Word document)


    Reinforcement Tower (related answer on this site)


    Structured Choice for De-Escalating Behavior (related answer on this site)



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