A conceptual framework for preventing aggression in elementary schools

Published date01 March 2019
Date01 March 2019
A conceptual framework for preventing aggression
in elementary schools
Alan R. Ellis
Department of Social Work, North Carolina State
University, Raleigh, North Carolina
Alan R. Ellis, Department of Social Work, North
Carolina State University, CB 7639, 1911
Building, Raleigh, NC 27695-7639.
Email: arellis@ncsu.edu
Pervasive physical conflict generates negative outcomes.
This paper (a) thoroughly describes the problem of early
aggression, (b) identifies emotion regulation (ER) and
social information processing (SIP) skills as targets for
aggression prevention, and (c) locates skills training
within a new conceptual framework. According to this
framework, prevention programs should teach ER and SIP
skills early and should target contextual factors. Multiple
professions are well positioned to intervene using existing
tools. Aggression prevention research should consider
both emotion and cognition, improve measurement and
study design, and incorporate theories that address skill
development as well as the social justice implications of
aggression prevention.
Galtung (1990) described a triangle of reciprocal relations among three forms of violence: direct,
structural, and cultural. Galtung asserted that progressing from violence to peace requires addressing
all three forms simultaneously. Similarly, Bronfenbrenner (1993) theorized that humans belong to
interacting systems on multiple levelsmicro-, meso-, exo-, macro-, and chronosystemsand that
understanding human development requires an ecological perspective that considers all of these
Cultural (macrosystem) values such as individualism make aggression a greater part of socializa-
tion in the United States than elsewhere (Yang, Fu, Zhao, & Chen, 2013), and the current national
discourse features many types of violence. The historical and current cultural tendencies toward
aggression make the present an opportune time to improve aggression prevention. This paper is
designed to support aggression-prevention work by presenting a conceptual framework. In the paper,
I focus on direct (vs. structural or cultural) violence and on the individual (i.e., microsystem) level,
but I incorporate contextual information and argue for a comprehensive approach to aggression pre-
vention. Thus, the paper may be amenable to integration with broader or differently targeted
Received: 11 February 2018 Revised: 8 June 2018 Accepted: 11 June 2018
DOI: 10.1002/crq.21231
© 2018 Association for Conflict Resolution and Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
Conflict Resolution Quarterly. 2019;36:183206. wileyonlinelibrary.com/journal/crq 183
violence-prevention and peace-promotion strategies, despite its primary focus on the prevention of
physical conflict in elementary schools.
1.1 |Overview
Physical conflict permeates U.S. schools, and early aggression places children at risk for chronic vio-
lence, delinquency, and other negative outcomes. This paper presents a conceptual framework for
understanding and preventing aggression in elementary school. Section 2 describes the prevalence of
childhood aggression, its consequences, risk and protective factors, and typical developmental trajec-
tories. Section 3 presents a theoretical rationale for targeting social skills, specifically emotion regula-
tion (ER) and social information processing (SIP), to prevent aggression. The final section locates
skills training within a conceptual framework that incorporates environmental, family, and individual
factors, and discusses implications for policy, practice, and research.
Violence is the intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, against oneself,
another person, or against a group or community, that either results in or has a high likelihood of
resulting in injury, death, psychological harm, maldevelopment or deprivation(World Health Orga-
nization, 2002, p. 4). This paper focuses on reactive aggressioni.e., violence in response to per-
ceived threat or harm (Dodge, 1980)in U.S. elementary-school-aged children (ages 611). Because
proactive aggression and social aggression have different etiologies, they deserve separate treatment
(Dodge, 1980; Fontaine, 2006; Heilbron & Prinstein, 2008). Where the literature is thinner, I have
broadened the discussion (e.g., described externalizing problems generally or aggression in adoles-
cents) to allow interpolation, demonstrate that aggression severity can increase with age, and high-
light the importance of early intervention.
2.1 |Prevalence
Most studies estimating the prevalence of childhood aggression have been small. A review by Egger
and Angold (2006) found problem behavior in 725% of preschoolers, and Schaeffer et al. (2006)
measured chronically high levels of aggression and disruptive behavior in 9% of girls and 15% of
boys in Baltimore elementary schools. Vazsonyi and Keiley (2007) observed 72% prevalence but low
mean severity in 10,107 Tucson-area elementary and middle-school students. The Tucson study
found more aggression in African Americans, children with low socioeconomic status (SES), and
especially males, and less aggression in Asian students.
Most studies of specific aggressive behaviors have involved adolescents. In the 2015 Youth Risk
Behavior Survey, 23% of high-school students reported fighting physically in the past year (Kann
et al., 2016), with higher prevalence in 9th grade versus 12th (28% vs. 17%), males versus females
(28% vs. 17%), and black and Hispanic students (32% and 23% respectively) versus white students
(20%). Eight percent of high-school students reported fighting physically at school, one fifth reported
being bullied at school, 6% said they had been threatened or injured with a weapon at school, and 3%
reported being in a physical fight resulting in serious injury. Hemphill et al. (2009) obtained similar
findings from Washington State adolescents.

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