Antisocial Behavior and Aggression


Chapter 10: Social Behavior

chap 10 concept map

With our best efforts at creating a safe, warm, and consistent environment at school we will continue to observe students with antisocial and aggressive behavior.  Our textbook defines antisocial behavior as “behavior that disrupts the functioning of society, such as aggression and delinquency” (Bergin, Bergin. 2012).  Students that continue to demonstrate aggressive behavior into middle childhood may be diagnosed with oppositional defiant disorder or conduct disorder.

Children with conduct disorder exhibit behavior that shows a persistent disregard for the norms and rules of society. Conduct disorder is one of the most frequently seen mental disorders in adolescents ( Conduct disorders commonly coexist with other mental health problems: 46% of boys and 36% of girls have at least one coexisting mental health problem.  The coexistence of conduct disorders with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is particularity prevalent (Nock, Kazdin, Hiripi, and Kesslor 2006).   Those who commit crimes as children are more likely to remain career criminals through age 40 (Bergin, Bergin. 2012).  However, not all students that are antisocial or aggressive will continue to demonstrate this behavior into adulthood.  Our textbook identified three qualities that will diminish the likelihood that antisocial children will become antisocial adults and they include: having at least some prosocial behaviors, developing an admired skill, and becoming part of a healthy social network (Bergin, Bergin. 2012).

Aggression is behavior that is used with the intention to harm others.  There are three types of aggression described in the class textbook which include physical aggression, verbal aggression, and social aggression.  Examples of physical aggression include hitting, kicking, biting, pinching, and pulling hair.  Verbal aggression would include cussing, calling names, and threatening others with harm.  Examples of social aggression would include starting or spreading of rumors, excluding peers from a group, or refusing to acknowledge a peer.

Students that exhibit these behaviors tend to be hard to form positive relationships with in the classroom.  However, there are things we can do to help teach these students prosocial skills.  Many programs have been established to address concerning behaviors in the school setting. One of the most popular programs addressing behaviors is the Positive Behavior Support System (PBS).  PBS is a systematic approach in which students experience supports based on their behavioral responsiveness to intervention.  Most schools use a three tiered approach with all students receiving universal support in the first tier.  If a student is not responsive, they may receive more intense intervention with small group instruction at the second tier.  If the student continues to exhibit undesirable behaviors, a more individualized plan may be implemented at the third tier (  Systems such as PBS, provide schools with the opportunity to provide specialized assistance to students with mental health, behavioral, or emotional disorders.  One treatment that is currently being used to address symptoms is Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT).  CBT is a form of treatment that focuses on examining the relationships between thoughts, feeling, and behaviors (  Students can use the strategies to modify the way they think to increase their coping ability.  A few strategies using CBT include asking oneself, “Is this fact or fiction?” and asking questions such as, “Am I seeing the bigger picture here?  Are my behaviors/actions worth the consequences?”  Teachers can also conduct a functional assessment to better understand why the student is engaging in a particular negative behavior.  Once the teacher has a better understanding of the function of the behavior, they can implement interventions or a behavior support plan to help increase the student’s success.


Discussion Questions:

  1.  What strategies have you used to develop relationships with students that are demonstrating antisocial behavior in your classroom?
  2. In your experience, do you feel mental health issues are being adequately addressed in school?
  3. What additional resources are available to you in order to address antisocial behavior and aggression at school?



Artesani, James A. (2001). Understanding the Purpose of Challenging Behaviors. Columbus, OH: Merrill Prentice Hall

Bergin, C.C. & Bergin, D.A. (2012). Child and Adolescent Development in Your Classroom. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth/Cengage Learning.

Conduct Disorder. Retrieved on October 23, 2013 from http://www.

Continuum of SWPBS. Retrieved on October 23, 2012 from

Nock M. , Kazdin, Alan, Hiripi E. and Kessler, R. (2006). Prevalence, subtypes, and correlates of DSM-IV conduct disorder in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication. Psychological Medicine, , pp 699-710. doi:10.1017/S0033291706007082.





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9 Responses to Antisocial Behavior and Aggression

  1. anonymous50 says:

    1. What strategies have you used to develop relationships with students that are demonstrating antisocial behavior in your classroom?

    Because I teach middle school, I find the ‘spike’ in antisocial behavior to be true and, fortunately, most often short-lived. The first strategy for me in dealing with this and developing relationships with my students is, then, to learn each student by name and make a point of addressing him or her personally and daily. I then identify areas of interest or particular talents/skills that the student possesses. These might be musical skills, athletic ability , or a particular intellectual prowess or interest that might set them apart from their peers (like fencing as a hobby, geography knowledge, or a rare insect collection, to name a few). I then use the interest or ability to connect with the student. I will attend performances or games and then discuss the outcomes, triumphs, or frustrations with them, commiserating when I have personal knowledge/experience or becoming their ‘student’ when I do not. I might also publicly display respect for students’ talents by having them become our ‘class expert’ or even creating a lesson or connection to our curriculum that facilitates inviting them to share their expertise. In addition, I share carefully considered relevant (appropriate) information about myself and even my children, especially if what I am revealing allows for a connection to how a student is feeling or what he or she might be experiencing at that time. By acknowledging the students as unique individuals and displaying my ‘realness’, I find that they are generally more open to discussions of their own behaviors and are often more receptive to implementing strategies to address or adjust the inappropriate or undesirable ones. If, on rare occasion, there is a student who is chronically antisocial or who displays aggression that is harmful to another student, I still attempt to build a connection but rely on the administration and counseling staff for more guidance and support in doing so.

  2. Mary Decker says:

    What strategies have you used to develop relationships with students that are demonstrating antisocial behavior in your classroom?

    It is very important for me to try to separate the actions from the individual. This can be difficult at times, especially if the students consistently and predominately displays antisocial behavior. I begin forming a relationship by using “I notice” statements. These are value free observations that simply let the student know that you are thinking about him/her. For example, I may say, “I notice that you’re wearing different shoes today,” or, “I notice that you turned in your homework.” By doing this consistently, the student gets the feeling that you actually recognize and care about the things he/she does.
    Next, as the previous commenter described, it’s important to discover the interests of the student. I would start to ask about these interests, while trying to sound as genuine as possible. Some kids with antisocial behavior already assume that you want something from them or are being manipulative when you try to get personal. Once a relationship is established, I appeal to that relationship when addressing behavior concerns. For example, if a student is touching others, I might say, “Would you please keep your hands to yourself, just for me? I get distracted when I see people with their hands on other people.” Hopefully, even if it is done begrudgingly, the student in question will start to follow directions because you have that basis of caring developed.

  3. Katie Williams says:

    I appreciate the previous 2 comments because I am currently struggling with a student right now who exhibits antisocial behavior. He has been clinically diagnosed with ADHD and ODD. While this is not my first year teaching, it is the first time I’ve faced this combination of antisocial behavior. I have a great relationship with both the student and his mom, which has been extremely helpful in my ability to contain the behaviors I am seeing in the classroom. So far, I have not had to invlove administration at all with this student. Instead I have been able to reason with him and involve his mom and his counselor when needed. His counselor works very closely with me, which has helped tremendously. His behavior is much improved compared to last year. I firmly believe that teachers must know their students in order to teach them. These days, teachers almost need permission from the students before they are willing to learn anything from you. Appealing to the relationship when addressing behavior concerns is not something I have tried, but it makes a lot of sense. I will definitely use that in the future because I think it is something that he will respond to. Thanks, Mary!

  4. Nicole Gaffney says:

    1. What strategies have you used to develop relationships with students that are demonstrating antisocial behavior in your classroom?
    This topic is one that hits really close to home for me and allows me to reflect on my work with a student a few years back (my first year teaching). He had many antisocial behaviors and was very difficult to work with. In Kindergarten, it is hard to tell what is going on with students who demonstrate these types of behaviors. At first, I thought he was just immature and needed to be taught our classroom expectations. Then, I started to think that there were troubling issues at home which caused him to act out (not enough attention, starvation or lack of sleep). I worked with him in a very caring, yet stern manner. I used all my resources: the counselor, administrators and his parents (which offered no help). Later in first grade, he was diagnosed with ODD and ADHD and now he receives more support.
    The year was really tough. Our school had not yet implemented SW-PBS. However, I was on the committee and started to use some of the language and strategies I learned from the program in my classroom. I noticed some difference in the child. He needed “pre-corrects” for behavior. I told him exactly what I expected from him before he carried out the behavior. I often did this in a caring, secretive kind of way: “Hey bud, we are getting ready to clean up. Can you make sure that you get your stuff put away and are sitting on the carpet with your hands to yourself in x amount of time?”. It was our little “pep talk” and it usually worked. The troubled times came when he was working with other students and would get upset. I often had to observe him in groups settings and intervene if I thought there was going to be an issue. Sometimes, I would catch it in time and praise him for how he was responding before the situation escalated. For instance, I would say, “I love how you are being so respectful even though he is reading the book you wanted. Thank you for sharing and taking turns.” This was exhausting, but it worked. I also played by the 4:1 rule. For every one time I had to correct his behavior, I would give him four positive compliments. This helped me build our relationship and his self esteem. It is hard at times, but building a positive relationship with the child is extremely important.

  5. Karen says:

    In your experience, do you feel mental health issues are being adequately addressed in school?

    I saw this question and absolutely had to answer it. I feel very strongly that not enough is being done to adequately address mental health issues in schools. In this past week there were two incidents involving students killing teachers. I know that this is not typical and that the media can often make it seem like more incidents are occurring than actually are, however this is proof that students are not receiving the help that they need. If you look in any school you will find students who are suffering from mental health issues. Sometimes we identify them and sometimes they get the help that they need. Other times we identify them, but we are unable to get them the help that they need. This can be because the parents refuse to believe that their child has a problem or because we do not have the necessary resources to help them. And yet other times we simply do not identify them because there are so many other students that seem to need more help. In order for us to be more successful with mental health in schools we need to have more opportunities for preventative programs. We need to provide schools with more resources to deal with mental health issues, including those associated with aggression. Resources can include school counselors, social workers, school psychologists, and training for teachers. I think that teachers need enhanced training on aggression and conflict resolution. Many teachers may avoid dealing with students who show aggressive tendencies and quell conflicts without helping students learn how to resolve conflicts on their own because they don’t know what to do. Avoiding students who show aggressive tendencies does not provide them with the social networks that they need to change their path and avoid becoming an adult criminal. Providing more resources and training is a start to addressing mental health issues in schools.

    • Sinclair says:

      I agree that not only teachers, but most of us tend to avoid those with aggressive tendencies. Most professions could benefit from a conflict resolution class for just such reasons.

  6. Autumn says:

    In your experience, do you feel mental health issues are being adequately addressed in school?

    I certainly concede that mental health issues are being addressed much more effectively than they were when I was in school. I would further submit that serving the mental health needs of our students is a monumental endeavor, further complicated by a morass of bureaucratic red tape and a highly charged political climate. My feeling is that achievements in this area are heavily predicated on a number of factors, including the training of counseling staff, student amenability, and parental involvement. When all of these components coalesce harmoniously, the effects are truly remarkable. Conversely, when any one of these elements is faulty, the chances of success either completely collapse or drastically diminish. I have been employed at schools where -on the surface- mental health was a priority, as evidenced by the exorbitant amount of the budget that was earmarked for this area; however, the counseling staff largely consisted of interns and untrained personnel, thereby limiting the probability of authentic, measurable gains. There were some noteworthy success stories, which were laudable; however, I found myself wondering if the small number of students who benefited from these services justified the colossal expense…particularly when many of the students were ultimately referred to private practitioners. It gives me no pleasure to impeach the efforts of well-intentioned individuals; I do, however, feel that it is imperative to scrutinize this issue very thoughtfully and consider every alternative for the sake of our students.

  7. Sinclair says:

    2. In your experience, do you feel mental health issues are being adequately addressed in school?

    No, of course mental health issues are not being adequately addressed. While this is true, mental health issues are much more known and accepted now versus the stigma of the past. One present prevalent problem has been to use the diagnosis as a label or excuse for improper behavior. While many are now cognizant of this problem, it is still a fact of diagnosis for insurance purposes. Many clients now seek out a diagnosis and even younger clients have read extensively about their diagnosis (due to the internet). This often leads to clients living up to their symptoms.

  8. Amanda Morris says:

    What strategies have you used to develop relationships with students that are demonstrating antisocial behavior in your classroom?

    I am at a new district this year and have been involved with both a SPED paraprofessional position, and now a teacher’s assistant position. This district has the PBIS system in place and I have seen it be successful and also the opposite. One downfall would be that the students have to fail through the first two areas before people step in and give individual help. Ideally, it sounds like a good idea, but sometimes there are students that cause a lot of harm and have a lot of negative actions before getting the help needed. Also, sometimes the help given is by educators that have to spread themselves too thing— they are in multiple buildings trying to keep track of all their kids, and sometimes the students need help when the educators are not assigned in their building.
    While there are downfalls, I believe overall the program is fairly successful. I was getting set up to be a part of this plan as a para where I would “check in” with students and collectively we would discuss their day (at the beginning and end). It is my understanding we would put point values on positive and negative interactions throughout the day. Because my job transition happened around the time of this training, I didn’t get to learn more about this idea. Although I am excited about my “promotion”, it is one thing I am going to miss out on!

    When it comes to specific students, I would have more experience with my SPED students thus far. We have a student who is somewhere on the autistic spectrum although not diagnosed. At the beginning of the year, he felt no remorse. His mom complained that he hit her and she didn’t know how to stop him or control him. We were fearful of his actions as he got older, and he has a young baby sibling at home also. While it wasn’t immediate, this student did start showing signs of remorse and feeling bad after actions because the SPED team acted so KINDLY towards eachother and towards the student. They described the actions that took place (by the student or teacher), and then the feelings that resulted from those actions. At first, it didn’t seem like it would have any effect on him…but a few weeks in I saw it on his face and in his words. I saw this student feel empathy. It was incredible. Although I’m no longer in this position, I think of these teachers often and remember their impact of modeling and showing great prosocial behaviors.

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