Q | A group of students plays a little too roughly at recess. How can I confront aggressive behavior?
A | It’s typical for students to let loose during recess, when they take a needed break from academic instruction. However, the playground can be a difficult setting because there is less supervision. Often, students are winding up as much as they’re winding down.
I’m sure you have already taken the first step: reminding your students daily and close to recess time that you expect them to play safely. These reminders will increase the likelihood of good behavior. Also realize that certain games require physical contact, so it wouldn’t be appropriate to admonish students to “keep your hands to yourself.” Instead, define appropriate physical contact. Engage some of your students—including those having difficulty—in role-playing what appropriate physical contact in the context of a particular game looks like. And talk one-on-one with the students who have been overly aggressive to confirm they have heard you and can explain why your expectation is important.
In addition to setting clear expectations, consider what consequences—positive or negative—to put in place. You may want to reward the class with five minutes’ extra recess if everyone can play safely, and take away five minutes from students who violate the safety rule. If there is a particular game associated with roughhousing, a last resort may be to ban that game for a period of time, with the caveat that it can be earned back.
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Melanie A. Fernandez, Ph.D., ABPP, is board certified in clinical child and adolescent psychology and is director of the Parent-Child Interaction Therapy Program at the Child Mind Institute (childmind.org).
Image: Adam Chinitz