Meet 'Talon', aged 5. He's had a truly horrendous childhood. It's involved all sorts of abusive parenting and inappropriate modelling. He's the sort of kid who would be instantly labelled as 'violent' or 'aggressive' (see Teacher Tom's splendid post about this) by those who haven't thought about it very hard.
Talon will strike out the moment he's frustrated, and he's big enough to hurt you, even if you're a teacher. And so most teachers (and many of the children) keep a certain amount of distance from him, especially when his fuse has been lit. But of course teachers need to intervene before he flattens the child who just took 'his' bike- the one he had over there, for when he wanted to ride it again- or the one who has hold of the toy he wants right now. And many of them still try to keep their distance, though fortunately a few of them have discovered the same safe and effective method that I'm about to let you in on.
Because I'm a casual, most other staff members tend to assume that I haven't a clue about Talon. A few weeks ago he was beating up on another child (actually he was about to strangle them with a skipping rope, though I'm sure he had no idea that this would be the result of what he was doing), and when I rushed over to intervene, a few of these staff members saw me and tried to rush over themselves to warn me not to get too close. Talon had landed one blow on me before they got there, but I was expecting that and had braced myself; you don't get danger money for working in childcare, but sometimes you have to expect to get punched if you're doing your job properly.
You could almost hear their brakes squealing as they watched what happened next.
You see, I've made it my business to form a relationship with Talon, just as I have with every other 'troublesome' (read 'troubled') child in the centres I visit. Here are the three things you need to do to deal effectively with a child who's been given the 'violent, aggressive' label.
1. Form a positive relationship.
That takes time. I'd taken the time already with Talon, though these other staff weren't watching when I did it. I'd grabbed every opportunity that presented itself for positive interactions with him.
2. Get down at the child's eye level.
That's where you have to expect a blow or two and be prepared to catch their hand or just take the odd punch. And you must NOT look scared or anxious. If you've already done Step 1, that will be quite easy, because forming a positive relationship with a child works both ways; he has many more positive thoughts about you, yes, but you'll find that you are also able to think much more positively about him. (Or, of course, her.) Your whole inner picture of that child changes when you spend the time looking for the good instead of the bad.
3. Drop your voice and talk quietly and with respect.
That takes practice too, because in reality, the last thing you're feeling when a child's about to seriously harm another child is calm and in control. But you have to radiate confidence, not alarm. This is sometimes an effort of will. Make that effort!
Forget '1, 2, 3, magic'- this approach has the same effect as a tranquilising dart on most out-of-control kids who are used to being yelled at. It certainly had that effect on Talon, though it took a moment (in which moment he landed a good punch. Ouch!).
Out of the corner of my eye, I could see jaws dropping as I put myself completely in range of Talon's uncontrolled violence. I could hear them calling to warn me, and shouting at Talon (who of course wasn't listening; children who've exploded with rage don't hear things that are yelled at them from across the playground). But getting down on his level was an intentional statement of trust in him, and an intentional statement of confidence that I was the one in control of this situation. It was vital to what happened next.
Talon got it at once. I wasn't scared of him. For heaven's sake, he's 5. He stopped punching.
The moment I started talking quietly and respectfully to him, I could see the anger leach out of his body. So could everyone else, which is how come they put the brakes on. There was a sudden silence as they re-thought their preconceptions about a casual teacher's grasp of the 'Talon situation'.
I continued talking to him about what he was doing, how it would end badly for him, and how I trusted him to make the right choice about what he did next. He responded in words now, not blows; still angry and unreasonable, of course, but talking instead of hitting. In the end he did let me take the rope away.
And the next time I walked into his room, he threw himself at me for a hug. Just one of those moments that makes up for the odd punch.
He's a dear little boy really. Damaged, yes, but not beyond redemption.
So I'm with Teacher Tom on this one. Stop labelling, and start developing a relationship. Start getting down on the child's eye level more, right into that danger zone. Then practise using Janet Lansbury's calm CEO approach when you're really feeling stressed and anxious.