Books & Curriculums
on Healthy Feelings!
Talk, Trust & Feel

Dr. Lynne Namka
Licensed Psychologist


Why Did Johnny Kill?
School Violence Explained

The Dynamics of Rejection, Isolation, Bullying,
Shame, Anger and Acting Out in Rage in Children

A Summary of the
Interim Secret Service Report on School Violence

page 38

© Lynne Namka, Ed. D.


Lynne Namka, Ed. D., © 2001

Children can learn effective techniques to deal with threat and their resulting anger. They need to learn the difference between actual and perceived threat. If anger is pushed down or denied, it builds up until there is an explosion over something insignificant. Mastery of the emotion of anger by expressing it in a socially appropriate way is necessary for independence and self-reliance. Staying centered in the present during other people's outbursts of anger is a skill that can be learned. Deep breathing and focusing on choices will allow more clarity and the time to move into logical problem solving.

We can give children a bigger bag of tricks from which to choose. We can teach them alternatives to aggressive behavior so that they can get their needs met. We can teach them to surround themselves with people who are supportive, caring and nurturing.

Antisocial children can be taught to take care of themselves through relaxation, stress management techniques and self-soothing. They can learn that self-angering thoughts can be challenged and interrupted and to inhibit impulsive behavior. With adult encouragement, negative feelings of anger and shame can be released.

The angry child can learn new tricks to help him deal with the stress and threat he will inevitably meet in these times of chaos and violence. Given loving kindness, the angry child can change his perceptual distortions of seeing hostility and threat when there is none. Trust of others and of one's own ability to make good choices in response to threat can be acquired. When we accept the child with all his scars and defensive stances and insist on him acting in healthy ways, we challenge his growth and send him better equipped to deal with the world.

"It's Not My Fault!"The Dynamics of Denial and Fear of Vulnerability

Children who get in trouble continuously receive so much punishment that they become hardened to it. They shrug it off with an "I don't care" attitude or laugh off your attempts at correction. This pose of indifference and toughness is a defense mechanism against feeling guilt and feeds into the rationalization of not being at fault. With this type of defense against feeling bad, blame is externalized to someone else: "I don't dare allow myself to feel bad inside, so I'll send those bad feelings towards someone else." This pattern is generally learned from parents and the cycle of aggression is often repeated down through generations of families.

Externalization of blame and rationalization of misbehavior is a tricky defense to break into. Get the child to feel his vulnerability and show him that you are on his side. Challenge him to learn different ways to think and act. Showing aggressive children a better way to deal with conflict and encouraging them to take responsibility for their own feelings and behavior is a loving and humane response to their cycle of aggression, rejection by others and the resulting poor self esteem.

Children deserve to be nurtured even when they have not been nurturing to others. Watch that you do not identify with the child who has been object of the aggression. Adults who have been victimized as a child may easily slip into anger over seeing another child being hurt. Go past your anger at your sense of injustice to the child who has been hurt. Your anger at the aggressor will guarantee that he will continue this behavior. Your nurturing and positive teaching will make a difference in the child who has hurt someone else. A key point of turning around his behavior is talking with the child about alternative ways that he could have handled conflict.

Expect denial from the child if you ask him to own up to his behavior when he is upset and angry. Children, like the rest of us, are not rational creatures when angry. Anger throws reason out of the window. The research shows that cognitive distortions such as minimizing, justifying or rationalizing their destructive behavior has been associated with individuals with antisocial behavior. Their pain is so great and their defenses so practiced that they cannot see their own part in the conflict.

Do not set up a situation of threat where the child will feel the need to go into his defenses. Give him a cool down period before talking to him. Give him a choice of the place where he wants to cooling down. Giving the child choices helps him to feel respect and helps him to be part of figuring out solutions. Imperatives given in a loud voice will cause him to shut down and be unavailable to your correction.

Angry children most likely have been hurt by others. They feel shame about being weak inside and turn around and victimize others. Your modeling firmness and fairness to the child will increase the likelihood that he will choose better ways of acting in the future. Scolding and shaming the child will only cause him to dislike himself even more resulting in a cycle of aggressive behavior. Helping the child save face and reduce the shame that he feels at being caught is part of getting him to understand and change his behavior.

Negative labels (bully, impossible, bad, mean, etc.) make the child feel shameful and cause him to put up his defenses to shut out what you say. He will feel bad enough just being found out. The child who is labeled often internalizes what is being said about him in a negative way. Talk about poor choices of behavior that can be changed with understanding and practice. Talk about the child's actions that are hurtful to others. The child can take responsibility for behavior; he cannot change a label that more than likely will turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Recognize the child's ability to change his own behavior. Discuss the things that he does which cause other people to refuse to be his friend (when true) or the things that he does that are not respectful to others. Tell the child that he may feel bad, but that he is not a bad kid. He just hasn't learned the rules to take care of himself in healthy ways. This takes the focus away from internal character attributes that can't be changed and puts the emphasis on learning. Emphasize that he just has some learning to do to take care of himself. Tell him that you are here to help him learn the skills of getting along with others.

Have the child review rules for getting along with each other and treating people with respect. Ask him to make a value judgment on a specific behavior, asking him "Was that a good thing to do?" If he responds with a rationalization regarding what the other person did to him, tell him that he is always responsible for his actions no matter what was done to him. Remind the child that choosing to use his words and talk about what upsets him is always the best choice. This type of processing after misbehavior helps the child make better decisions for next time.

Error Correction: "I Can Feel Good About Making the Wrong Right"

There need be no blame if each person takes responsibility for his own actions and takes steps to correct the situation so it does not happen again. Error correction teaches self-responsibility. Review the rationale about mistakes being okay if you learn from them. This is the concept of error correctionif you make an error, correct it. That is why pencils have erasers. That is why we have word processing programs for computers with delete buttons. That is why we have U turns. The neat thing about making a mistake is the learning that you can gain from it. Mistakes are for learning. If we are smart, we don't have to keep making the same mistakes over and over like the one trick pony.

Help the child to see that blaming someone else is an unnecessary defense. Tell him, "You don't have to defend yourself by blaming someone else. That doesn't help solve the problem. We are problem solvers here. I'm here to help you. You need to learn how to take care of yourself next time. That is the most wonderful thing you can do for yourself! Now tell me your part in this so we can work it out so it won't have to happen again." This approach takes the child out of the defensive mode and into error correction.

Ask the child to describe the poor choice of behavior that he made. Ask him how he will act differently next time. Ask him what he will say to help himself. Ask the child what he can do to correct his error to make amends for his behavior. Give choices for the penalty of the infraction of the rules and send the child off to make his amends.


Adult Cues To Break Into Inappropriate Behavior During Conflict:

Give the child choices to break into the energy of anger.
Ask the child to look at his own behavior.
Tell the child what you want him to do.

  • You can choose to use your firm, fair and friendly words, not your ugly words.
  • I understand, right now you are feeling mad. What can you do with these feelings?
  • You have a choice: Talk out your feelings or go to time out and get your mads under control. (Somehow the use of the word "mads" makes angry feelings acceptable to children.)
  • Thanks for catching yourself when you felt like hitting. Good choice! What do you do now?
  • Do yourself a favor. Look at what you are doing right now. Do you like what's happening? What would be a better choice?

Cues For Self-Empowerment to Use After Misbehavior:

Give choices and ask the child to see the situation from a different perspective.
Ask the child to own his own behavior and correct his error.

  • You can cool down at the back of the room or stay right here and chill out. What's your choice?
  • When you are back to your quiet self again, we can talk.
  • When you feel bad inside, the only thing that helps is to talk to someone about it.
  • Look at the expression on ___'s face. You hurt him. How do you think he feels inside? Did you ever feel that way? Tell me about it.
  • I know how you feel, sometimes I get mad myself. Then I tell myself, "It's okay to be mad if you are firm and fair about it. Use your words and tell him of your anger."
  • What did you do to get yourself in trouble? What would be a better choice to make?
  • You can figure out what you did wrong and do it right next time! Let's figure out some choices. Put yourself in ____'s shoes. How do you think he felt when you teased him?
  • Are you being part of the problem or part of the solution right now? How could you change that? We can feel good inside when we go for solutions.
  • You are the kind of kid who can own up to what you did and take care of your own bad feelings.
  • I believe in you. Sometimes it's tough, isn't it? You are one terrific kid.

Helper Words Helps Children Change Their Thinking and Behavior Patterns

Helper words or internal self-talk helps children remember ways to handle tricky situations. The research shows what Chinese educators have known all along: kids' memory improves when they talk out loud to themselves. The child's verbalization of a positive phrase to remind himself how to act helps him store this information in the brain. Group responses, chants and repeating the positive phrases many times daily out loud will help children to internalize concepts that emphasize self esteem building. The trick to working yourself of a job as the intervener of misbehavior is encouraging the children to remind themselves what they can do to take care of themselves during conflict.

Help children learn to use these and other Helper Words statements:

  • I feel good about using my words to talk things out.
  • I give up put-downs. I stop myself from saying put-downs.
  • I notice and speak up about hurts.
  • I own my mistakes. I feel good about correcting my mistakes.
  • I don't have to hurt back after hearing about a hurt I caused.
  • I see how my positive actions affect others.
  • I calm my anger. I put my anger in a place where it won't hurt anyone.
  • I can learn from my mistake. Errors are for learning!

Children and families who receive training in behavior management and communication learn positive ways of speaking to each other. They develop more effective ways of dealing with daily stressors and strains. Children are adept in picking up new ways of thinking and acting and learning tools to help them deal with conflict and negative emotions. Children as young as two years of age can be taught to "Use your words," when they are unhappy about something. They can learn to express anger in healthy ways instead of acting it out or bottling it up.

Family members can learn to use feeling words when upset. They can learn to approach conflict with problem solving. Learning to communicate well and use I Messages such as "I feel angry, when you ___" becomes a priority for those families who want to live a healthy, happy life. Social skills are positive abilities that help the child to interact with others in different situations in ways that are valued. Social skills are those actions that are acceptable by society and are beneficial both to the person and to others

Social skills are easy to teach. Children learn to reconnect with the positive values of treating each other with respect and taking responsibility for their own behavior. The focus of skill training is on developing reciprocal affective behavior between children. A skill-training program changes the entire climate to a positive way of thinking"Let's help each other and include everyone in our play groups." Activities that emphasize flexibility of thinking and seeing things from another person's perspective help children break into rigid ways of seeing people thus decreasing prejudicial thinking.

Groups provide a natural setting for children to learn the prosocial play skills necessary for success through direct teaching, in group discussion, modeling and practicing the skill with conditions of reinforcement. During skill training, the child is assessed through observation of his behavior to determine which skills he has mastered.

Some children do not have a certain skill in their repertoire (the "Can't Do" child). Others children have the skill but are not motivated to use it (the "Won't Do" child) or have not given themselves permission to use it in a certain setting (the "I'm Scared to Try" child). Children have to feel good about their ability regarding specific skill within an environmental setting before they choose to do it.

Teaching social skills to children is very much like teaching academic subjects: assess, teach, practice and reward. The steps to teaching social skills are similar except that play and group activities and discussion plays a stronger role:

  • Identify the skill that needs to be learned.
  • Introduce the skill through discussion and modeling of the desired response.
  • Give the rule and alternatives to the rule.
  • Cue the child what to say and do regarding the new skill.
  • Have the child cue himself through self-talk.
  • Provide practice of the skill through modeling, games, puppet and doll play, and role-playing.
  • Reinforce the new skill during practice.
  • Teach the child to reinforce himself using self-talk for using the skill.
  • Provide opportunities for generalization and reinforcement of the skill in daily play.

School Violence Explained: Table of Contents

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provided appropriate acknowledgment
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Lynne Namka