Did Johnny Kill?
School Violence Explained
Dynamics of Rejection, Isolation,
Shame, Anger and Acting Out in
Rage in Children
Summary of the
Secret Service Report on School
© Lynne Namka, Ed.
CHILDREN DO NOT HAVE TO
REMAIN A VICTIM OF THEIR ANGER
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
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
"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
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
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.
Cues To Break Into Inappropriate Behavior During Conflict:
Give the child choices to break into the energy
Ask the child to look at his own behavior.
Tell the child what you want him to do.
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
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
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
feel good about using my words to talk things out.
give up put-downs. I stop myself from saying put-downs.
notice and speak up about hurts.
own my mistakes. I feel good about correcting my
don't have to hurt back after hearing about a hurt
see how my positive actions affect others.
calm my anger. I put my anger in a place where it
won't hurt anyone.
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:
the skill that needs to be learned.
the skill through discussion and modeling of the
the rule and alternatives to the rule.
the child what to say and do regarding the new skill.
the child cue himself through self-talk.
practice of the skill through modeling, games, puppet
and doll play, and role-playing.
the new skill during practice.
the child to reinforce himself using self-talk for
using the skill.
opportunities for generalization and reinforcement
of the skill in daily play.