Preschool Classroom Intervention Series: Aggression

by Dr. Barbara Lowe

* Note if anyone’s safety is concerned, please contact all the appropriate authorities; this handout is intended for mild situations where safety is NOT a concern.

A child who struggles in the behavioral domain has difficulties with conduct, such persistent aggression toward others or property, or is prone to sudden outbursts, or regular withdrawal. Any behavior that is inappropriate, disturbing, or harmful can fall under this category.

Skill building Interventions
Teach skills in a specific behavioral area, such as:

  • Teach the child to join a group. For example, read several times a week Cheri Meinier’s book, Join In and Play, discuss the book and practice role plays. Use modeling and reinforcement.
  • Teach the child replacement behaviors that he can use in place of the behaviors you want to stop and still get what he wants. For example, if the child hits others to get their attention, teach the child to call the person’s name or gently tap the person’s shoulder and wait for the person to respond. Use generous reinforcement when the child uses the replacement behaviors.
  • For the student hat cannot work independently and is highly teacher dependent and attention seeking, develop a intervention for working independently. Slowly wean the child from the need for your constant immediate presence is so that the student develops self-soothing strategies and confidence to work independently.
  • Teach the student strategies for calming down strong or impulsive feelings. For example, teach one of the following strategies: How to identify strong emotions (e.g., anger, excitement, jealousy); How to use attention-shifting strategies to deal with those emotions (e.g., deep breaths or distraction with another task, counting to self, etc.); How to use self talk (e.g., telling oneself to “calm down.”); and, Steps to solve problems.
  • Teach a social skills curriculum that teaches and provides modeling, feedback, and opportunities to practice correct behaviors.
  • Read picture books that teach children how to cope with strong feelings and how to choose appropriate behaviors.
  • Use social stories E.g., Creating a social story that illustrates a child using appropriate skills for getting a toy he wants or waiting for a toy he wants.
  • Use an ABC analysis to look for the antecedents and reinforcers of the problems and design an intervention teaches specific needed skills and also prevents or lessens the effect of these antecedents and reinforcers.
  • Offer the student planned opportunities for leadership and positive peer interaction.
  • When the child is participating in more social centers and activities provide direct instruction in skills that you are working on with the child.
  • Place picture icons around the room that can be used to teach various social skills. When the child is in a situation where she is struggling, point to the picture and use them as teaching tools. Also use modeling, role playing, and positive reinforcement.
  • Include modeling and much positive reinforcement.


  • If the child seems to need a lot of sensory information, try offering activities that would appeal to his senses (e.g., sand and water table, create a sensory board or box that offers different textures to touch, etc.)
  • Use much positive feedback for all the child does “right.” Look for correct behaviors and praise, praise, praise the child for all he does that is right!
  • Praise children around the child who are behaving correctly.
  • Be sure that activities are developmentally appropriate for the child as children can sometimes misbehave due to frustration with a task.
  • Help to keep students engaged an motivated with interesting, developmentally appropriate activities decreases behavioral problems.
  • Place the child near or have the child work with those with whom the child has social success, thus building more social competency through successful experiences.
  • At times, it may be useful to have all students sit in chairs at circle time to limit disruptive touching of peers by certain students.
  • Allow the child to hold a “fidget toy” when needed during circle time.
  • Limit the number of children that the child must work with in centers and small groups.
  • Use mats, or tape to define children’s working areas during center times and during small group activities.
  • During snack and meal times, sit at the table and encourage positive social interactions.

Other helpful principles to apply:

  • Develop positive, nurturing relationships with children with challenging behaviors is effective in decreasing challenging behaviors.
  • Include parent involvement in intervention.
Chelsey Robertson