Two successful violence prevention programs highlight need of early intervention

March 09, 2003

WASHINGTON -- Research shows that teenagers who commit violent acts such as homicide or assaults often showed signs of aggressive behaviors while in elementary school, such as hitting, kicking and using verbal insults and threats. Two school-based violence prevention programs that recognize this are finding success at the elementary school level, according to two studies published in the March issue of Developmental Psychology, a journal of the American Psychological Association (APA).

The first study highlights the success of the RCCP (Resolving Conflict Creatively Program) school-based intervention program in a highly representative sample 11,160 children in grades 1-6 from New York City public elementary schools.

Results show that children whose teachers taught more lessons in the program's creative conflict resolution were less likely to make hostile attributions to peers in provocative but ambiguous social situations, were less likely to be aggressive in interpersonal negotiations, reported fewer conduct problems, depressive symptoms and aggressive fantasies and fewer teacher-reported aggressive behaviors. The effect of the RCCP intervention was essentially the same for both boys and girls and for children from different economic and racial/ethnic backgrounds.

Since its founding in 1985, the RCCP has served over 200,000 children in several hundred New York City public schools and is currently being implemented in 12 other diverse school systems across the country. The main goal of the program is to change the thinking processes and interpersonal behavior strategies that lead children to engage in aggression and violence by teaching them constructive conflict resolution strategies and promoting positive intergroup relations. Specific objectives are to 1) make children aware of the different choices they have besides passivity or aggression for dealing with conflicts, 2) help children develop skills for making those choices real in their own lives, 3) encourage children's respect for their own culture and those of others, 4) teach children how to identify and stand against prejudice, and 5) make children aware of their role in creating a more peaceful world.

Because teachers volunteered for the program intervention training and varied in the amount of classroom instruction implemented over time, future research will need to be conducted to determine whether unobserved characteristics of the teachers plays a role in the programs' success, according to study authors J. Lawrence Aber, Ph.D., and Joshua L. Brown, M.A., of Columbia University and Stephanie M. Jones, Ph.D., of Yale University. A six-year follow-up study is currently underway to examine whether the RCCP program reduces children's future risk for actual aggression and violence in adolescence.

Article: "Developmental Trajectories Toward Violence in Middle Childhood: Course, Demographic Differences and Response to School-Based Intervention," J. Lawrence Aber and Joshua L. Brown, Columbia University and Stephanie M. Jones, Yale University; Developmental Psychology, Vol. 39, No. 2.

Full text of the article is available from the APA Public Affairs Office or at http://www.apa.org/journals/dev/press_releases/march_2003/dev392324.html.

Lead author J. Lawrence Aber, Ph.D., can be reached at 212-304-7101 or by e-mail at jla12@columbia.edu.

In the second study, the PeaceBuilders program reduced child aggressive behavior, improved child social competence and improve peace-building behaviors in grades K - 5. The program teaches students and staff simple rules and activities aimed at improving social skills and the frequency of children's positive behavior, and in doing so changes the school climate. These rules include praising people, avoiding put-downs, seeking wise people as advisers and friends, noticing and correcting hurts and righting wrongs. For example, students are encouraged to use "praise notes" to pay attention to and reinforce positive, prosocial behavior in the classroom, at school and at home. Also, "peace feet" might be placed by the drinking fountains to encourage children not to cut in line while waiting their turn.

Psychologist Daniel J. Flannery, Ph.D., of Kent State University and colleagues evaluated the PeaceBuilders program in a study involving over 4,000 students in eight matched elementary schools (K - 5) in Pima County, Arizona. The students were randomly assigned to either immediate intervention using PeaceBuilders or a delayed intervention -- students who entered the program one year later.

Results show that after the first year of PeaceBuilders, students in grades K-2 who had the immediate intervention rated significantly higher by teachers on social competence than the control students, with moderate effects obtained for students in Grades 3-5. Third to fifth-grade students in the immediate intervention schools were also rated by teachers as significantly less aggressive than students in the nonintervention schools. These effects were mostly maintained for all students in the second year of the program.

Although this study was limited to outcomes after the first two years, the authors say they are continuing to follow the children as they go through middle school and expect the intervention effects to be maintained.

The programs' success with elementary school children underscores the importance of providing preventive intervention services at an early age, according to Dr. Flannery. "The majority of school-based violence prevention programs are in middle schools or high schools, but there is ample evidence that intervening earlier in elementary school can have greater effects on both educational outcomes and risk behaviors."

Article: "Initial Behavior Outcomes for the PeaceBuilders Universal School-Based Violence Prevention Program," Daniel J. Flannery, Kent State University, Alexander T. Vazsonyi, Auburn University, Albert K. Liau, Kent State University, Shenyang Guo, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Kenneth E. Powell, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Henry Atha, Pima County (AZ) Community Services Department, Wendy Vesterdal, University of Arizona, and Dennis Embry, PAXIS Institute; Developmental Psychology, Vol. 39, No. 2.

Full text of the article is available from the APA Public Affairs Office or at http://www.apa.org/journals/dev/press_releases/march_2003/dev392292.html.

Lead author Daniel Flannery, Ph.D., can be reached at 330-672-7917 or by e-mail at dflanne1@kent.edu.
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The American Psychological Association (APA), in Washington, DC, is the largest scientific and professional organization representing psychology in the United States and is the world's largest association of psychologists. APA's membership includes more than 155,000 researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants and students.

Through its divisions in 53 subfields of psychology and affiliations with 60 state, territorial and Canadian provincial associations, APA works to advance psychology as a science, as a profession and as a means of promoting health, education and human welfare.

American Psychological Association

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