Developing anger and aggression control in youth in recreation and park systems

Developing anger and aggression control in youth in recreation and park systems

Jean Mundy

In the last decade, America has seen a rise in juvenile violence. Juveniles are increasingly involved in more violent crimes and are committing their first offenses at a younger age than ever before. Misbehavior in school has escalated from talking out of turn to assault with a deadly weapon.

Rather than simply bemoaning the situation, all systems that serve youth can begin a concerted, systematic program to develop anger and aggression management in the youth they serve. While many system — public schools and therapeutic and correctional systems — have been involved in anger and aggression management training for youth for a number of years, these programs have been scarce within public recreation and park systems. Recreation and park personnel can be a significant force in developing anger and aggression management. With the continuing social need for such programs, recreation and park systems need to become involved in providing youth with the knowledge and skills to manage their anger and aggression.


Aggressive youth consistently display deficiencies in interpersonal skills, planning and aggression management (Goldstein, Harootunian and Conoley, 1994) These deficits often lead to high levels of acting out behavior. Aggressive youths are skilled in intimidating, harassing, manipulating, and fighting. They often lack the ability to negotiate differences and to deal appropriately with accusations, failure and rejection (Goldstein and Glick, 1994. Compounding the problem is the fact that aggressive youths face higher rates of failure and rejection than their non-violent counterparts (Conger and Keane, 1981) and come from turbulent environments characterized by family violence, substance abusing parents and poverty.

After viewing the documented differences between families of non-aggressive and aggressive children, Bierman (1986) suggests that aggressive children have been caught in a negative family socializing cycle where family interactions are characterized by aversive control such as yelling, hitting and threatening parental behavior. These behaviors make it more likely that a child will engage in aggressive behaviors upon entering school. As a result of hostile interactions and inadequate learning opportunities, aggressive children tend to be rejected by their peers. This peer rejection, in turn, fosters more aggression and inappropriate behavior (Dodge, 1983). Bierman (1986) suggests aggression and peer rejection form a self-maintaining system where each contributes to the continuation of the cycle.

Coie and Dodge (1986) have differentiated two sub-types of aggressive children, the dominant aggressive child and the reactive aggressive child.

Dominant aggressive children use aggression to get their own way. Their social learning history has taught them that aggression is rewarded in obtaining their goals. The reactive aggressive “overreacts to others provocations and misinterprets peers, intentions by overinferring hostility.” (Hughes, 1988). While therapeutic environments may design different treatment goals and interventions for each of these subtypes, that is not the intention of programs in general recreation and park agencies. Both subtypes can benefit from a more generic program of anger and aggression control.

Training Programs

Social skills training emerged in the 1970s in response to the fact that aggressive and violent youth lacked the necessary skills for effective personal and interpersonal functioning. The view of aggressive children as having deficits in social skills is supported by numerous studies (Coie and Dodge, 1983). It was assumed since youth lacked personal and interpersonal skills for effective functioning, a psycho-educational approach, which focused on teaching the requisite skills, would be effective. The social skill model emanates from the social learn and behavior-deficit model advanced by Bandura (1973). It views aggressive and violent youth from an education perspective rather than a therapy perspective.

The research conducted on the effect of social skills training shows it has been effective with a variety of population ranging from young school children to penitentiary inmates, (Marshall, Turner and Barbaree, 1989). Stern and Fodor (1989) compared six separate studies and found positive results of various social skills training programs. These positive results include reduced verbal and physical assaultive behavior, the development alternative behaviors to teasing or fighting rather than solving conflicts in aggressive ways; increased awareness of the rights of others; increased impulse control; dealing more adaptively with feelings (Stern and Fodor, 1989); and increased self-control (Schneider, 1991).

Specific anger management training aggressive children has also been shown to be effective (Lockman et al., 1981). The results of the work of Lochman and his colleagues (1981) indicated that acting out and aggressive classroom behaviors decreased and the children’s on-task behavior increased as a result of anger management training.

Personnel other than professionals with therapeutic credentials can be trained to be effective in developing anger and aggression control. Evidence at face-to-face recreation and park personnel can be effective in using a psychoeducational approach to develop anger and aggression control in youth comes from the work of Hattie, Sharpley and Rogers (1984), who conducted a meta-analysis of 39 studies to assess the effectiveness of paraprofessionals as trainers in Aggression Replacement Training (ART). They concluded that paraprofessionals who receive training are effective in this work and effective additions to helping services.

Lewis and Lewis (1977) found that the utilization of paraprofessionals can be advantageous because they, like effective professionals, approach the individual as a whole person with strengths as well as needs. Therefore, recreation, parks and leisure services professionals, paraprofessionals and volunteers can, with training, learn and implement strategies to assist youth in controlling their aggressive behavior.

The remainder of this article outlines examples of anger and aggression control program content, typical training procedures, possible program sessions, and organizational implementation suggestions. While the ideas presented can be used as background and guidelines, departments and agencies are urged to work with someone with experience in these types of programs when developing programs and training staff and volunteers.

Program Content

There are many anger and aggression management programs that exist and are in use in a variety of systems, including in schools where violence prevention has been of paramount concern. The contents of these training programs differ in some peripheral focus. However, the central content of most of the programs focus on teaching antisocial behavior inhibition through: 1) identifying internal (self-talk) and external triggers to anger and aggressive behavior, 2) becoming aware of physiological and/for kinesthetic cues which signal anger arousal, 3) learning anger reduction techniques, and 4) learning social skills that provide an alternative means of responding to anger and aggression.

Training Procedures

The training procedure most frequently used for social skills training is one that can easily be learned and implemented by recreation and park personnel. The training procedure involves five basic steps in developing social skills.

Step One. Instruction

Step one in the training process begins with an introduction to, and verbal instruction in, the skill to be learned.

Step Two. Demonstration

The trainer gives several demonstrations (modeling) of the behaviors that constitute the skill. It is critical at this point that the leader be very familiar with performing the skill correctly.

Step Three. Practice

Each participant is given guided opportunities to rehearse and practice the behaviors that comprise the skill (role playing) in a nonthreatening and supportative environment.

Step Four. Performance Feedback

Following role plays, each participant is given: a) feedback regarding how well he or she performed the technique being used (performance feedback), b) reinforcement and c) suggestions for improvement. Goldstein and Glick (1987) offer the following guidelines for providing reinforcement effectively: * Provide positive reinforcement only after the skill is performed properly. * Provide the degree of reinforcement that matches the quality of the performance of the skill. * Provide no reinforcement when the skill practice departs significantly from the proper practice of the skill. * Provide reinforcement for improvement in the use of the skill.

Step Five. Real-Life Situations

Once the specific skill has been mastered in a controlled environment, participants then use the skills in their everyday lives. Reports of successes and problems are provided by participants to the facilitator weekly for follow up and additional practice if necessary.

Anger and aggression management training also use “behavior chaining” in developing the requisite skills. For example, participants may first learn to identify anger cues, anger triggers and anger reducers separately. Me next step may include putting anger cues and identifying anger triggers together. Following the successful performance of these two behaviors together, anger reducers may be added to the triggers and cues. Through each step, the participants add skills to the behavioral chain until they can execute the entire sequence successfully.

Suggested Content for Training

The following outlines suggest content for an anger and aggression control management program that could be implemented in recreation, park and leisure service systems. The program content is broken down into what will be called “sessions.” Suggestions on implementing the program content into recreation and park systems follow later in the article.

Session 1.

1. Discuss how to know when you are getting angry (kinesthetic and physilogical cues, such as rapid breathing, rapid heart beat, and increased body heat).

2. Discuss what you can do when you know you are getting angry to reduce your anger:

* Take several deep breaths.

* Count to 10 slowly.

* Use positive self-statements like: “Just stay calm. I don’t need to get bent out of shape over this.”

3. Demonstrate and practice anger reducers.

Session 2.

1. Discuss with the participants what “triggers” their anger or aggression.

a. External triggers — being called a name, being pushed or teased.

b. Internal triggers — What you say to yourself when someone does something that triggers your anger. “He is making me look like a wimp.”

2. Using examples of conflict/anger producing situations, identify and discuss:

a. alternative interpretations of others’ behavior that could exist.

Ex: the person may not have seen you rather than is ignoring you.

b. the other person’s possible point of view in conflict situations.

Ex: the other person may have thought you were threatening him.

3. Identify alternative, positive self-talk for conflict situations. For example, “Just chill out” rather than “I’m going to knock his block off.”

4. Demonstrate and roleplay provocative situations for participants to practice identifying cues, and practice using anger reducers, alternative interpretations of behavior, seeing the other person’s point of view, and positive self-talk. It may help for participants to say positive messages out loud at first and then silently to themselves as they gain more experience and practice.

Session 3.

1. Discuss the possible consequences (of angry and aggressive responses in conflict situations) on the person, the other people involved in the situation, and on the situation itself.

2. Introduce thinking ahead” (consequential thinking) to possible consequences in conflict situations.

3. Practice “if-then” situations where participants think about an angry response and then project possible consequences of angry or aggressive responses.

Ex:: “I know if I hit him, then I won’t be allowed to attend the special event tomorrow.”

4. Demonstrate and practice trigger situations + cues + anger reducers + thinking ahead to consequences.

Session 4.

1. Have the participants identify and discuss their behaviors that trigger anger in other people — teasing, taking something that belonged to someone else, starting a fight, name calling, and so on.

2. Introduce learning new, alternative behaviors to use in place of behaviors that trigger angry responses in other people.

Up to this point in the program, the focus has been on identifying internal (selftalk) and external triggers to anger and aggressive behavior, becoming aware of cues which signal anger arousal and learning anger-reducing techniques. At this juncture, the focus is shifted to learning new skills in handling interpersonal relationships and stressful life situations more effectively.

As was stated previously, aggressive youth lack many basic social skills. For anger and aggression management to be effective, any program must include the development of alternative prosocial skills to replace the antisocial skills these youths know and use.

The prosocial skills that can be included for development in the program seem endless at first glance. However, if the social skills that are typically lacking or weak in aggressive youth are used as the basis of the selection, the field is narrowed considerably. Some of the skills that can be easily handled in recreation, park and leisure settings are outlined below. These skills are by no means comprehensive. Nor is it recommended that all of these skills be included in a beginning program. The facilatator can add or delete skills in collaboration with the participants. The skills listed were selected from 50 skills for youth found in Skillstreaming the Adolescent (Goldstein et al., 1980). There are numerous additional resources available that provide a step-by-step guide to developing these and other social skills.

Social Skills for Development in

Recreation and Park Settings

1. Listening 2. Starting a conversation 3. Keeping a conversation going 4. Introducing yourself 5. Joining in 6. Following instructions 7. Apologizing 8. Knowing your feelings 9. Expressing your feelings 10. Understanding the feelings of others 11. Dealing with someone else’s anger 12. Dealing with fear 13. Giving a compliment 14. Sharing something 15. Helping others 16. Negotiating 17. Standing up for your rights 18. Sportsmanship 19. Dealing with embarrassment 20. Dealing with being left out 21. Responding to failure 22. Solving problems 23. Dealing with group pressure 24. Making decisions

Organization Possibilities

for Anger and Aggression

Management In Recreation,

Parks and Leisure Service


The voluntary and relatively unstructured nature of many recreation, parks and leisure programs offers a challenge to implementing anger and aggression management training in these systems. While more structured and controlled situations such as classrooms make the inclusion of such training easier, there are ways to implement such training in our systems.

Programs with an organizational structure such as day camps or after-school programs, which use a rotation through a variety of recreation and leisure activities, provide the easiest venue for inclusion of anger and aggression management training. In these instances, training is included as one of the activity sessions through which participants rotate.

In sports leagues or skills development classes, the training can be included at some point during practice sessions. For example, trained coaches or instructors can include informal instruction in dealing with anger or developing sportsmanship before or after the practice sessions.

Drop-in participation on playground, centers, and in parks presents the most challenging opportunity for developing anger and aggression management training. Yet, these of of situations probably provide the most natural intervention opportunities in conflict situations. In free play or participation, youngsters are more apt to exhibit aggressive behaviors than in more structured, controlled and regimented situations. Leaders are often faced with many teachable moments, as youths confront stressful and conflict-producing situations. A skilled leader can use the natural teachable moments to focus on the content of an anger and aggression management program that is applicable to the situation. While this approach to instruction may be incomplete and sporadic for individual participants, its time liness and potential impact can be great

In drop-in situations where fights or disagreements occur, the youths who are involved can be required to attend anger and aggression management training sessions as a condition of continuing participation. Such a requirement is a far superior alternative to being expelled.

One last option for implementing training programs, regardless of the organizational structure of the program, is to offer anger and aggression management and social skills training as an optional participation opportunity. At first glance, this option may seem to be the least attractive to youth. However, when the author was conducting and analyzing needs assessment data on over 1200 at-risk youth in a metropolitan Florida city, a surprisingly large percentage (52%) expressed interest in classes such as How to Cage Your Rage.” “How to Make and Keep Friends” and “How to Deal With Someone Else’s Anger Toward You.”


Violent and aggressive behavior is rising in our country. The recreation, parks and leisure profession can serve a very real social need by beginning a concerted and systematic effort to develop anger and aggression management in the youth we serve. A psycho-educational approach that uses social skills training conducted by professionals and volunteers training in anger and aggression management can be effective in reducing aggressive behavior. The time is ripe for our profession to become a positive force in helping youth develop alternatives to violent and aggressive behavior.

COPYRIGHT 1997 National Recreation and Park Association

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group