February 8, 2002

Vanderbilt group creates learning tool for handling aggressive children

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Dr. Seth Scholer, assistant professor of Pediatrics, helped develop an interactive CD-ROM program, “Play Nicely,” to teach adults how to manage aggression in young children. (photo by Dana Johnson)

Vanderbilt group creates learning tool for handling aggressive children

A group of Vanderbilt and community pediatric experts have created a new tool that teaches adults how to manage aggression in young children.

“Play Nicely” is a new interactive CD-ROM directed at parents, health care professionals, counselors, child care providers and teachers that explains the basics of how to manage aggression in young children ages 1 through 7.

The project, spearheaded by Dr. Seth Scholer, assistant professor of Pediatrics, combines over a year’s work from the Department of Pediatrics, Vanderbilt Learning Center, Cumberland Pediatric Foundation, area preschools and child care centers.

Scholer said he developed the program to teach children how not to hurt and how to redirect their aggression in response to a 1999 policy statement by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) which calls for child health care providers to screen aggression and counsel accordingly.

“More and more, experts are agreeing that the origins of violence are in early childhood,“ Scholer said. “As stated in a book by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, “Violence is a learned behavior.”

“Although all children demonstrate aggressive behavior (e.g. hitting, kicking, biting) in the first few years of life, most learn how not to be overly aggressive by 7 years old. There is strong evidence that if children do not learn how to control their aggression in the early years, they will be more likely to be violent as adolescents and adults.”

The CD-ROM is for adults and gives them a new skill set on how to handle children who frequently show signs of aggression.

“We need to recognize these signs of aggression and redirect that aggression in the child’s early years,” Scholer explained. “This interactive CD-ROM gives adults a new skill set to draw upon when responding to this type of aggressive behavior.”

The interactive program includes taped segments of children acting aggressively in different settings and advises the viewer different solutions on how to handle that situation. A portion of the content was developed by the AAP, the National Association for the Education of Young Children, and the American Psychological Association.

There are separate learning tracks on the CD-ROM, geared towards the participant. For instance, there is a track for health care professionals that provides direction on the type of counseling they should give if a parent seeks advice on their child’s aggressive behavior.

Scholer said he sought input from various experts before producing the final version.

“It has really been a team effort producing ‘Play Nicely,’” he said. “I have learned so much from other experts in the area of child behavior.

Scholer said he learned a lot from child care providers who previewed early versions of his work.

“They didn’t like it,” he said with a grin. “I had too much emphasis on the time out and not enough emphasis on other strategies to manage the behavior.”

Diane Neighbors, Ed.D., director of Vanderbilt Child Care Centers, was one of those who provided feedback.

“‘Play Nicely’ can be a useful resource in a variety of settings,” she said. “Time out is totally inappropriate for younger children, but such an approach may allow older children the opportunity to regain self-control.”

Neighbors said children learn by modeling the behavior of those around them.

“Treating a child aggressively does not teach that child to be less aggressive,” she said.

Sharon Goad, director of programs at the West End United Methodist Church Preschool Ministries, said the educational CD-ROM offers parents and child care providers more choices in handling children with aggressive behavior.

“The program is a valuable tool,” she said. “I plan on using it as a training opportunity for my teachers as well as a resource for parents who are struggling with aggression at home.”

Carla Beals, a communications officer with the department of Infomatics, brought the technical side of things together.

“She worked tirelessly to make sure the format of the CD’s content was visually appealing,” Scholer said.

The CD-ROM is $15, and purchasing information is available at the Web site, www.playnicely.org.