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Violence Prevention Program May Halt Aggression in Its Tracks

WebMD Health News

April 28, 2000 -- In a speech on the anniversary of the shootings at Columbine High School, President Clinton resolved to make the U.S. a safer place for children. Tragically, four days later, a teen-ager allegedly shot seven children at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C.

Even one year after Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold allegedly walked into Columbine High School and opened fire on their classmates, killing 13 students before killing themselves, the U.S. still recoils from the specter of violence among its youth.

Multiple-victim youth murder is on the rise and frequently occurs on school grounds, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. However, a new program, featured in the April issue of the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, seems to effectively reduce school violence and aggression in school children.

The new program, called Linking the Interests of Families and Teachers (LIFT), focuses on the two main aspects of a child's world, home and school, says study co-author Mark Eddy, PhD, a clinical psychologist and research scientist with the Oregon Social Learning Center.

The LIFT program is unique in that it applies its training principles broadly to an entire population, and not just the identified troublemakers. For example, LIFT trainers brought parents into the school for a series of parent education classes in which they learned discipline strategies, such as how to reduce their own anger by dealing with their children's behavioral problems immediately and by using short-term consequences like "grounding" them.

Parents also could call a hotline that had a daily message detailing what their children learned in school that day and what their homework assignments were, so parents were kept apprised of daily activities.

LIFT behavioral trainers also taught teachers how to better manage inappropriate behaviors in the classroom. And using role-playing with puppets, games, and a self-imposed "timeout" called the "turtle trick" -- in which an angry child learns how to withdraw from the activity and cool off -- LIFT instructors taught children how to manage their anger and solve problems. Even volunteer playground monitors were taught how to better supervise children at play.

Eddy and colleagues conducted a study of the LIFT program at 12 public elementary schools in a metropolitan area. Nearly 700 students in the first and fifth grades, plus parents, teachers, and school staff, participated in the study. Half of the students were enrolled in the LIFT program, and the other half served as a control group.

After the 10-week LIFT program, professional observers who did not know which children had been in the LIFT program were asked to evaluate the children by watching their behavior during normal recess period.

Based on the observers' reports, the researchers found that the LIFT program was effective in lowering rates of aggressive behavior in children. "The most aggressive children showed the biggest decline in hitting, kicking, and shoving," says Eddy. "In fact, they couldn't even be distinguished from the other kids."

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