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Violence Prevention Program May Halt Aggression in Its Tracks

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Eddy tells WebMD that follow-up studies are underway to explore LIFT's impact on future crime and delinquency. "But even if there aren't any long-term effects, we've already demonstrated an effective strategy to provide children with a safer environment during the school day."

Parents say the LIFT program also improved home life. "All my kids are behaving better, but only my first grader got the LIFT training," says Maria Quinones, a 33-year-old single mother of three. "My son learned to listen better, and I learned how to use rewards."

The LIFT program has teachers give colored armbands as rewards for good playground behavior, and the class with the most armbands gets a pizza party. Quinones says she offers all her children ice cream on the days her first grader comes home with a reward, which may account for the better behavior among the ones not in the program, she says.

A similar program began in Boston last October. The Program for Social Literacy (PSL) uses techniques similar to the LIFT program to teach 10 "life skills" -- such as self-control, responsibility, conflict resolution, and community service -- to all children from kindergarten to sixth grade, according to program director Deborah Prothrow-Stith, MD, a professor of public health at Harvard University.

Although the program involves parents, PSL focuses primarily on students and teachers. For example, the program instructors teach the children PSL terms such as "pantomime," which means that the children should withdraw into their "own space," and quietly line up, without the teachers having to blow whistles or yell.

"Everybody, from 'lunch mothers' to custodians, uses program terms to help reinforce the message," says pilot school principal Jean Dorcus. "I've overheard kids using PSL terms with other kids, and already, the school seems to be more welcoming."

Next year, the PSL program will be implemented in seven Boston schools. But until violence prevention programs like LIFT and PSL become core curriculum, doctors say there are ways to reduce aggression at home.

"Aggressive behavior often stems from a sense of helplessness in solving problems and meeting needs," says Robert Hunt, MD, director of the Center for Attention and associate clinical professor of psychiatry at Vanderbilt University.

Hunt, who specializes in child psychiatry, tells WebMD that parents can teach children to resolve differences by rewarding cooperation. "Rather than settling disputes, parents should encourage kids to reach their own solutions and praise them for it," says Hunt. "This creates competence and a gives children a sense of mastery."

But first, it may be necessary to take some time out. "Sometimes kids have to calm down and get focused before they can handle instruction," Hunt adds. "So it's often a good idea to take some deep breaths or a short break before revisiting the problem."

Parents also need to be good role models. "Kids mimic the tones and attitudes expressed by their parents," says Hunt. "So caring, affectionate behavior between mother and dad is an excellent foundation."

For more information about LIFT, please visit www.oslc.org.For more information about PSL, please call Marci Feldman at (617) 496-0507. For more information about the Center for Attention, go towww.centerforattention.com.

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