Aggression: prevent, prepare, and protect


Aggression: prevent, prepare, and protect

Aggression can be a scary word, especially for a parent who experiences it firsthand. Vision is always 20/20 in hindsight, and sometimes when amid an escalation, everyone is guilty of making mistakes. Striving to be better when the subsequent escalation occurs is the best thing we can do as parents and therapists. When it comes to aggression, making an educated but compassionate approach makes all the difference. At SOAR, we implement preventative strategies to prepare ourselves and protect our clients.

Antecedent strategiesasking for a break

We focus on the ABCs in ABA: antecedent, behavior, and consequence. When we talk about aggression (behavior), it is imperative to identify what happens before (antecedent) the aggression occurs. Safety is always a concern when a child exhibits aggressive behaviors. This makes antecedent strategies crucial to protect you and your child. Start by identifying what triggers your child. If you anticipate your child coming in contact with a trigger (ex. transitioning, toileting, etc.), you can use a variety of antecedent strategies. For example, use visual schedules and practice de-escalation strategies (taking a deep breath, asking for a break, etc.). Another aspect of using antecedent strategies is setting up the environment for success. This would include removing anything dangerous from the room and providing support for aggression such as blankets, bean bag chairs, pillows, etc. Another form of support could be visual support to identify emotions and give examples of how to calm down appropriately. To learn more about antecedent strategies, read this blog by a fellow licensed BCBA.


Safety is always a priority when a child is escalating and has the potential to engage in aggressive behaviors. At SOAR, our employees that work with clients who can be aggressive are Right Response trained. This type of training is a compassion-focused intervention that only uses physical intervention as a last resort to keep your child safe in the least intrusive manner. To learn more about the Right Response curriculum, follow the link. We must be sensitive when physical intervention is necessary to prevent a traumatic experience for the child. When individuals resort to aggression, they are experiencing strong emotions that they may not have the language to express. This can feel incredibly isolating and damaging to their self-esteem. If your child does not have the verbal skills to express themselves, it is beneficial to narrate how your child may be feeling and what they can do to help themselves safely. Showing your child that you see their pain and are there to help is deescalating in itself.


Preparation can mean many different things depending on your child’s skill level and severity of aggression. As I mentioned earlier, visuals are helpful for both verbal and nonverbal learners alike. The visual can be as simple as pointing to a ‘thumbs up’ or ‘thumbs down,’ or as complex as identifying the specific emotion, they are feeling. Providing physical outlets such as punching a pillow or items for sensory input can also be helpful. There are a variety of sensory toys available that can be taught as a replacement behavior for aggression. These ideas may seem simplistic but providing appropriate alternatives makes a massive difference for some kids. It does take a considerable amount of preparation to assist a child that engages in aggressive behaviors, but implementing antecedent strategies can help shape these behaviors into more desirable ones.

Here are a few ideas on how to prepare for aggressive behaviors; follow these links:

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