Individual Counselling: Secondary School (Teacher Strategies)

Aggressive Victim

Sze's case

When Sze was eating with her classmates in the dining hall, two students approached and verbally taunted her. Although Sze felt annoyed, she managed to control her temper as she was afraid of being punished by the teacher. However, her classmates continued provoking Sze, and finally she retaliated and started shouting and throwing things at them.

Sze's considerations and actions
  • Negative and hostile thoughts: Sze does not trust her teacher or classmates, and thinks that they are against her.
  • Tends to shirk responsibility: she thinks that it is her classmates’ fault that she lost her temper, and they are entirely to blame for the incident.
  • Strong sense of self-protection: even when her classmates are just sitting nearby, she has already been on the alert.
  • Contradictory values: Sze wants to behave properly, but thinks that if she does not retaliate, the situation will escalate.
  • Panic: Sze is constantly imagining the negative consequences of the incident.
  • Deep grievances: Sze feels resentful that the classmates who provoked her will not be punished.
  • Unstable emotion: although her emotions are quite calm at the beginning, Sze quickly becomes anxious once her classmates approach her.
  • Protects herself in a disproportionate manner: Sze shouts and throws things at her classmates in response to the provocation.
Social network
  • Lacks social and communication skills: Sze does not know how to express her thoughts and feelings in response to provocation.
  • Lacks trust in people: Sze not only lacks trust in her classmates, but also does not believe the teacher will handle the incident fairly.

Instant intervention

  • Remove the aggressive victim from the scene to prevent further conflicts.
  • Assist the other students to calm down and prevent them from engaging in further provocation.

In this video, if Sze remained at the scene she would keep being provoked by her classmates. Thus, to prevent Sze from becoming emotionally overwrought, the teacher should immediately remove her from the scene.

Intermediate intervention 1

  • Try to understand the students’ perspectives and feelings, and show support and concern for them.
  • Promise them that teachers will investigate the incident fairly, and encourage the students to also take responsibility for their actions.

When investigating incidents, a teachers should not take aggressive victims’ impulsive behaviour as a topic to discuss with them, because this behaviour is only the external symptom of underlying emotional tension. Instead, a teacher should first try to understand aggressive victims’ thoughts and opinions, and let them feel that they are being cared for, which will, in turn, help them to trust the teacher, creating a virtuous circle of positivity.

The most important thing for aggressive victims is to be treated fairly. If teachers can promise that they will investigate and deal with the case fairly, aggressive victims will have more trust in the rules. Meanwhile, they will learn how to distinguish the responsibilities of themselves and others in the incident, and thus learn to take responsibility for their own actions themselves. Accordingly, a teacher should also compliment aggressive victims when they are successful in making positive behavioural changes.

Intermediate intervention2

  • Teach aggressive victims techniques to calm themselves down.
  • Teach aggressive victims how to use ‘I-message’ as an effective way to respond to provocation.
  • Recognise aggressive victims’ efforts, and encourage them to apply what they have learnt to daily life.

In addition to the aforementioned emotional control skills, which should be developed in reactive aggressors, teachers should encourage aggressive victims to have assertiveness training. After training, aggressive victims will understand the maximum level of aggression they silently tolerate or ignore, and realise that they have the right to express their opinions. Moreover, they will learn to make a ‘boundary for themselves’, to protect their right to self-expression. In this video, we can see Sze has learnt to use ‘I-message’ to express herself, which can prevent verbal conflict between her and other students.

Educating other students

  • Develop an anti-bullying culture in school.
  • Organise different kinds of activities to help students understand each other.

Aggressive victims do not have confidence in people and situations, and will require significant courage and confidence to use ‘I-message’ to solve problems, instead of using previous, aggression-based skills. Teachers should continue giving aggressive victims support to increase their self-confidence, and encourage them to persevere with making positive changes.

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© 2019 City University of Hong Kong          Project on Children and Adolescents at Risk Education (Project C.A.R.E.)