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Making Sense of Aggression

Aggression problems are deeply rooted in instinct and emotion and are therefore resistant to conventional discipline practices. Dr. Neufeld uncovers these roots and outlines steps to addressing them. His rich professional experience with aggressive children and violent youth informs this refreshing approach to an age-old problem. The principles apply to children of all ages and all settings: home, school and treatment.

Course Description

One of the foremost interpreters of the developmental approach tackles one of the oldest and most perplexing of human problems, exposing its deep developmental roots and revealing why conventional approaches to the problem are so ineffective. There are many indications that this problem is escalating among our children and youth. What tends to grab our attention is the more violating acts of aggression but what is truly alarming is the ground swell of attacking energy within and between our kids that erupts in their interaction, music, language, play, games and fantasies. This attacking energy is also fueling an alarming increase in suicide and suicidal ideation among children. Dr. Neufeld provides a way of understanding that not only explains what is happening around us but also provides insight into the individuals – both children and adults – who present with these problems. His approach is refreshingly sensible, historically accountable, and congruent with today’s science of the brain. His conceptual model has clear implications for practice and treatment and is applicable in any arena: home, school or in treatment.

Synopsis of the Material

The key to making sense of aggression is to get past the violating behaviour to the emotional experience of the child and to what is missing in the child’s processing or functioning. The underlying experience is one of frustration, not anger as is commonly supposed. What is missing are vulnerable feelings as well as a consciousness of anything that would counter the impulses to attack. Such children are inclined to attack when up against things they cannot change. Such children are also unable to benefit from traditional means of discipline such as correction, confrontation, consequences and isolation. It is only as the roots of the problem are addressed that aggression can be effectively cured.

Description of the Problem

Aggression is one of the oldest and most challenging of human problems and indications are, that in children at least, it is on the rise. What tends to grab our attention is the more violating acts of aggression but what is truly alarming is the ground swell of attacking energy within and between our kids that erupts in their interaction, their music, their language, their play, their games and their fantasies. It is the rare parent or teacher that does not encounter aggression in one form or another, be it tantrums, tempers, fits, abrasiveness, abusive language, rude gestures, hostility, racism, taunts, put-downs, bullying, fighting, shaming, belittling, name calling, vicarious enjoyment of violence or the self-attacking forms of self-deprecation, death wishes and self-harm. It is a sobering reality that the kids who fail to grow out of aggression by school age will most likely bring their problem into adulthood, unless the underlying dynamics are addressed.

Adding to this disturbing situation is the fact that aggression is so unresponsive to the typical ways of dealing with misconduct. The normal tools of socialization – rules, consequences, discipline, warnings, sanctions, withdrawal of privileges, time-outs, isolation – despite their sometimes immediate quelling effect, actually tend to make matters worse. Likewise, attempts to teach or train in anger management, self-control or prosocial skills work best with the kids who need it least and least with the kids who need it most.

The challenge in dealing with children who have failed to grow out of aggression by school age is to understand what one is up against. The emotional hardening in these children has left them invisibly yet significantly crippled: maddened instead of saddened by futility, lacking appropriate ambivalence and surprisingly unalarmed. In addition, these kids lose the ability to learn from consequences or mistakes and cannot adapt when things go wrong. Aggressive children are basically stuck between a rock and a hard place: unable to change what counts and too defended to come to terms with it. Battling against symptoms is futile; the roots of the problem need to be addressed for any significant change to occur. It is not a matter of teaching the child a lesson or nipping aggression in the bud or even improving prosocial skills, but of restoring healthy functioning and development. Until that can be accomplished, the challenge is to compensate for the child’s dysfunction in ways that can minimize incidents and take the violence out of the aggression. Much can be done towards this end – in the home, in the school and in the community.


This course is designed for entry level and as such has no requirement regarding previous exposure. For teachers, this course makes an excellent follow-up to the Teachability courses and as a companion to the courses on Bullying and Counterwill and Attention Problems.


Dr. Neufeld’s ideas on aggression are the most useful I have ever come across. I use his material on a daily basis and have seen excellent results, even in my most difficult cases. I have nothing but the highest praise for his training and I commend him for taking a great leap forward in our understanding of this vexing issue.

Dr. Philip Squires, FRCP, FAAP, DTM&H

Dr. Neufeld has an amazing ability to make sense of difficult and complex problems and to open doors for change. His material is not only substantive but also inspirational to those who dedicate their lives and energy to our children and youth.

Grant Lenarduzzi, author, high school principal, and past editor of the NASSP Bulletin (National Association of Secondary School Principals)

I was spellbound throughout. The material touched on the very essence of being – the yearning for connectedness, the nostalgia for its loss, the pain of that unexpressed grief that inhibits the potential for self-realization, and how it lies at the core of our maladaptive coping strategies. Not only will this guide me in my work with teachers, parents and students, but also with my own children.

Marleane Sinclaire, M.Ed.
School Psychologist


This material has broad application and is suitable for all those involved with children and youth. This aggression courses is taken by teachers, psychologists, counselors, psychiatrists, social workers, family physicians, school principals, probation officers, foster parents, community nurses, therapists and family workers. Parents will find the material invaluable and taking this course when their children are toddlers and preschoolers can head off significant problems. This material has been in demand in educational circles for professional development as well as to help administrators and boards gain some perspective on this escalating problem. It has also been much requested for communities for educating all those involved with aggression and violence, from police and probation officers to counselors and day-care workers.


Course objectives:

  • to uncover the psychological roots of the aggression problem
  • to recognize aggression in its many forms
  • to provide a working model of aggression for purposes of assessment and intervention
  • to appreciate the roots of the gender differences in aggression
  • to learn to `read` aggression effectively
  • to reveal the role of the limbic system and the prefrontal cortex in aggression
  • to differentiate between incident management and developmental progress
  • to outline three basic steps towards addressing any aggression problem
  • to provide an appreciation of the inverse relationship between adaptation and aggression
  • to provide an understanding of why aggression is increasing among children and why aggression is a part of so many syndromes and disorders
  • to outline six pivotal points of intervention in the aggression problem
  • to provide an appreciation of why the conventional methods of behaviour management don`t work with aggression
  • to equip participants to handle personal attacks
  • to equip with strategies to help the immature grow out of their aggression problem

Course Outline

The following is the outline of the facilitiated videocourse format.

Session One: Frustration, Attachment & Aggression

  • a working definition of aggression
  • the many faces of aggression, including suicide
  • recognizing the nonviolent forms of aggression
  • the role of frustration in aggression
  • the role of attachment in aggression
  • the role of peer orientation in aggression

Session Two: Tears, Temper and Attack

  • aggression as problem of adaptation
  • impulsiveness, integration and the aggression problem
  • the displacement effect in aggression
  • the flight from vulnerability and the temper problem
  • the role of the prefrontal cortex in aggression
  • why some children fail to grow out of aggression
  • why aggression is normal in toddlers and preschoolers

Session Three: Handling and Reducing Incidents & Violence

  • why conventional approaches backfires with aggression
  • why consequences and time-outs are counterindicated in the treatment of aggression
  • how to differentiate between aggressive behaviour and an aggression problem
  • differentiating between incident management and addressing the aggression problem
  • guidelines for incident management
  • why aggressive behaviour needs to be `bridged`
  • how to facilitate safe eruptions of foul frustration
  • how to reduce attachment frustration

Session Four: Facilitating Alternate Outcomes to Aggression

  • how to shift the focus from aggression to frustration
  • how to foster a relationship with frustration
  • how to uncover frustration from the camouflage of behaviour and emotion
  • how to help children form nonviolent intentions
  • how to address impulsiveness
  • how to prime adaptation and help futilities sink in
  • how to soften defenses against vulnerability
  • how to help children grow out of the aggression problem

Registration Details

The tuition fee for taking Making Sense of Aggression is $100 per person.

A minimum of 10 persons are required for the course to go ahead. This course is generally offered to organisations who make a booking for their team / staff / organisation.

Course Coordinator

Kaye McKean

NOTE: This course can be presented live or can be facilitated as an onsite DVD and discussion course.

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