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Helping school personnel prevent and de-escalate peer aggression: An overview of existing research and insights into programming

APA Citation:

Frye-Cox, N., Sherman, H., Tidwell, A., O’Neal, C. W., & Lucier-Greer, M. (2021). Helping school personnel prevent and de-escalate peer aggression: An overview of existing research and insights into programming. Auburn, AL: Military REACH

Abstract Created by REACH:

Request: The Military REACH team was asked to review research related to systemic predictors of peer aggression and to examine insights gleaned from preventative programs designed to help adults mitigate peer aggression between children and youth in school and community settings. Accordingly, this report is presented in four sections. Section 1 provides an overview of the definition and prevalence of peer aggression while also highlighting the predictors of peer aggression from multiple levels of influence (i.e., individual, relationship, community, societal), using a socioecological perspective. Section 2 discusses how preventative programming has been used to address peer aggression, with an emphasis on the role school personnel—especially teachers—play in handling acts of peer aggression. More specifically, this section addresses three types of preventative programs (i.e., primary, secondary, and tertiary) and two programmatic approaches to peer aggression (i.e., whole-school and individualized). Despite the variety of programs, research has shown that only a small number of them are effective at reducing peer aggression; in fact, some program components (e.g., peer mediation) may contribute to an increase in peer aggression. Regardless of the program selected, the effectiveness of programmatic efforts to reduce and de-escalate peer aggression is contingent on the school personnel implementing it. In particular, teachers’ perceptions of peer aggression appear to indicate how they respond to aggressive behaviors. When teachers believe the problem is serious, feel empathy for victimized students, perceive that they have key roles to play in reducing peer aggression, and believe that their intervention will be effective, they are likely to intervene effectively. Section 3 summarizes evidence-based strategies gleaned from preventative programs as well as broader literature on peer aggression to help prevent and de-escalate “in the moment” peer aggression. This section underscores the importance of preventative programs that address school climate by: (1) using a whole-school approach; (2) implementing clear school policies; (3) addressing disciplinary matters when students do not follow school policies; (4) developing student and school personnel skillsets; (5) managing the classroom environment; (6) including parents. Section 4 includes empirically grounded best practices for implementing preventative peer aggression programs. Available evidence suggests that school personnel must carefully consider each implementation phase (i.e., pre-implementation, implementation, and post-implementation). Because peer aggression is complex, whole-school programmatic efforts may be necessary to address peer aggression. Despite their efficacy, whole-school approaches require considerable time and effort to obtain meaningful reductions in peer aggression. Therefore, school personnel must possess the resources and commitment needed to implement such a program as designed. Realistic expectations are also essential: personnel should not expect immediate changes in aggressive behavior. If resources are limited, personnel should consider incorporating smaller programs (i.e., individualized), as these are likely to be more effective than unsuccessfully implemented whole-school approaches. Program evaluation is an effective way to determine whether personnel are implementing the program properly, and provides an opportunity to identify how to improve specific program components.



Subject Affiliation:



Childhood (birth - 12 yrs)
School age (6 - 12 yrs)
Adolescence (13 - 17 yrs)


Review of Literature


Frye-Cox, Nick, Sherman, Haley, Tidwell, Allison, O'neal, Catherine, Lucier-Greer, Mallory

Publisher/Sponsoring Organization:

Military REACH

Publication Type:

REACH Publication

Author Affiliation:

Military REACH, Department of Human Development and Family Science, Auburn University, NFC
Department of Human Development and Family Science, Auburn University, HS
Department of Human Development and Family Science, Auburn University, AT
Department of Human Development and Family Science, University of Georgia, CWO
Department of Human Development and Family Science, Auburn University, MLG


peer aggression, preventative programming, socioecological perspective, whole-school approach, school policies


Auburn, Alabama

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REACH Publication Type:

Research Report


These materials were developed as a result of a partnership funded by the Department of Defense (DoD) between the DoD’s Office of Military Community and Family Policy and the U.S. Department of Agriculture/National Institute of Food and Agriculture (USDA/NIFA) through a grant/cooperative agreement with Auburn University. USDA/NIFA Award No. 2017-48710-27339.

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