Panel Presentation

January 31, 1968

Material based on “The Use of First Aid in Social Situations” by Rolf E. Muuss
Forest Hill Church, Presbyterian
Rev. Ned W. Edwards – Moderator
Dee Pye
Anne Jenkins
Barbara Drake
Carol Reed



In the past, an understanding approach to child behavior has not been equated with the ability to quickly and satisfactorily control a difficult situation. It seems that “understanding” behavior has become confused with the term “permissiveness.”

We offer you tonight a constructive compromise, a Mental Health point of view entitled Social First Aid, which can serve as reconciliation between punitiveness and permissiveness.

The incorporation of new words, phrases or concepts into one’s thinking can actually produce changes in our behavior. In order that we may all begin from a similar vantage point let me first define the following for use in this presentation:

Behavioral flexibility – the activity choices you are capable of that can be observed by another.

Permissive – without hindrance or limits.

Punitive – being handled roughly or judgmentally.

Discipline – the use of limit-setting which involves unconditional acceptance of the child as a person.

A teacher who boasts either a punitive or a permissive philosophy as defined is actually limiting the amount of behavioral flexibility she can bring to a situation. When this surprising effect is brought to our awareness, the willingness to consider a new concept may seem less ominous. Thus, the frame of reference of filter through which a teacher judges a classroom situation will affect her behavioral response to it.

Perhaps the prejudice of my nursing background prepared me to appreciate the term Social First Aid. I rather think, however, that it was my needs as a concerned mother and Sunday school teacher at the time that initiated my intense interest.

How does one set reasonable, consistent, matter-of-fact limits to behavior at home or   in the classroom, meet the unexpected half-way calmly, and, at the same time satisfy one’s own goal that she truly was an understanding person in the situation? Can one be flexible without compromising limits?

Let us begin by first defining the concept of First Aid in social situations as originated by Rolf Muss. The idea is analogous to the giving of physical first aid in medicine i.e. the use of varied, temporary measures to get rid of the danger, stop the fight, to gain control of the emergency situation until more satisfactory planning or new alternatives can be worked out. The implication exists that there will be some follow-up. Two children in a serious fight have to be matter-of-factly separated, possibly with physical force; a scissors will have to be taken away from a child misusing them. However, just stopping the behavior does not automatically open new behavioral alternatives for the child. This is a crucial point, which has been ignored in the past. The child must be helped to learn new and better ways to meet his own needs.

It is at this point that the teacher has moved from the use of first aid methods to more permanent planning, known here as causal thinking. The teacher asks herself: What need or feeling is this child trying to work out? Why did the child use this method (i.e. fighting, destruction of property) instead of a more constructive one? What part did the immediate situation play in the problem? Going back to our analogy with the field of medicine, once the emergency situation is under control, serious planning begins. Without the use of these three questions, first aid will not produce any lasting changes. The attempt to answer these questions will begin to shed some light on the teacher on what might really be going on with the child.

Let us further crystallize the term discipline. To one person it may mean the degree of order seen in the room; to another it may mean the method by which order is established, and yet to another teacher, it may be used as a synonym for punishment. For example, the teacher may say, “I simply had to discipline him.” Punishment, as one method of treating misconduct, has its degrees of effect in assisting a child to recognize the results of his own behavior. It is never intended to lower esteem. However, I am using punishment as being synonymous with matter-of-fact limit setting along with the communication of unconditional acceptance of the child – “I like you, but not what you are doing.” There are simply better ways of expressing oneself and one’s needs.

The conditions for effective use of punishment as a structure of security within which freedom can occur has been carefully thought through by Fritz Redl in “The Concept of Punishment.” The child must:

Experience some displeasure.

Have some upsurge of anger.

Be assisted to see the difference between the source of his punishment and the real cause, which is his own behavior.

Experience anger at himself for not using his own controls.

Transform anger into useful energy. (Will need assistance)

Use some energy to regret what he did and vow to do better next time.

Remember the experience to mobilize self-control next time.

To summarize:

All behavior has results yours, mine, the child’s, whether we bother to check on it or not.

One of the teacher’s areas of control can be her choice of the specific consistent consequences she wishes to use for disruptive behavior, depending upon her long-range goals for that child. If the teacher is viewing the majority of her limit-setting actions as punitive, or if the teacher is functioning without the use of limits, she soon experiences feelings of frustration and helplessness beyond her tolerance. Excitement can come when the teacher begins to recognize that she actually has many behavioral alternatives available to her, depending upon the frame of reference or filter, which she chooses.

The opening up of new behavioral alternative for the teachers that we are talking about is the use of causal thinking.

Understanding the principles of the causal approach to behavior is necessary to administering effective first aid. These principles, simplified, are as follows:

There are causes for all forms of behaviors. These causes are generally complex and interacting.

That is, one child may show his need for security by withdrawing, while another may be destructive.

Different motives cause the same conduct in different people and conversely, the same motives cause different behavior in different people.

The teacher needs to develop the ability to “see” things from the view pint of the child.

All behavior has consequences, whether anyone bothers to check on it or not. The consequences are always immediate and long range. There will be both immediate and long-range consequences on the child who comes to Sunday school depending on his experiences. Often these effects are not evaluated. The teachers can begin to help the child learn that his behavior has effects.  She can do this by introducing the “if-then connection” to him. That is if a child becomes disruptive in class he can expect certain specific actions by the teacher. Some of these actions of first aid will be discussed later in the panel.

Causal thinking helps the teachers to be less judgmental about the child’s behavior until sufficient, logical information for evaluation is available. Causal thinking uses the term method in evaluating behavior. It can be helpful for the teachers to think about the methods or methods a child uses to work out his feelings. We will be looking at tow of these in our small groups later.

Causal thinking uses the term method in evaluating behavior. It can be helpful for the teachers to think about the method or methods a child uses to work out his feelings. We will be looking at two of these in our small groups later.

Causal thinking was originated by a preventive psychiatry committee, which included people from fifteen professions. The theory was then tested and evaluated by 20 experienced for its practicality.

It is hoped that this equation can help the teacher organize her information quickly. Again, to review, the teacher asks herself: What are the motivating forces? Or What are the basic feelings he is trying to satisfy? What resources is he using to work out his feelings? What is the effect of the immediate physical setting?

(Needs or Feelings) Physical needs

Security needs


Wanting to count for something

What the child brings to the situation Effects



The same degree of chance exists in giving first aid in a social situation as in a physical situation. Just recognizing this makes a difference.

You have to decide the most effective method of dealing with a situation. There is no set rule. Some methods will not be as effective as others.

First aid should make a permanent approach possible and anticipate it.

Some methods will interfere with the rapport between you and the student. They are: damaging the self-respect a student has for you by the use of sarcasm, ridicule, humiliating comments and physical punishment. Disciplinary methods that threaten the child’s security pose real obstacles.

The less a teacher can consider misconduct a personal affront the easier it will be to begin planning a constructive approach. On the worksheets that will be passed out later are questions to help you consider your own areas of difficulty.

You may want to evaluate whether it is a chronic or acute misbehavior problem. Most often acute misbehavior is explosive, is related to the immediate situation and may involve real or imagined unfairness.

A problem that occurs each Sunday you may want to consider chronic and at that point you may wish to consult a resource person.

A child must be helped to learn that there are certain limits, certain things he cannot do.

Because children get confused easily, rules need to be few but reasonable and more important consistently reinforced.

As the child consistently experiences specific consequences of his behavior, can he understand why there are limits.

The primary child who is allowed to participate in setting certain rules and limits is also more likely to obey them.

Just as the original group of teachers to whom Ann referred tried this method for themselves and then gave feedback to the committee, so will we need to share experiences to learn how this will work for us. You will find their familiarity could lead you in one of two directions, complete boredom or hopeful curiosity.

The framework for applying first aid involves three main factors: the child, the misbehavior and the teacher.

The first factor is the child and his reactions to the teacher’s behavior. The way you treat each child makes a difference and has a different effect on each one. A shy child may immediately respond to an angry look, on the other hand, a more insensitive child can have angry looks hurled for seven days a week and it won’t make a dent in his thinking or feelings. The child with a bad self-esteem is prone to the kind of behavior which is expected of him. It is important to recognize that the child’ ability to accept himself depends on his being accepted by others. For example, if a child is trusted, he is more likely to be trustworthy. On the other hand, if a child is continually told that he is naughty, the usual result is that he begins to incorporate his quality into his self-concept. Soon this poor self-concept is translated into undesirable behavior.

The incident of misbehavior constitutes the second factor. For example, the fourth grade boy who makes wisecracks during the scripture reading or the five year old girl whose happiest moment during the whole hour of church school is when she knocks down a friend’s tower of blocks are factors of misbehavior.

The teacher as a person is the third factor. Your success as a teacher is literally dependent upon whether you feel that what you are doing is significant. In order to evaluate how you feel about yourself in the teaching situation you might ask yourselves such questions as: How sensitive am I to the children’s needs? In what kind of situation do I feel comfortable? In what situations do I feel threatened? Do I tend to make surface judgments on the children as good, bad or lazy? (Most of us have learned to do so). Those of you having more than one teacher in the class are fortunate in being able to evaluate the effects of each other’s methods. Our committee is also available for this kind of direct support.


A very effective method is to establish a signal system between you and the child before class. A wink, fixing an eye, clearing your throat, stopping while talking, changing your voice to a whisper or playing a cord on the piano are all signals which might be used. The purpose of this kind of support is to help the immature child regain control of himself.

Your physical presence can be used to provide control for the child who is struggling with temptation. While continuing to talk, you could calmly move toward the student or you could place a hand gently on his shoulder. The closer the teacher is, the more support the student receives from the teacher.

For those of you who are teaching assistants, as a matter of fact, taking the child, who appears to be most involved in the impending trouble, away from the group so that you can talk privately to him about the problem is often helpful.


No one is born with the skills, maturity, and methods to solve problems. These abilities are acquired slowly through learning and this learning constitutes an important part of permanent first aid, otherwise referred to as causal thinking.

The child who is verbally or physically abusive may not know a better way of solving the problem he has in gaining acceptance. We have an obligation to help this child find better ways of counting for something.

Talking to this child about the way he solves his problems and the results, which he gets from his present method can open the door to discussing more acceptable ways of handling these strong feelings. While it rarely helps to ask a child “Why did you hit Billy?” he may not know why he hit Billy. You will get closer to the cause of the problem if you ask him, “How do you feel about that fight with Billy?” It will be hard for him not to answer this question because he has feelings, strong ones.

Another method, which many of you are already using is giving this child responsibilities, thereby developing some skill or talent which can help him gain status. Being responsible for orientating a new child or a guest to the classroom is one example.

You may or may not be able to see dramatic results immediately but the challenge is to tolerate lack of immediate results for long-range achievements.

We have been talking about the teacher and her use of controls. Now we shall discuss: WHAT CAN THE TEACHER DO ABOUT CONTROLLING THE ENVIRONMENT?

Painless removal of the child from the environment can be accomplished in several ways. Calling on the student to stand up and contribute in some meaningful way to the class is one example. This has removed him from the temptation of his immediate surroundings and it has refocused his attention on a constructive matter. Another way is to place his chair in a different location, closer to the teacher, away from a certain friends or in an isolated place in the classroom. Undoubtedly, you are already using these methods. The ingredient of success is the teacher’s mater of fact attitude while dealing with the problem.

Forceful removal is used when a real emergency occurs. If one child is beating up another child, he is removed and if necessary restrained for a period of time. If one of your children is carefully aiming a metal truck at the electric clock on the wall, you would again need to forcefully restrain him. A child in an outburst of anger needs to be restrained for his own sake as well as for others. And again, the key here is to be matter of fact.

A third way to change the environment is to restructure the situation. If the misbehavior involves several students, the first thing that you do is to ask yourself some questions. Is the room too hot? Is the work too demanding for most of the students? Are they restless because there wasn’t enough time for an activity period? The answers given to some of these questions may solve the problem but if it does not and the whole class gets out of control, often the best thing is to stop the present activity, put everything away and begin a new activity. With younger children, a rest period with heads on folded hands can be a realistic change. Talking turns reading a paragraph of a story may also serve this purpose. Throughout all of this, the teacher’s success in restructuring the situation will be dependent upon her calm but firm manner.

To summarize, there are no recipes for handling even common behavior problems just as there are no rules uniformly applicable to each child; However, your use of the three interrelated factors, the child, the misbehavior and your response as a teacher to the first two will help you begin to use social first aid. Following the first aid, it is important to try to discover why the incident occurred. The final point which I would like to emphasize is that the only real control is the control of oneself.