When dealing with an anxious or aggressive student, teachers and tutors should employ strategies to de-escalate the situation and calm the child. Children can become overwhelmed when faced with a difficult learning task or if they feel as if they have done poorly in their work. All educators should familiarise themselves with these strategies before working with students.
TutorTime’s top tips for de-escalating include:
- Learn the student’s history
If you are informed that a student struggles with mental illness or behavioural issues, however minor, you should do your best to find out all information relevant. You may ask other teaching staff or tutor management for additional information on the child, including any triggers they may have or any successful de-escalation techniques used in the past. Do not approach the parent unless it is appropriate to do so and you have been given permission.
- Give the student some time
When a child presents with manic behaviour (i.e. anxious or aggressive behaviour), try to take a (metaphorical) step back. Allow the student to complete what they are saying and try not to reply straight away. This gives the child time to breathe and collect themselves before registering your reaction.
- Give positive feedback
Students can sometimes struggle if they feel like they have failed to understand a task, and may react poorly if this is confirmed through harsh feedback. Ensure that all feedback contains positive aspects, for example, “I loved your opening sentence!”, to encourage the student. If the student is in the midst of anxious or aggressive behaviour regarding their school work, calmly point out areas of their work that they did well in.
- Keep your tone polite
A child who struggles with anxiety will often speak very fast and loudly. Do your best not to imitate their tone. Instead, your tone should be calm, slow and polite. This will encourage them to slow down.
- Use your humour
A fantastic way to de-escalate a tense situation is to use humour to ‘make light’ of it. Of course, this is not always appropriate in every circumstance, and should only be used sparingly. An example of an appropriate situation to use humour could be if a student begins to become anxious in anticipation for an upcoming exam, you could jokingly reflect on your own schooling experience and self-deprecate to help them feel at ease and gain perspective.
- Make them feel heard
When a child feels overwhelmed, it is important to listen to what they are saying and keep eye contact. Keep in mind that problems that may feel insignificant to adults can feel life-changing for children. Assure your student that they are being listened to.
- Show empathy
Try your best to understand what the student is going through. You may even be able to relate back to your own experiences to give them advice or to help the child gain perspective.
Similar to the positive feedback point, a distressed student needs to be built up, not torn down. When speaking to them, use encouraging phrases as much as possible. For example, “I’m so proud of your progress” or “your work here is very impressive”. Try to specify your encouraging statements to their strengths so the child knows your sentiments are personal and meaningful.
- Don’t cut them off
Allow students to fully express their distress before responding so they feel listened to. Do not try to interrupt or redirect them. Instead, wait for them to get everything ‘off their chest’ before de-escalating the situation.
- Be patient
Even if you follow every point of advice, sometimes a child will not be able to calm down. Remember that every student is different and requires personalised coping strategies. Be patient with the child, and do not be afraid to seek additional help if you need it.
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