Dealing with the Violent Student: 45 Tips for Teachers
Typically, these students do not handle transitions or unexpected change well and have low tolerance for frustration. This is different from violent behavior that is “episodic” (i.e., out of the norm for the child and perhaps the result of an isolated event at school or home) or “goal oriented” (i.e., employed to achieve a specific desire or targeted at a specific person).
The underlying cause(s) of violent behavior are complex and may be accompanied by other negative behaviors or problems. The most effective way to help such students is to give them the mechanisms to recognize and prevent outbursts before they happen. While the intensity and specificity of interventions may differ, certain “teacher’s strategies” can help build and reinforce positive behavior in all children.
Educators are instrumental to creating a school environment in which students learn positive behavior skills. Much of the time educators spend is focused on disciplining or “cleaning up” after a rage-attack, often with little long-term benefit. Certainly discipline plays a role in violence prevention, but it should be employed as a teaching mechanism, not just a means of containing the behavior. Comprehensive prevention strategies and an intervention process that emphasizes problem solving, not punishment, and facilitates collaboration between staff, moms and dads, and children should be implemented.
Prevention and Problem Solving Strategies—
1. “Normalizing” social learning enables students to understand that violent classmates need extra help from the teacher to learn to cope with frustration.
2. Address the underlying issue(s) and help the child reframe his objective (e.g., learning to master the task instead of avoiding it).
3. Ask the moms and dads to identify triggers and precursor behaviors that they have observed and to recommend coping strategies that work at home.
4. Ask the school psychologist to develop uniform criteria for assessing behavior. This helps minimize inconsistencies in referrals due to different behavior tolerances among school staff.
5. Avoid beginning the conversation with moms and dads by offering a litany of negatives. Instead emphasize the child’s strengths and how they can be built into the problem solving process.
6. Build trust with children by being accessible and encouraging.
7. Communicate to children, staff, and moms and dads expectations for behavior and how specific social skills will help children achieve that behavior.
8. Congratulate students when you see them make a good choice.
9. Convey that your involvement in a problem does not signal a failure on the child’s part, but rather your commitment to help him find a solution. This problem solving approach helps establish a sense of trust with the child and reduces parent defensiveness.
10. Designate an office or special place as a “time out room” for students who need to regain safe control. Make sure students know where it is and what adult(s) will be there to help them. This is often the counselor’s office or your office.
11. Determine the circumstances that trigger outbursts. Identifying a pattern of when and how the child acts out helps define the factors that trigger the behavior and, subsequently, suggests strategies that will most effectively correct it.
12. Develop a problem solving, team approach with other teachers and administrators.
13. Develop a signal between the teacher and child that says, “I am having trouble,” and allow the child extra time to complete work or transition to another activity, or provide alternative means to do an assignment.
14. Do not try to establish your relationship with moms and dads over the phone. Schedule a meeting. Good face-to-face communications from the start will minimize confrontation and help parents view you and staff as a resource.
15. Eliciting the help of a classmate can be effective.
16. Engage moms and dads as partners. The cooperation of the child’s parents is essential to changing difficult behavior. The child is almost certainly exhibiting similar behavior at home. Mother and fathers themselves may be worried or frustrated.
17. Establish a “safe” place in the classroom where the child can collect himself.
18. Violent behavior is often linked to a psychiatric diagnosis (e.g., bipolar disorder, oppositional defiant disorder, ADHD, Tourette Syndrome, Asperger’s disorder, depression). Work with the moms and dads and school psychologist to identify the cause as well as triggers for the behavior, and to determine if a more thorough psychiatric evaluation is warranted.
19. Foster values of empathy, caring, respect, self-awareness, and self-restraint.
20. Give students a common language with which to express their feelings and communicate with peers and grown-ups.
21. Have educators introduce expectations at the beginning of the year and regularly incorporate opportunities for learning coping skills into the school day.
22. Help students distinguish between unacceptable behavior and acceptable differences in learning and socialization.
23. Help the child build communication and self-control skills.
24. Students usually have a pattern of behaviors that express their growing frustration (e.g., clenching their fists, jiggling their leg, or making sounds of exasperation). These clue the teacher as to when to intervene.
25. Identify the underlying impetus of the behavior. Determine why the child resorts to violence or aggression in the first place. Ultimately the behavior is accomplishing what the child wants—or feels he wants—and it is important to know why.
26. Implement a school-wide approach to build positive behavior skills for all children.
27. In some cases, the best approach may be to keep the child away from those situations that prove especially difficult.
28. In the beginning of the school year, school staff may need to intervene quite a bit, but the eventual objective is to enable the child to manage his reactions himself.
29. Know that the parents of the child in question may need to adjust some of their own behavior or approach to the problem and may feel they are being judged. So be sensitive to this possibility.
30. Lay out an action plan for students to help themselves and each other behave appropriately.
31. Maintain open communication with moms and dads and determine how they prefer to be contacted if their child is having difficulty (e.g., a phone call, note home, or e-mail).
32. Model the skills you want the students to learn.
33. Provide a universal language or set of steps to facilitate learning desired behaviors.
34. Provide students the natural opportunity to learn and practice alternative skills under a variety of daily circumstances.
35. Provide support staff, including playground aides, lunchroom monitors, and bus drivers, with advice on how to deal effectively with the child.
36. Put the aggressive child’s need for more intensive interventions within the positive context of learning something everyone else is learning.
37. Reach out to moms and dads. Invite them to let you know if they are concerned about behavior problems at home. Offer to be a resource.
38. Reinforce behavior values and desired skills throughout the building by using bulletin boards, wall charts, morning announcements, etc.
39. Remember that the cost of prevention strategies is far lower than the cost of remediating or containing far more serious problems down the road.
40. Show the child that you are an advocate for his success. Students with serious behavior problems may need extra encouragement to feel supported. Begin interactions with the child by acknowledging some strength. Go out of your way to catch him succeeding.
41. Stay in front of the rages. Everyone is better off if grown-ups can help the child stop the violent behavior before it starts. Not only does this minimize the negative impact on others, it changes the child’s expectation that “losing it” is his only option.
42. Teach the child to recognize signs that he is getting frustrated and the corresponding feelings and thoughts in order to implement coping strategies before losing control.
43. Try to spend some time with the child other than in the midst of a crisis.
44. Work with all of the grown-ups involved - and the child - to determine what approaches are most effective. If applicable, these strategies would be incorporated into the child’s IEP.
45. You may need to “ignore” certain non-risky behaviors (e.g., walking around in the middle of class) that, when interrupted, set the child off.
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