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5 Tips on Intervening More Appropriately with Students Exhibiting Concerning Behavior

These tips will help you address challenging or inappropriate behavior exhibited by students, especially students with disabilities.

In Handcuffing and Physical Restraint on School Grounds, we discussed the challenges associated with using handcuffs as well as other types of physical restraints on children with disabilities, such as ADHD, autism, emotional disturbances and emotional and behavior disorder.

If you are responsible for responding to and protecting a child who exhibits concerning behavior, these five tips will help you intervene more appropriately and possibly more effectively on a K-12 campus. They may also be effective with adults who act out.

  • Look for the real meaning of the behavior. All behavior is a form of communication. What are the precipitating factors that caused the acting-out or agitated behavior? What is the student really trying to tell you through his or her behavior?
  • Keep your messages clear and simple. Help de-escalate the person by providing clear and reasonable directives to follow – directives that are also easy to enforce. Avoid jargon that might confuse the student and worsen the situation.
  • Ignore challenging questions and let the student vent. Venting, while it may seem like the situation is getting worse, actually acts as a decompression technique as the student releases built-up tension. More, the student feels that they are being heard.
  • Avoid overreacting. Remain calm, rational and professional. Your response will directly affect the person’s behavior. While you may not be able to control what caused the behavior, you can control your own response to the behavior.
  • Use physical techniques only as a last resort.  Inherent in all forms of physical intervention is some risk of physical or psychological damage. Weigh your options to ensure that the risk of the intervention is not greater than the risk of the behavior.

Robert Rettmann is the Director of Research and Communications for the Crisis Prevention Institute. He holds a master’s degree in exceptional education, specializing in finding ways for teachers to work with students with emotional and behavior disorders. He also is the chairman of his local Police and Fire Commission in Wisconsin.

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