This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
Carmen Y. Reyes
***Connect with the Author Online*** Blog http://thepsychoeducationalteacher.blogspot.com/ Twitter http://twitter.com/psychoeducation Facebook http://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Psycho-EducationalTeacher/168256836524091 Email firstname.lastname@example.org
On-the-Spot Interventions to Manage Crises Handling a student in crisis is an extremely challenging task, but at the same time, a skilled crisis management can represent a unique opportunity for the student to learn new and improved behaviors. The strategies that follow are suitable for handling chronic and recurrent acting-out episodes, as well as crises management, so that teachers are not only well equipped to defuse the crisis or acting-out episode, but they can also help the student grow from the experience. Most of the strategies presented here were adapted from the work in crisis management developed by Greenstone and Leviton.
Anger is a state of high emotional arousal. The angrier the child is, the less able he or she will be in dealing with the situation rationally, which means that, at the moment of the crisis or acting-out episode, the student’s logical thinking and other cognitive functions may be impaired. An enraged student may be immune to verbal interventions, in particular advising or lecturing the child, and we should intervene with the child only at a point when we believe the child is receptive to hear any new messages. Initial Interventions Approaching the Scene When handling a student in crisis, our primary intervention is to make sure that the student, and others near him or her, are safe. As an initial intervention, we need to clear the area of people that do not need to be there, particularly other students. The fewer people intruding, the safer it will be. Approach the area carefully. Greenstone and Leviton (1993) recommend scanning the place, taking a moment to compute mentally what we see and hear. The authors also recommend that we stand one and a half to three feet away from the child. This is done to avoid invading the child’s personal space, so that the child does not perceive that we are a threat. Additionally, assume a nonthreatening posture and keep your hands visible to the child and free of any objects. Creating Rapport The best person to intervene with a student in crisis is the person who already has established good rapport with the child. If you need to manage a crisis and you have no rapport or know little about the child, you can establish on-the-spot rapport by saying something positive to the student. For example, you can emphasize the child’s strengths, or you can engage the child in any casual conversation to keep the communication open. You can value the child’s uniqueness as an individual and comment on your certainty that the child has the willingness and the ability to get through the situation. Effective crises managers confidently communicate to the child that you will solve the crisis together and that, at the end, the child will benefit and grow from the experience. Another way to create on-the-spot rapport with the student is to ally with one aspect of the child’s behavior; for example, you are amazed at how good the child is with words; the child is not afraid of speaking his mind, or the child is a leader
that other students admire and follow. We can also do an “on-the-spot change of self-image,” attributing positive qualities to the child, and expressing our confidence that the child wants to do what is right. For example, saying, “I know you want to do the right thing.” Using self-disclosures and “me too” statements (e.g., “Something similar happened to me when I was your age…”) is another way of creating rapport. Avoiding Power Struggles An angry and aggressive student can easily ignite counter-aggressive feelings in those intervening with him. We need to stay calm; do not join a power struggle, and do not mirror the student’s behaviors, such as yelling, threatening, or using sarcasm. Ignore minor defiance and do not get into arguments. Make a planned effort of not fighting with the student. More Guidelines Give warnings, not threats. Let the child “save the face” in front of his peers. Speak to the child privately. Use a symbolic limit like getting up and picking up the phone to call the principal’s office or the child’s parents. Individualize the rules and techniques implemented for each child. Use a controlled, gentle tone of voice with a slow rate of speech to project calmness and to give reassurance. Contrary to common belief, teachers should lower the voice, not raise it, when we are trying to catch students’ attention. Use a spontaneous, friendly conversational approach. We can move a child from an agitated to a calm state of mind using only our eyes and tone of voice. Managing the Crisis As Greenstone and Leviton (1993) say, when we are handling a crisis, we are a problem manager. Our job is to guide the child out of the crisis state; we do not need to provide a solution for the problem. In other words, we manage the crisis, but we do not need to solve the problem that created the crisis. Avoid promising that you are going to fix the problem; instead, offer your help by asking, “How can I help?” “What can I do to help?” or commenting, “I can help if you control
yourself.” We need to send the message to the student that we hear him, and that we will deal with the current problem together. Sometimes, saying nothing and simply listening to the child is the best approach. We can silently empathize with the child by nodding, touching the child on the shoulder, and with our facial expression and tone of voice. We can also use minimal encouragers like, “Uh-huh,” “Go ahead,” or “I’m listening…” to motivate the child to tell more. Asking Questions One way for the teacher to remain calm during the crisis is to concentrate in asking questions. We can handle a whole crisis exclusively by asking questions, without making comments, expressing our opinion, criticizing, or lecturing the child. Asking the right questions at the right moment can change practically anything. Some guidelines follow: Ask short, direct questions that will help you clarify the problem. To guide the questioning, use wh-questions: who, what, where, when, and how, avoiding “why” questions. Ask one question at a time, and give the student enough time to answer the question before asking the next one. Ask questions in a nonthreatening way, without cornering or accusing the student. Another questioning technique is to change the problem or concern at hand into a question, and looking for a tentative solution by answering the question. Ask clarification questions; for example, “What do you mean by ‘weird’?” “Give me an example,” or “Give me more details.” Soothing Angry Feelings Pace the student by restating his concern without anything added or taken away. Be specific, and say what you have to say in short segments, without extra words, explanations, or long segments. Keep your remarks under thirty seconds, checking periodically to see if the child understands, and asking the child to comment on what you just said. More guidelines: With very young children, use graphic examples, and have the child picture what you are saying. Ask questions like, “Do you see what I mean?” or tell the child, “I want you to see this in your mind.”
Communicate your acceptance and understanding of the child’s concern rapidly; you might say, “I hear you… Losing the tokens you already earned can be frustrating.” Do not minimize the student’s concern, but minimize the weight of the problem. The message we need to send to the child is that we understand why he is upset, but the situation can be solved and will be solved. Say, “When you calm down, we can work on this problem.” Show concern and interest in what the student has to say. For example, say, “I heard the other students, but I really want to understand what happened from your point of view. Tell me how this started.” Define the objective; for example, “I know you feel angry. What would help you feel better? What do you want?” Show empathy. It is important to understand what happened from the child’s perspective. Use a soothing response; that is, hear what the child has to say, and then make an empathic comment on the child’s feelings. Validate and acknowledge the student’s feelings; for example, “You seem really angry about this.” Defuse the student’s anger by validating the content. For example, “What you are saying makes sense. I agree that…” Make inferences and ask questions that open the door for the student to talk about his feelings. For example, “Other children in your situation would feel frustrated. Is that how you are feeling right now?” Encourage the angry child to talk as much as possible, not only about the problem, but also about any topic that the child wants. However, set limits on what the child can say or do (i.e., no cursing or threatening, and no destruction of property). Have the child talk calmly, using a low tone of voice and speaking slowly. To reduce the child’s anger, have him soften his eyes and relax his face muscles. It will be a lot harder for the child to remain angry without an angry face. Ask the child to repeat or rephrase what you just said to slow him down.
Gradually shift the child from acting out his feelings (hitting, kicking, or fighting) to talking rationally about how he is feeling. Invite the child to sit, and then, you both sit. Speak with the child (not to the child) at eye level. Physically distance the child from any provocative cues or people. Either you can remove the provocation by clearing the scene, or you can remove the child from the setting. To remove the child from a provocative setting, suggest going to a quieter, private place, and change locations. Alternatively, suggest a time out, asking the child if he wants the time out, or commenting that you need the time out. The complete loss of self-control that takes place at the time of a crisis can be a terrifying experience for any child. Support the student for the management of panic and guilt. Make sure the child sees you in control of the situation, and reassure the child that you will guide him throughout the experience until he can control himself. Focus on the now and present of the situation, not on what happened two weeks earlier (the problem’s history). Remember that the immediate goal is to guide the student out of the troubled state, not to solve the problem. Greenstone and Leviton (1993) advice that, as crises managers, we answer the question, “How can I intervene in the most effective way in the least amount of time?” Our understanding of the crisis will help deciding which problem is of most immediate concern or is the one we need to deal with first. Quickly assess with what resources you can count on to manage the crisis, and what obstacles you may face in the process. Target one problem at a time. Use situation-specific dialogue (describing the situation), and behavior-specific dialogue (observations about the behavior). Use temporary language; for example, “When you feel better…” or “I know you feel angry now,” to help the student see the crisis as short lived. Use coached dialogue and help the child articulate her ideas.
Give positive directions, telling the child what she should do rather than what she should not do. Agree with the child as much as possible. For example, if the child says, “You never listen to me!” you can answer, “You are right. I probably could have responded to you without accusing you...” Alternatively, you can partially agree with the child, for example,
Student: Your desk is a mess! Teacher: You are right. For me is more important to take care of my students than to take care of my desk.
Build on what the student is saying. Teachers accomplish much more if, instead of reacting negatively to what we do not like, we look for what we can agree with, so that we stay positive. Changing a no to a yes moves us away from confrontation and straight into influence and negotiation. Listen to the real message of what the child is saying. For example, “You are late!” can be an accusation or a sigh of relief; “You never listen to me!” may signify complaint or a willingness to communicate. Ask for permission to discuss the child’s feelings; for example, “Is it okay with you if we talk about how you are feeling right now?” Alternatively, “Will be okay with you if we try to figure out what is really bothering you?” Suggest a distracting activity with numbers like counting to fifty, counting backwards, counting odd or even numbers, skip counting, or reciting the timetables. Other distracting activities that you can suggest to the child are drawing, playing a board game, going for a walk, drinking water, or refreshing the face. Alternatively, you can use a distraction sentence such as, “Oh, look what is outside the window.” Keep the child busy so that he invests his “anger energy” into something positive, such as fixing the classroom’s library or sharpening pencils. Help the student redirect anger into something positive. Suggest a relaxation exercise such as deep breathing or the robot/rag doll technique (muscles tense/muscles loose). Make a funny or odd request.
Finding Solutions When handling a crisis or acting-out episode, we need to assess quickly if a brief intervention will be enough, or if we are going to need a more in-depth approach. Some issues can be resolved fast, others cannot. On most occasions, a teacher’s time and availability are limited; for example, when we are in the middle of a lesson and taking care of a class. However, if you are teaching students with recurrent behavior problems, you know well that crises and chronic acting-out episodes do not wait for the appropriate moment, or until you are available. You need to be able to respond, and to respond fast. Long, Wood, and Fecser (2001) recommend a three-step approach to crisis intervention:
First Step: Label the cause for the behavior and anger; for instance, the child is frustrated with the instructional task. Second Step: Determine if you need a surface or an in-depth intervention. Third Step: Implement the intervention.
If, due to your limited availability you need a faster intervention, use the “Do this for me” temporary solution, or use a “Do what is right for now” solution. Make sure the child knows that you will deal with her concern when you have the time. For example, you might say to the child, “I want you to sit on the back of the room quietly for ten minutes. In ten minutes, I will move the class to the art room, and then, we can talk about this.” More guidelines: As much as possible, give the child choices. Help the student recognize which choices she can make, and identify the positives and negatives of each choice. Remind the student that she selects how she reacts to any situation. Remind the child of the consequences of her behavior, and remind her that she is responsible for both her behavior and the consequences of the behavior. Borrow a solution from a similar problem. Remind the student of past solutions to problems. Build on last successes. For example, “When Shawn pushed you this morning, you remained calm. That showed maturity and self-control. I know you can do the same thing this time.” Help the child focus on past successes rather than her current perception of failure.
Do not contradict or confront the student’s denial (e.g., “I cannot do it”). Instead, identify an example of another day and time when she was successful. Help the student identify areas in which she can exercise self-control. Give the child power in some minor issue to restore a sense of self-control. You can tell the child, “Would you like to _____?” For the “I cannot do it” child, use “Do it for me” and “Do as I tell you” statements. This way, during the crisis, you provide the structure for the child. For the “I don’t care!” student, say calmly, “I respect your thinking, but I do care for your safety (or your well-being). I am concerned about (your safety, being suspended from school, or your learning). As the adult here, I need you to _____ (describe the behavior you want).” For a child that is hard to reach, or denies that she has a problem, use the imaginary child technique, telling the story of another child, her same age and gender, that finds herself doing _____ (present a parallel problem). Ask the child for solutions to this imaginary child’s problem. In addition, you may suggest solutions. Use a student like you technique. Say, “You know, last year I had a student with a similar problem. Her name was _____, and she was _____.” Use the superhero technique. You might say, “I wonder what Spiderman would say about this if he were watching. When you _____, what do you think Spiderman have said about the way you reacted?” With an older child, we can easily adapt this technique, using an imaginary observer or a sports hero. Indirect suggestions are extremely powerful. Talking to another adult in the room, say what you want the child to do, making sure the child is listening. For example, “Luis is a smart boy. I am confident that he understands that he needs to show selfcontrol now, and he is going to put all this behind him.” Talk directly to the child’s wants and needs, associating the target behavior (selfcontrol) with the child’s personal needs; for example, the child’s need of approval from peers or the feeling of pride that comes when he shows self-control. Use reflection and interpretation, such as, “I notice that each time Gregory and you are together, you end up fighting someone (reflection). I wonder if you are allowing your friends to pick your battles for you (interpretation).”
Use I wonder reflections like, “I wonder if Gregory will share responsibility with you on this fight.” If the student tries to change the subject, decode the behavior. You might say, “When we talk about things that you do not like to hear, it is not going to help you to change the subject.” Alternatively, “I know that you are feeling upset about being blamed for this fight, but we can work through this situation.” Redirect the child back to the problem at hand by saying, “What is important now is that you _____” or “Your fight with Jonathan is what matters.” Ignore the irrelevant parts of what the child says, and zoom in on what really matters to him; for instance, fear of consequences like losing his tokens or a school’s suspension. Allow some verbal venting. Sometimes, we have no other choice but to take charge of the situation using an authoritative verbal command in order to establish control. On other occasions, we need to insist on a halt by saying, “Stop! That’s enough! We will talk about this later.” This is what the clinical literature calls dead end the anger. When we use this technique, it is imperative that we follow with a disengagement from the situation, and that we distract the child onto another subject or activity. Handling Hostility Some guidelines to handle the child’s hostility: If the child says something that you do not like, play dumb, pretending that you did not hear well or you did not understand. You might say, “What is that word that you used? I am not sure that I am following what you are trying to say. Please use another word to explain to me exactly what you mean.” Refuse verbal abuse; you might say, “I am willing to listen to you, but I do not like to hear cursing or threats.” State the ground rules necessary for you to listen and to help. Neutralize the child’s hostility towards you by inserting an affirmation of some positive attribute in the student. Respond graciously and with silent dignity to personal attacks (e.g., “Your breath stinks!” “You have a big head!” “I can beat you up!”). Instead of reacting surprised
or annoyed for such remarks, you can use affirmations that admire the student’s strengths and abilities. With subtle humor, reframe the student’s remarks, shifting the focus from you to the student. Comment on the student’s “observation skills and sharp attention to details,” the child’s “descriptive and varied vocabulary,” her “strong will and character,” or the child’s “interest in others.” Bringing the Crisis to a Close Long, Wood, and Fecser (2001) advice finding a central issue and forming a short statement, such as, “It seems that calling names lead to problems,” or “You think you had the right to curse Jonathan because he cursed you.” The authors propose that we ask the student to put the central issue into his own words; for example, asking, “What do you think is important in all this?” or “Let us list the major points here.” If necessary, you can use lead-ins like, “We have been talking about…” or “For what I hear, you…” Additional recommendations from these authors are: Summarize the central issue by reviewing the major points during and at the end of the conversation with the child. Either the teacher or the student can summarize. Prepare the student for reentry, reassuring the child that he will return to the classroom successfully. For example, “When you go back to the classroom, stay focused on the lesson (or calm and cool).” Help the student anticipate problems by asking questions like, “What will you do if _____?” “What if Jonathan does not listen to you? What will happen if he says _____? Jonathan will expect you to say you are sorry… What will you say to him?” Help the student imagine how others are going to react. Rehearse the student; for example, “Tell me what you are going to say to Jonathan when we leave here. Pretend I am Jonathan; what will you say to me? What are you going to tell the other kids when they ask where you were? Seems like a good plan to me.” Close the issue, and get a commitment from the student that he will follow the plan. The time shortly after the crisis can be very productive in terms of the student learning new social skills and gaining new insights. Keeping this in mind, have the
student reflect about the crisis by asking, “What can you learn from this?” and “Tell me of different ways you can handle the same problem in the future.”
Bibliography Greenstone, L. L., & Leviton, S. C. (1993). Elements of crisis intervention: Crises and how to respond to them. Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks/Cole. Leviton, S. C., & Greenstone, J. L. (1997). Elements of mediation. Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks/Cole. Long, N. J., Wood, M. M., & Fecser, F. A. (2001). Life space crisis intervention: Talking with students in conflict. Austin, Texas: Pro-Ed.
This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
We've moved you to where you read on your other device.
Get the full title to continue reading from where you left off, or restart the preview.