Three De-escalation Techniques in The Classroom

by | Apr 19, 2024

When addressing challenging behaviors and potential behavioral incidents, Safety-Care adopts a least to most restrictive approach. There is a great deal of focus first on the prevention of these incidents from occurring, then minimizing the intensity of incidents and finally, management. During discussion and teaching of Incident Minimization, we discuss the use of our de-escalation strategies. Understanding and implementing effective de-escalation strategies is crucial in helping individuals go from a state of crisis to engaging in calmer and safer behaviors. While de-escalation strategies can be effective when working with children, adolescents or adults in any setting, this blog will focus specifically working in classroom settings. These strategies aim to equip learners with the skills necessary to effectively manage and mitigate challenging behaviors thus ensuring a safer and more supportive physical and social environment for everyone involved. The three strategies discussed will focus on using skills such as communication, behavior momentum, and removal of triggering events.


1. Help Strategy

The Help strategy focuses on helping or encouraging students to communicate their wants or needs in more desirable ways than challenging behaviors—in more technical terms, Functional Communication Training. We use this strategy to promote the use of appropriate communication by the student to get their specific wants or needs met. When using the Help strategy, it is important that we meet the person where they are at with their current communication skills. For example, if a student uses sign language or pictures to communicate it would be really important to help them communicate using those methods. Additionally, if a student uses one or two-word phrases, we should be helping them to communicate those wants and needs using one or two-word phrases. There are few ways to implement the Help strategy, in this blog we will focus on two of them. First through open-ended questions and the second by giving a person choices. In the event that a student is not responding to the help provided or is at a higher point in escalation this strategy may not be effective. If that is the case, it may be more useful to transition to a strategies we will discuss later.

Open-ended Questions

Asking specific open-ended questions like “How can I help you?” helps the student use verbal expression to communicate their needs and wants. Open-ended questions can be really effective in class in a variety of settings, but specifically when the student is struggling with assignments. For example, if a student is struggling to get their backpack open or find the right book the teacher can ask, “What do you need?” By asking what kind of help they need the teacher encourages the student to express what type of help will work best for them. This will help the teacher meet the students’ needs immediately and avoid further escalation.

Providing Choices

Just as with asking pointed but open ended questions giving the student choices can be effective. When you offer choices, it allows the person to feel more in control of their immediate environment. For example, a teacher notices a student is struggling with their work the teacher can approach them and provide choices such as, “would you like to take a break or would you like help?” or “would you like to do 3 problems right now or 4?” By making a choice, the student is able to decide what they want to do all while helping to prevent more escalation. Offering choices is an effective strategy for addressing problems and helping students find solutions that work for them.

2. Prompt Strategy

The Help Strategy will not always be effective, In those cases, the Prompt Strategy may be more practical. When choosing what prompts to use, we want to consider prompts that are incompatible with the challenging behavior or prompts that are more calming in nature – the prompts we choose to use are going to be dependent on the student and their specific needs and skills. Whether the prompts are vocal, gestures, imitation, or written, they should be tailored to the student’s most responsive communication during escalation.

The prompt provided can be a simple action that encourages the student to engage in a different behavior. For example, when a teacher is attempting get the attention of the class that is off task, the teacher can provide simple prompts such as ‘if you can hear me touch your head’ ‘if you can see me copy me’ or ‘if you can hear me wiggle your fingers’ the teacher should be sure to praise the students who are following instructions and continue with instructions until the class is cooperating together. If the student is engaging in challenging or distracted behaviors instead of starting a task, the teacher can prompt behaviors such as “touch your paper” “pick up your pencil” “touch the number one”. As always, the teacher should be sure to praise when the student follows the instructions provided. The aim of prompting is to initiate calmer and safer behaviors from the student, so the task should be simple and achievable. If the student follows the multiple prompts that are provided or engages in otherwise desirable behaviors that have not been prompted, teachers can return to the Help Strategy by offering choices like resuming the task, taking a break, or starting a different activity.

3. Wait Strategy

There are going to be times when Help and Prompt Strategies are not effective to use, during those times we would use (or switch to) the Wait Strategy. Staff may choose to move to this strategy when they have attempted other strategies and nothing else is working, when the student has a history of being able to become less agitated when given time to settle, or even when the student is telling you to go away or give them space. While this strategy involves withholding reinforcement, it also involves removing potentially triggering events from the environment such as demands, peers, or staff interactions. We can use the acronym for “Why Am I Talking?” (WAIT), as a reminder for caregivers and educators to limit their interactions with an agitated student. Instead, staff can focus on reducing stimuli by removing audiences, relocating the student to a calmer setting, or removing excess noises and distracting events. If using the Wait Strategy, it is very important to emphasize safety; staff should be monitoring the environment, removing potentially dangerous objects, removing vulnerable individuals from the area, ensuring that others won’t intrude, and closely monitoring the person’s well-being. Carefully observing the student and watching for any decrease in agitation is key during this strategy. As we begin to notice signs of a decrease in agitation, staff should always move to the Help or Prompt Strategies.

Incorporating these de-escalation tools provides a structured approach to managing crises, emphasizing the importance of flexibility and sensitivity to the student’s needs and responses. By applying these strategies, caregivers, educators, and family members can create a safer and more supportive environment for everyone.

About the author

Ashley graduated with her bachelors from Penn State University in Rehabilitation and Human Services. She obtained her masters in Applied Behavior Analysis from Florida Institute of Technology in 2019. Ashley has provided care in a variety of settings using Applied Behavior Analysis including group homes, clinics, schools, and family homes. Currently, Ashley lives in Florida. In her free time she enjoys reading, visiting various theme parks, and traveling.

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