De-Escalating the Crisis


Learning Objectives

• Participants will watch a video and complete the Active Listening Inventory. This will be the second piece of their portfolio.
• Participants will read a role play scenario and justify the rationale for the behavior support techniques the actors are expected to complete. This will be the third piece of third portfolio.
• Emotional first aid sheet?

Crisis Communication and Active Listening

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Crisis communication refers to the nonverbal and verbal techniques one should consider and use while actively listening to a child going through a crisis and is displaying challenging or aggressive behaviors to demonstrate a need, feeling or want. As defined by Cornell University (2013), understanding is showing, "especially in periods of stress and upset," empathy or the sincere desire to know or perceive what a student is going through (p. W29). As educators, it is in our nature to want to help students in any way possible as quickly as possible. However, while teaching coping skills, it's important for the adults responding to the crisis situation to avoid minimizing the student's feelings, attempt to cheer them up and/or solve the problem for them. Replace these behaviors with active listening skills in order to support the student in an appropriate way that will bring about positive coping skills to replace existing behaviors that were unwanted and unwarranted.

Nonverbal Techniques

Cornell University has suggested that the following nonverbal expressions should be considered while communicating with a child who may be escalated, agitated or in an outburst (p. W30):

Silence. It's common for people to feel obligated to fill silence; however, students feel companionship during silence and appreciate the company of someone simply being there. By being silent "we are communicating respect and understanding" especially for children who are diagnosed with

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having a developmental delay because these students need more time to process information, such as, emotion and formulate verbal responses.

Facial expression. As stated by Holden & Holden (2013), the response we want to elicit from the child must be in our best interest and must reflect through our facial gestures. The majority of how we communicate is through our face, whether this be a positive or negative influence on TCIS is dependent upon if you maintain control of your emotions and keep the goals in mind.
Eye contact. "Within facial expression, eyes relay the most information". Consider keeping your eye contact on the individual/s at the beginning of the conversation to express your interest in their well-being. However, there is such thing as too much! Prolonged eye contact can hinder our progress because of the feeling it produces. How do you typically feel when you're being stared at?

Verbal Techniques

Verbal techniques that encourage a student to talk can help the student calm down, verbally express his or her feelings and concerns. It assists us in eliciting important information about what the student is experiencing.
Tone of voice. Tone of voice is an important aspect o de-escalating a crisis. Often when students become agitated the noise level rises in direct proportion tot he degree of emotional arousal. Sometimes we react by getting louder to make sure students can hear us. This make act as a stimulator and escalate a crisis situation.
Minimal encouragements. These are brief statements that urge students to continue speaking once they have opened up to the adult. These consist of utterances, such as, "uh-huh", "go on", or "I see" (Holden & Holden, 2013, p. W31). Once the child has trusted the adult, the adult does not have to orally communicate much at all because the child is seeking comfort and as a form of respect, we allow the child to vent their emotions without pressuring them. Minimal encouragements are also used because saying too much or interrupting may distract the student from what they are trying to express due to their developmental delay/s.
Door openers. These are invitations for students to speak, such as, "I'd like to hear more about that", "Tell me about that", or "What's up?" (p. W31). These phrases provide the student an opportunity to hint at important issues that are causing behaviors and crisis situations.
Closed questions. Closed questions ask for as specific short answer response, such as "yes", "tomorrow", or "my sister". Closed questions require minimal response and are appropriate for collecting facts about a child. Overusing closed ended questions can hinder the success of teaching new coping skills and communicating about the child's emotions and behaviors. It "may result in students feeling defensive, angry, or resistant to further probing (p. W31).
Open questions. Unlike closed ended questions, open ended questions encourage students to explain further, to provide more information and to express their feelings. They open up the discussion and generally begin with "how" and "what" (e.g: "How do you feel?", "What happened next?" or "What do you think about that?").
Why questions. Often questions beginning with "why" elicit defensive responses because they may be seen as an attempt to gain information but as a challenge or a prelude to an attack. Avoid asking "why" questions and considering rethinking your vocabulary while talking to a student in a crisis situation.
Reflective Responses. Reflective responses are used to understand and clarify the events, sequence stories and summarize the feelings and behaviors mentioned by the student. For example, "You're really upset with Sara," or "So you want to quit the team," are reflective responses (Holden & Holden, p. W31). These techniques reflect the content of the message and the feelings back to the student. "They are a way of communicating, "I hear how you feel," and they indicate the desire to understand the student's feelings, thoughts, and actions without passing judgment, overdoing advice, agreeing or criticizing" (p. W31). The key to reflective responses, we must listen closely to the students in order to accurately summarize back what we hear, this will encourage the student to continue speaking and provide us with more information regarding their true feelings... or the root of the problem.

Active Listening

According to Holden & Holden (2013), active listening is "a means for allowing and encouraging students to communicate their needs-to talk out than act out. It builds trust and a relationship between students and staff. Active listening is a way of responding to students' feelings rather than simply their behavior in order to help identify what they feel, need or want." (p. W32).
According to Holden & Holden (2013), active listening is not "in and of itself, a problem-solving device, but rather a way to help stuents begni to identify" and become aware of their emotions (p. W32).

Performance Objective

Directions: Practice active listening skills in your daily life over a few days. Keep track of your progress by using the following worksheet to record 2 days worth of data. Be sure to write a paragraph of the scenario alongside completing the Active Listening Inventory worksheet.

Active Listening Inventory

Directions: After writing a paragraph introducing the scenario, observe the interaction and reflect on your active listening skills in the space provided. Make sure that you can provide examples for the feedback session. Remember that you are reflecting on a past event that provided you the opportunity to practice active listening.

Nonverbal Techniques
Facial Expression

Eye Contact

Body Language

Use of Silence

Encouraging and Eliciting Techniques

Tone of Voice

Minimal Encouragements

Door Openers

Open Questions

Closed Questions (should be used sparingly)

Understanding Responses

Reflective Responses

Behavior Support Techniques

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Performance Objective

Instructions: Read 2 of the 4 excerpts describing a crisis situation. After, read the behavior support techniques the script provides to de-escalate the crisis situation. Explain why these techniques would decrease stress and reduce risk.

Role Play Scenario 1:
In the middle of playing a game in Physical Education class, two students start arguing back and forth and begin to play roughly with each other when the ball comes near them. One of the two scores a goal and the other has picked up a stick is threatening to strike the player who just scored a goal.
Behavior support techniques to use:
Proximity (Position staff near the two students arguing.)
Directive Statement (Make a statement of understanding and tell the goalie to put down the stick.)

Role Play Scenario 2:

During a class, two students are working at the computer doing a game to reinforce the lesson for the day. They are laughing and being rather loud. Another student is completing a class work assignment. There are 20 minutes left in the period. The student who is working at his desk is struggling to complete the assignment and begins crumpling up his paper and tossing hos books on the floor while stating, "I'll never be able to do this!"
Behavior support techniques to use:
Prompting (Remind the students at the computer of the rules for behavior while playing on the computer.)
Hurdle Help (Offer to assist the student doing the class work so he or she can finish.)

Role Play Scenario 3:
Groups of students are working together to present their projects to the class. In one of the groups, there is a student who is obviously nervous and anxious about getting up in front of the class. One of the other members of the group keeps making comments to the nervous students, "Yeah, you'll probably mess up your part like you did last time."
Behavior support techniques to use:
Redirection and distractions (Ask the student who is making unkind remarks to get something from your desk.)
Caring Gesture (Go over to the nervous student and give a caring message.)

Role Play Scenario 4:

Several students are doing their assignments. One student is struggling with his work and is getting more and more agitated with the others when they try to hurry him along. He needs to concentrate on the problem and the more people try to help or ask him to hurry, the more frustrated he becomes. Another student starts getting angry with the group because he is finished and tired of waiting for everyone else to get done so the group can go on the field trip. He is arguing back and forth with everyone. The situation is quickly deteriorating.
Behavior support techniques to use:
Managing the environment (Help the student doing homework move to a quieter area in the room away from the others so he can work in peace.)
Time away (You ask the angry student to take his books back to the corner of the room and cool off for a few minutes. When he is ready, he can rejoin the group.)

Emotional First Aid

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Performance Objective

First, copy and paste the template below into a Word document and save as your initials_emotionalfirstaid.docx (KM_emotionalfirstaid.docx). After, watch the following video clip from 1:14 - 1:50 minutes. Complete the Emotional First Aid Observation worksheet in the Word document. Copy and paste the completed worksheet into your Personal TCIS Portfolio page.

Observer Sheet for Giving Emotional First Aid

Instructions: Use this handout to record your observations of the role play from 1:14 - 1:50 minutes. Be as specific as possible and support your findings with specific time stamps. You may not be able to answer all questions based on the video.

Drain off emotions: What active listening skills did the staff person use? What helped the person who was escalated to calm down?

Maintain the relationship and lines of communication: What active listening skills did the staff person use to keep the person communicating? How did the staff person use the relationship?

Remind the person of expectations and mediate the situation if necessary: What expectations were stated, if any? What did the person need to know or do to successfully participate in the activity? Was there another person involved that needed to be involved in mediation? If so, was the mediation successful?

Power Struggles

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A power struggle can occur while dealing with a child or client that is in stage of the Stress Model of Crisis, including: baseline behavior, triggering event, escalation phase, crisis outburst and throughout the recovery process. To avoid the power struggle, it is essential to understand and recognize what is happening.

Triggering event: Something happens or the student is in a situation that is stressful. The incident may be an observable triggering event (i.e.; someone calls the student a name) or the incident may be something internal (i.e.; the color of the room reminds them of a room where they were physically abused).

Student's feelings: This stress evokes strong feelings and anxieties resulting in discomfort. These feelings may be fueled by the student's thoughts and beliefs about the world, adults, or self. The student may feel rejected, unworthy, embarrassed, deprived, afraid, or angry.

Student's behavior: The student does not have healthy, productive ways of coping with these feelings and exhibits pain-based behavior to try to reduce the stress and take control of the situation. These behaviors are the student's way to defend and protect himself or herself from the hurtful feelings.

Adult's response: At this point how we react or intervene determines whether the student receives the assistance he or she needs to handle the painful feelings or if the stress escalates. We need to be in control of our emotions. A student's negative behaviors may evoke hostile or defensive reactions which continue the power struggle cycle.

If we can avoid getting caught in the power struggle and can focus on the student's painful feelings, instead of their behavior, there are many alternatives we can use to stop the struggle. It's fundamental that the adult intervening on the crisis must stay in control of their feelings, not counter-attack or debate, and help students learn to manage their emotions. The following are ways to avoid or stop a power struggle:
Use positive self-talk: After identifying the student's feelings, we can use positive self-talk statements to keep focused on what the student feels, needs, or wants. Positive self-talk includes short "I can" statements, such as, "I can do this" or "I can work through this".
Listen and validate the student's feelings: We can use active listening to understand the student's feelings and what they're trying to express.. This includes mostly nonverbal techniques, such as, head-nodding, tone of voice and facial expressions; however, reflective responses is a verbal technique after the student has drained their emotions, feelings and thoughts.
Manage the environment: The adult attending to a possible crisis situation can use their environment to their advantage by removing additional stimulation, such as, an audience, a weapon, or a potential trigger.
Give the student choices and the time to decide what to do next: Provide a list of choices he or she has made in the past. This helps let the student feel under control in these situations.
Redirect the student to another positive activity: Suggest an activity that can meet the student's needs and avoid a crisis. This should be an activity that he or she can successfully do and should help the student recover to baseline behavior.
Appeal to the student's self interests: Motivate the child to comply with the request by expressing the positive outcomes that may occur if they follow through with the request.
Drop or change the expectation: Regardless of the situation, as adults, we can adjust or drop the expectation if there is no immediate danger and the student is unable to meet the expectation at the present time.