De-Escalating the Crisis

From KNILT

Learning Objectives

• Participants will practice active listening skills and reflect on their strengths and weaknesses in nonverbal and verbal communication techniques, as well as, understanding responses by using their personal experiences and the Active Listening Inventory. This will be be the second performance objective participants are expected to submit to their Personal TCIS Portfolio page.
• Participants will demonstrate an understanding for behavior support techniques by reading 2 out of 4 role play scenarios and must justify the reasons why these behavior support techniques would work in the given crisis situation. This is the third performance objective that the participants are expected to complete and submit to their Personal TCIS Portfolio page.
• Participants will demonstrate an understanding for emotional first aid by watching a video clip and completing the Emotional First Aid Observation worksheet. This is the fourth performance objective that the participants are expected to complete and submit to their Personal TCIS Portfolio page.

Crisis Communication and Active Listening

Crisis Communication

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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

Active listening is a combination of both nonverbal and verbal techniques, which are also known as ways to communicate through a crisis. 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). Active listening is a combination of all the techniques used during crisis communication and molded into our skill. Active listening is not "in and of itself, a problem-solving device, but rather a way to help students begin to identify" and become aware of their emotions which many of these children lack (p. W32).


Performance Objective

Instructions: 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. You may copy this worksheet into a Word document and then copy your completed assignments on the Personal TCIS Portfolio page in the correct section.

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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These techniques are used to intervene early on during potential crisis situations. Behavior support techniques should be at the first sign of distress a student displays as a way of helping students manage their stress and emotions, as well as, de-escalate potential crisis situations. Behavior support techniques provide the environmental support to reduce the stress and risk in the situation. The use of co-regulation will provide an opportunity for students to learn self-regulation skills (Holden & Holden, 2013, p. W33).
6 Behavior Support Techniques:
1) Prompting consists of verbal and nonverbal gestures. Teachers can communicate to children a multitude of prompts, such as, stating a countdown to transitions and reminding students of expectations. Other ways in which teachers can communicate prompts is through setting timers to designate transition times, as well as, teachers pointing to visual schedules to remind students of the following period to adjust their mindset and prepare for the next subject.
2) Caring gestures are subtle reminders that usually stimulate the senses through touch or feel. Adults should ask students for their permission to touch them prior to implementing this behavior support technique because not all students respond positively to touch. Examples of caring gestures include, placing a hand on the shoulder of a frustrated child attempting to complete a test, giving a student a high five after answering a question correct and smiling at a student that looks like they start crying.
3) Redirection and distractions can be used to keep a group of students or individual the time to quiet down and return to baseline behavior. The ways in which a teacher can district or redirect students is through stopping a difficult math task and changing for a few minutes to reading a favorite magazine (Holden & Holden, 2013, p. W36). This method of diverting the child's attention to a substitute activity can de-escalate the situation and help the student feel in control of the situation.
4) Directive statements tell the student exactly what to do and communicates simply what is expected of them. "These statements range from request to a statement of expectations" (p. W37). Prior to using a directive statement, consider if the request will increase stress and risk that will escalate the situation further. Holden & Holden (2013) state educators should consider the following before using a directive statement, "a) the expectation is important enough to risk escalating the situation, (b) the student has the ability to meet the expectation (has been able to do so n the past), (c) the student is still calm enough to respond positively to the statement, and (d) the request is made respectfully and calmly" (p. W3).
5) Proximity means nearness. Typically people tend to relax around those that they trust and feel supported. One way to nonverbally communicate your support for an escalated child is to move near them. Proximity also works to effect situations between multiple people that are interacting. Holden & Holden (2013) suggest that placing yourself between two students arguing can break the tension and cause attention to a stimulus other than the trigger (p. W37).
6) Hurdle help is a behavior support technique that should be used on students that feel as though they're losing face in a situation or while conducting an overwhelming task. They may feel as though they're destined for failure and therefore begin to shut down or act out in order to display their frustration and hopelessness. "Rather than laying down the limits and insisting on cooperation (which will most likely escalate the situation and the student) it is better to provide help by assisting the student with the task at hand, overcoming the roadblocks" (p. W36). For example, a teacher could help assist a child in completing the odd problems of a problem set in order to overcome his feelings of aggravation and confusion for the skill that was taught the day before.

Performance Objective

Instructions: Read 2 of the 3 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. You may do this by copying the excerpts into a Word document and then copying the entire completed document into the appropriate portion of the Personal TCIS Portfolio page.

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.)

Emotional First Aid

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Emotional first aid should be used when a student is involved in an activity or placed in a situation where they are having difficulty managing their levels of frustration or stress. Emotional first aid should be provided to them in an effort to calm them down and keep them in the program or learning. Holden & Holden (2013) state that emotional first aid should be used while a child is in the pre-outburst phases or may escalate to that phase of stress (p. W39). It's important that the adult working with the student and supporting them during this time of stress has a trusting relationship with the individual. The three goals of emotional first include:

1. Providing immediate help and support to reduce emotional intensity
2. Resolving the immediate crisis.
3. Keeping the student in the classroom or activity

According to Holden & Holden (2013), emotional first aid is supposed to be used to help a student progress through a stressful situation and keep them in program, such as, art class, math, a science experiment and even field trips (p. W40). It is strongly suggested for those using emotional first aid to follow up this procedure with a Life Space Interview, which will be discussed in the next unit. The following are strategies one can use to keep students in their classrooms and help children cope with stressful situations.

Strategies for Emotional First Aid

These strategies may not occur in a sequential process and is not a cycle. It's important that the adult avoid the following: assuming that the behavior is a personal attack, assuming the child will speak willing after becoming triggered or agitated, that emotional first aid will always work to de-escalate a stressful situation and therefore end without a crisis outburst happening.

Drain off emotions.
Children identified with having an emotional disturbance or other disability that does not allow for them to regulate their emotions, we need to help calm them down so they begin to think rationally. Remember, the more are aroused (angrily) the less we can make conscious decisions that will benefit the situation. This can be a difficult period of emotional first aid Holden and Holden state because "the student may try to provoke us or say things to hurt us. Self-awareness and self-regulation are necessary skills so that we do not get angry at the student" (p. W40). However, it is important that we allow the student to drain off their emotions or vent to us about the issues at hand. As the responsible adult, we want to us reassuring messages, such as: "It is all right to get upset, things will get better," or "That was really scary," or It is upsetting and probably feels like it will never be okay again, but I know we can work this out." (p. W40)
Clarify events.
The student is feeling overwhelmed at this point with emotions that he or she will probably misinterpret the statements and actions of during the incident. Typically, these children have a misconstrued version of the sequence of events and have a distorted view of the other's intentions. Once the child that was escalated has been calmed down through the use of draining emotions, crisis communication and active listening, it is our job to place things into perspective and help the student reinterpret the event. Clarifying statements may include: "I saw Ray bump into you, IT looked like an accident to me. He was facing the other direction and not paying attention because Marisa called his name. He looked backwards while he was walking forwards." or "Mrs. Long did raise her voice to everyone's attention. I do not think she directed that anger at you, personally."
• Maintain the relationship and lines of communication.
Active listening skills are extremely important to practice and master because this allows the child and staff to continue their trusting relationship which is important for the success of the child learning new coping skills in place of their pain-based behaviors. Since the point of crisis communication skills and active listening are to support and understand the student's perspective, it's important to use positive language and responses that would make the student feel comfortable explaining issues to you. These sample expressions of understanding provided by Cornell University, include: "I can see how angry you are, I am here to hear your side of the story," or "I would be upset, too, if I lost a game I had played so hard to win" or "It is disappointing that the bell rang before it was your turn" (p. W40).
Remind the student of expectations and mediate the situations if necessary.
After the student has control over their emotions and wants to continue with the activity, remind the student of the expectations. Reminders of the expectations or rules should preset the child. These can be verbal reminders, such as, "Remember, we need to put away the books before we begin the art project" or nonverbal reminders, such as, pointing to the clock to remind the student of how much time is left for the art project (p. W40). At this time, mediation between peers should occur if the crisis happened between students. Cornell University provides these examples for mediating between students, "If was Karen's turn to read, you will have to wait until she is finished," or "David, you cannot change the rules in the middle of the game, you must stick to the original agreement" (p. W40).

Performance Objective

First, copy and paste the template below into a Word document. 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 the correct area of 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.