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TXTS 4 Teachers

De-escalating Challenging Behavior: Teacher's Personal Approach

Marlys WeaverStoesz

Welcome to our final installment of the de-escalating challenging behavior series!

Haim Ginott’s words continue to resonate nearly 50 years later.  Although we have laid the foundation for understanding students with anxiety or defiance disorders, this insight is all for naught unless we are mindful of our responses to challenging behaviors.

The adage “catch ‘em being good” applies to students with anxiety or defiance disorders.  However, students who have difficulty controlling behavior may have precious few opportunities to be “caught being good.”

Instead, a teacher might consider saying random kind words or ask the student to take-on a responsibility well-suited to his abilities.  According to Katrina Schultz, “This kind of non-contingent reinforcement helps the child to see the teacher likes him for who is, not because he does math well or reads perfectly” (Schultz, 2016).

Moreover, not responding yes or no to a student’s request or using non-confrontational body language can allow students the time needed to use self-monitoring strategies and diffuse a potentially explosive response.  For instance, rather than making eye contact and waiting for compliance in response to disruptive behavior, a teacher can instead quietly and respectfully ask a student to stop the behavior and then move away in order to give the student time to do a “body check” and activate a calming strategy.  Or, rather than answering a yes/no question, a teacher can rephrase the student’s query, e.g., “Can I go to the bathroom now?” to “When may I go the restroom?”  Doing so removes the yes/no dichotomy and bypasses a potentially explosive response. And, of course, praising a student for employing de-escalation strategies is imperative to reinforcement of these powerful life-skills.

Without a doubt, anxious or defiant behavior is stressful for both students and teachers.  Yet, a teacher’s “personal approach” indeed creates the “climate of the classroom.”  Remember, “We are 50% of every interaction with a child.”

This four-part series of TXT4 Teachers is based on Katrina Schwartz’s article, “20 Tips to Help De-escalate Interactions with Anxious or Defiant Students” (2016).  The original article is located at