A De-escalation Exercise for Upset Students
Students that are nervous or anxious are extremely common in our classrooms. The most obvious indicators of anxiety include inappropriate behaviours or outbursts, unfavourable comments, and anxiety-induced motions such as fidgeting, leg shaking, and hand clenching, to name a few. These indications should elicit instant concern and alert educators to the possibility that a response may be required. To assist the student into a self-regulated mindset, the teacher must first figure out how to do so.
Before we go any further, let’s go through what’s going on with a pupil who’s having an outburst. In this instance, cortisol is being released, which is important for keeping individuals alive in the face of danger. Cortisol, also known as the “stress hormone,” is a hormone that plays an important role in our ability to protect ourselves. When we are faced with a stressful circumstance, the production of cortisol allows us to respond more quickly. However, this comes at a cost, since it has a severe impact on the brain’s ability to function at its best.
Consider the following scenario: you’re out on a surfboard in the water, waiting for the perfect wave. A little distance away, you notice a shark fin poking its head out of the water and heading in your direction. In an instant, two chemicals—cortisol and adrenaline—are produced, putting you into the “fight, flight, or freeze” response. You can fight the shark, leave by paddling as quickly as you can, or freeze and hope the shark loses interest. You are experiencing stress, anxiety, uncertainty, and fear as a result of your elevated cortisol levels, no matter what you do in reaction to the situation.
Consider how this may appear in a learning setting for the time being. Two pupils realise at the end of a science class that they have received a bad grade on a scientific test they took. However, unlike the approaching shark, there is no danger to life or limb, and the physiological response is the same as well. They are worried and their cortisol levels are high, which is a state of mind that does not allow for clear, conscious thought to occur. When the two pupils walk into their English session, they are noticeably distressed. Neither of them looks up from their desk and begins to cry, while the other tosses his or her book bag on the floor and punches the desk. The instructor must be aware of these indications before the first day of school.
THE STRESS RESPONSE AND THE BRAIN
It is difficult to understand the young brain because it is perplexing, complex, and sometimes misunderstood, not just from the standpoint of adults, but also and perhaps more crucially, from the perspective of the students themselves. For pupils to comprehend how their brain functions, it is necessary to teach them about a few different areas of the brain and the functions that each of these sections does. Teach them about the amygdala, prefrontal cortex, and hippocampus to keep things simple for them.
When it is necessary, the amygdala directs fast responses, such as the fight, flight, or freeze response. It is the amygdala that responds to threats faster than the prefrontal cortex, which leads to the ability to make decisions and problem-solve, and the hippocampus, which is responsible for recalling details and storing memories. As a result, the two parts of the brain that are most important for academic work are skipped. It is as a result of this that people who are worried, tense, or afraid are more likely to make poor decisions, lack clarity in their thought processes, and act impulsively.
Learning how to relax is critical for our overall well-being, and the following approach, which is aimed to reduce unpleasant impulses and emotions, can be shared with students to help them achieve this goal. They are to be guided toward more regulated thinking and learning as a result of this process.
A DE-ESCALATION TECHNIQUE
Let’s go back to the two kids who were having a bad day in English class. They aren’t ready to start working yet, but the teacher can assist them by taking a few minutes to take them back to a level of relaxation.
This approach should take between four and six minutes and should be oriented on the student’s needs and interests. Throughout this document, I’ve offered examples of what a teacher may say at each step; however, you should adapt these statements so that they sound more natural to you as a student.
If you have a paraprofessional or an in-class support teacher, you can ask a student who appears agitated to step out into the corridor or into a section of the classroom that has been designated for de-escalation by the teacher. Alternatively, you could use this as a whole-class starting activity for anyone who might be feeling anxious about something in particular. Students can choose to use this de-escalation strategy, which involves thinking about their responses rather than discussing them aloud, or they can participate in a warm-up activity that is related to the class, such as writing a journal entry or filling out a worksheet.
Allow the student enough time to regain their composure: “I’ve noticed that you’re quite upset,” you can say. Working together, let’s focus on breathing slowly for one minute to better moderate your urges.”
Instruct the pupil to become conscious of their thoughts and feelings by saying: Question: “Can you tell me what’s going on in your brain and body right now?” Explain how you’re feeling and what you’re thinking, and whether you’re ready to put your energy towards getting calm.”
Ask the learner to reroute their thoughts as follows: “Take a minute, close your eyes, breathe slowly, and think about something that makes you happy,” you can say to yourself. I know you’ve told me how much you adore your grandmother’s freshly baked cookies, and I believe you. Assume you’re stepping into grandma’s house in a calm state of mind as you smell the cookies, taste them, and feel the warmth of the cookies fresh out of the oven.”
Provide the following positive feedback to the learner after he or she has been calm: “Now, please open your eyes.” What are your thoughts right now? Please let me know if you require additional time to calm down. Your accomplishments in getting to this point should make you happy and passionate about your work.”
Allow the pupil a bit more time to regain his or her concentration: “Please take a minute to do something nice for yourself.” Walk around and get some fresh air, or tell me about your baseball game from the night before.”
Instruct the pupil to consider the following for the future: “The next time you’re feeling this way and I’m not with you, what can you tell yourself to help you take control of your thinking and actions and bring yourself to a more controlled place?” says the counsellor.