How to keep your cool and respond, when dealing with challanging students.

Warning if you are offended by the word C**t, then don’t read!

I would like to share my experiences working with students who have difficulty with impulse control and emotional regulation and hope to answer this question. How do teachers keep calm and in control when confronted with students who are escalated and are displaying extreme behaviours such as verbal or physical aggression?

Firstly, I ensure I keep a check on my own emotions. I take a breath and remember that the student’s behaviour is a cry for help, and I, as the adult, need to model emotional control. I speak in a calm and neutral tone and try to deescalate the situation with redirection or humour. Remove the student from any audience and try to listen to the student’s concerns with a caring ear. Discuss consequences and supports to move forward only when students are calm, ideally on their return to school.

It is hard not to take things personally and keep your cool when students are verbally aggressive and insulting, but we must keep our thoughts on the students and where they are at.  Like this one time, I was called to remove a student who was causing disruption in class.  She had a history of serious drug use and had involvement with the juvenile justice team for illegal activity out of school.  

After asking her to leave the classroom in a very calm tone, she walked off hyperventilating. Her face was so red, eyes bulging, and her whole body was tensed up with her fists clenched and as she walked, punched walls and doors.  I followed her from a distance to ensure she was OK and gently tried to gauge what the issue was and why her anger has escalated.  I quickly realized I needed just to wait until this tantrum passed.  That is exactly what it looked like, a toddler huffing and puffing, screaming and lashing out because you simply said no to them being able to swim in the swamp.  

Things started to calm.  She sat on the floor. Her breathing was slowing, and I could see another staff member start to walk over.  They had probably walked over after hearing all the screaming and commotion.  This was enough to set her off again.  She jumped up and shouted, ‘Fuck off, you fucking fat cunts’.  Well, that was it. I thought I had been waiting for an opportunity to diffuse this situation, so I tried humour.  ‘Oi’, I said with a smile on my face, ‘Who you, calling fat?’, that was enough to deescalate the situation a little until she was collected from school by parents.  

Sometimes students can be deescalated with humour and distraction. Keeping your cool is key, and not taking it personally can help with that.  Of course, this type of behaviour is never OK, and consequences were given. The important thing at the time though is to try and not make a bad situation worse.  

How to support students with extreme behaviours?

Students with extreme behaviours are not the norm in many schools. Some students have extreme behaviours for many years, and for some, it may be a new thing. There are many reasons students display such behaviours. Everyone has a different story and different triggers. It’s so important to get some background on the student so you can help and support them. I start by asking questions to the student and parents. It is probably more appropriate if these questions come from a school leader or psychologist. Be careful when approaching such topics. These can be sensitive and cause more problems if not asked by the right person.

  • Is this behaviour normal for this student?
  • Is this behaviour seen outside of school?
  • What are the student’s triggers?
  • Has the student seen a psychologist or counsellor previously?
  • Is there a history of mental illness or trauma?
  • Is there a concern with substance abuse?
  • What is happening at home for this student?
  • Are there learning concerns?

For many students, a referral to an external agency might be appropriate support for the student and family. Many agencies are free for students to support them with mental health, substance abuse, trauma, and even behaviour support for parents in the home. I will list a few here that are available in Western Australia. Many more can be found using the My Services website.

Some agencies provide Multi-Systemic Therapy for families with children with extreme behaviour. I have seen real success stories working with such agencies. Schools can support with referrals for such programs.

What resources are out there to support students and teachers?

Schools may support students and staff with a plan. Developing a detailed escalation plan for teachers to follow and students to understand is a great tool. Students will understand their zones, triggers and what will happen when they are in each area. Staff will understanding have to respond to behaviours displayed and how to seek support if needed. The below image is an example of a simple escalation plan that can be used to support students.

Escalation Plan

Working with students on Zones of Regulation can also help. See their website for more free resources, but I recommend buying the book as it has lesson plans and printable worksheets and posters to use. This book is used a lot in primary schools and for students with ASD. I have had much success with students with extreme behaviour problems using this resource and think it’s definitely worth using. Teaching students to recognize their emotions and how they feel in different situations will help them identify how to use strategies to deescalate or remove themselves from such situations.

The book also has teachings on big problem and small problem situations. This is great for students who escalate over the smallest of problems. It teaches them a ‘normal’ reaction to a small problem and what a big problem actually is.

Zones of regulation.

I see all of these extreme behaviours as a cry for help or a mystery to solve. So instead of getting angry, I say to myself, ‘How can I help this student?’.  Don’t get me wrong. My whole body reacts to insults or when students test the boundaries.  I feel my blood boil, and I get triggered.  But using breathing and positive affirmations, remembering it is not personal or about me, I can keep calm and show my poker face and problem solve.  

If you need support in keeping your cool during such extreme behaviour or how to respond with choice language, I recommend the online course for classroom management at  It’s all about regulating our emotions to the challenges we face in the classroom and finding your Why.  

Read more on classroom management click here.

Home » How to keep your cool and respond, when dealing with challanging students.

Leave a Reply