“Just calm down, breathe!” the teacher was saying as I entered the room to offer support. The student started crying louder.
The teacher looked at me upset “I don’t know what he wants and he won’t calm down!” this declaration came as the student landed a punch, right in the teacher’s nose. A teaching assistant was trying to help redirect, putting calm down and safe hands visuals into the student’s line of sight.
Eventually, we got the student de-escalated and back into a routine. We had the teacher checked out by the school nurse and we planned a debrief session after school.
Debriefing is crucial. It’s in the debriefing that we often have our aha! moments. When we are out of the intensity of the moment and looking back at what we could have done better.
We looked over the behavior plan. Was it followed? Yes. Was reinforcement available to the student? Yes. Did the staff have the student’s calm down routine and visuals at the ready? Yes.
But then I thought to ask, “Have you taught what ‘calm down, breathe’ means?” and there was our aha! moment.
If you work with students with behavior, they often have some sort of break or de-escalation routine written into their behavior plans. The step we often forget is to explicitly teach this routine. Role-play with the student what being upset looks like. Be upset yourself and let the student coach you through the moment (my kids, even my self-contained behavior kids, loved this).
And make sure to teach the words and visuals you would use in an actual situation. In this case, what was most natural to the teacher was “calm down, breathe!”. So that is what we taught. We practiced with the student what “calm down, breathe!” looked like.
The next time the student became escalated and his teacher said “calm down, breathe!”, the student sat down in the middle of the room and began taking deep breaths. The classroom assistant stood to the side holding up safe hands visual and he threaded his hands together and squeezed.
The teacher was calmer, the student was calmer, the assistant was calmer and the situation did not last nearly as long.
It can be hard to find the time to explicitly teach a cool-down routine but I promise that in high-intensity moments, it’ll be worth it!