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technical de-escalation

De-escalation ideas

The following ideas are all ones that have worked with different children in the centre. Examples will be direct ones used.

  1. Alternative choices – e.g.

Child  ”I don’t want to read!”

Adult  “ which book would you like? This one or this one?”


  1. Give a choice then time to process it.

Will say I will come back /talk to you in 5 / 10 minutes and then stick to this unless the child comes back to me with a positive, calm response. Often they will talk themselves around as long as you stop talking to them.


  1. Alternative ways to engage in a lesson 1– e.g.

I doodle a lot to help me concentrate so try and to recognise those sorts of needs in the children. Expecting a child to sit and engage in group activities, especially when that means self-regulating, can be too hard (i.e. circle times/ morning times etc.)

For one child I have set up a place for him to sit at the back of the class, next to his room but with a clear view of the Interactive board, with pens and paper. He is given the option of where to sit at the start an, d depending on his behaviour, during the lessons, with the proviso that I will be asking questions etc. throughout to check he is listening. He also knows that he must do the written work when asked.




  1. Time to draw out any worries-

I always make sure I ask the child at the start of the day if there is anything they want to draw out for me to look at before the school day starts even if the answer is no. That way they know they can get some help from me if needed which is really reducing stress levels. I do then have to remember to talk to his dad, Mr Bogg etc. to try and resolve any issues. If there is nothing I can physically do to help I will try to help him work out how to deal with those emotions / reason why it is better to let go of the worry etc.


  1. Consistency is key....

I always do what I say with the children I work with, whether that is a sanction or a reward. This can be difficult but pays off as a lot of children’s default is to accuse the adults of lying to them but if you have kept to your word even if they say it out of anger you will find they trust you more and more.


  1. Consulting with other adults.

Taking time to chat to your colleagues can help you all to come up with new ideas to try.


  1. Alternative ways to engage in a lesson 2– e.g.

Taking the child out of stressful classes and giving them an alternative activity can really help in their overall anxiety. We have a child who can’t cope with the general crowding and random movements of others in some of the P.E classes. He is especially anxious in the warm up activities in dance and judo as he can’t predict where the other children will be running and so tends to knock into them 1st and become increasingly disruptive and stressed. I have created an alternative circuit challenge for him in the class room which gives him short bursts of exercise mixed in with some literacy challenges (as he has some significant problems in this area too) He seems to be really enjoying this way of exercising and has started to invite other class mates to join him on occasion as well which is helping cement some friendships. (He is always offered the group exercise as well so we don’t presume this is the best way forward for him)


  1. Consulting with the child-

In quiet times I discuss any ideas I may have had about helping them and also ask them what they think. Hopefully this may also lead them to having their own ideas about how to self-regulate / calm down as well. Obviously you have to then put any agreed plans into practice as quickly as possible once agreed.


  1. Helping from a distance.

I supported a child with PDA who was behind in his literacy skills but was very anti being openly helped as this put undue pressure on him to try. I found that by getting key information out of him before the lesson through informal chats (i.e. what he had done at the weekend etc.) was really useful as I could then just jot down one or two key sentences and a whiteboard and leave it at his desk. This didn’t work all the time but enough to warrant me trying it regularly and definitely had an impact on his ability to attend the lesson and start the writing process, as he was aware that the help was there but I could be out of his space and so offer him some independence and anonymity.




  1. Giving short term, achievable targets and rewards.

As well as sticker charts it is useful to be able to offer your child more instantaneous rewards such as time to look something up on the computer / a toy to play with for a set amount of time / time in the sensory room / a preferred activity such as drawing, construction or taking a photo of something they have made and printing it out etc. There are lots of different small things we can do like this but they must be time managed and achievable within the constraints of the school’s resources and so on.


  1. Small tasks can be just the break you need.

Taking a child with you to do a simple job like going to get something from a resource cupboard/ putting out chairs / washing up can all help de-escalate a behaviour or prevent predicable difficult situations from getting worse.


  1. Teach the child how to ask for help.

Giving a child access to visual supports that can help them to ask for some time out to calm down can be useful especially if the child finds it difficult to express their needs. For example we use cards that ask for time on the grey chairs or sensory room but can be whatever you see fit, within the school environment. These time out cards are usually time limited to no more than 5 minutes so you can keep in control and prevent too much opting out.


  1. Social stories.

Social scripts are really useful tools in a number of ways. They can help a child recognise emotions they are feeling and reassure them it is ok to feel these emotions while tackling the issue of what are and aren’t appropriate responses. These should be short and child friendly and result in the child being given ways to seek help when needed and given a list of or 4 steps to calm down. There are people trained in the MCC who can help advise or create a social story if need be.

They are also fantastic ways of catching the children being good and it is recommended that positive use of these stories should be pushing the 50% mark. They can be as simple as a small note or certificate outlining the good behaviour of the child that can be given to them to put up in a work space or send home. 


  1. Having a laugh

Sometimes having a jokey sanction can work well. For example a child in the centre who screamed a lot and ran up and down the corridors responded well to saying that those actions told me he needed a hug! After that me just saying “Ok, I’m coming for that hug then!” made him laugh but also stop the behaviour. (Obviously this can only be used with a child you know well and also only if their stress levels are low)


  1. Acknowledge a behaviour before asking it to stop.

Calming down and moving on work sheets for individuals can help, especially if a child is displaying OCD tendencies. So, for example, if they are repeating an unwanted behaviour or talking repeatedly about a worry/ situation, as long as their actions do not require withdrawal or are self-injurious, you can help them move on in the following way.

  • Present them with a laminated tick list allowing them to talk about their worries / complete the action 2 more times ticking off a tick box as you go and ending with a talking/ action is finished tick box.
  • The next thing on the list should be an agreed method of calming down (i.e. 5 minutes drawing / timer / trampoline etc.) followed by another finished tick box.
  • Finally the sheet should end with an instruction to join back in with the class activity.

If the child still continues to exhibit the same behaviours you can then start imposing sanctions. For example a child who used this method had another tick list showing that each time he continued with the behaviour and had to be told to stop he lost ½ a minute choosing…. I think the maximum he got to was 3 minutes. Referring back to the original sheet helps to reinforce that you both agree the behaviour has now stopped.


  1. Individual calming / sensory box

Allowing the child to have a small box of their own that can be filled with items that help them self-regulate / calm down can be really helpful. These can just be a simple old cardboard box that the child can decorate by themselves or a tin bought in from home, as long as it isn’t too big, and can be filled with such things as pens & paper, fiddle toys, bubble wrap… anything that the child can use without disrupting the other children in the class. ( if the child is distracted by the box you can always just give it to them as and when necessary)


  1. Always give the child time to reflect in silence. (see 2 also)

Talking to an angry child is a waste of yours and their time, as not only will they probably be unable to listen at that point, hearing you make a noise at them is only likely to make it worse. Also a child who is very agitated and looking to increase the feelings of anger will often try and draw you into their argument to give them reason to shout and scream some more. Try and tell them that you are going to give them 5 minutes where you will be with them but not talking and then turn over a timer and do just that. It is very tempting to try and solve the child’s problems there and then but sometimes, when a situation gets really bad, letting them blow themselves out without adding fuel to the fire is probably going to resolve the situation mare quickly.


  1. Be aware of where weaknesses lie.

Being aware or academic weaknesses and being able to adapt a lesson as a result can be very useful. For example, a child who finds writing difficult in one of our classes has often resorted to using aggressive/ challenging behaviour to try and opt out is now being helped in a variety of different ways which include :-

  • Cutting up sentence strips to help him find the gap. (this is now reduced to putting an orange line between each word as he has progressed)
  • Highlighting descenders in pink and ascenders in yellow so he can work on his letter heights and how they sit on the line.
  • He has a 20 minute circuit routine which is split into two 10 minutes halves, each of which comprise of 10 1 minute activities that alternate between something physical to do and something literacy based. i.e. 1 min star jumps / 1 min letter formation ‘T t’ / I min sideways running / 1mins writing 4 words starting with ‘t’ ….. and so on. This is effective as not only can we use it in the P.E lessons he finds too stressful, we can adapt the literacy activities to meet specific needs. (please ask if you want to see an example from MCC)
  1. Who do you want to help you?

      Giving a child the choice of working with different adults can be    helpful especially if they are finding it hard to move on from a situation.

So instead of asking them to listen / write etc. you can ask “would you like    ‘__’or ‘__’ to help / work with you now?”   and this can often be enough to shift the focus away from the stumbling block and restart the learning process.

  1. ‘Please’ is good but ‘thank-you’ is better!

Always end a request with thank-you rather than please as please suggests there is room for refusal where thank-you implies you have already agreed their compliance and it is now a done deal.


  1. Find the right friends.

Careful selection of peers to work with can help a child stay calm and engaged. This can also help at play times where a child might otherwise be isolated from the main group. To help foster close friendships we have found it helpful to allow the small selected group to play away from the whole school on some occasions as, not only does it mean you can avoid known pressure points (We have found we can read when a playtime will be more stressful than others) the others in their group usually feel that they are receiving special attention by being able to play in the class / hall / different garden and this helps to strengthen their social bonding with the child. This will hopefully really help all their self-esteems to improve.


  1. Empathise.

A child in our class said a while ago that he doesn’t trust any adult who just say everything will be ok to him if he is worried. He told us that he wants to be able to be angry or sad and for the adult who he is talking to, to just recognise that sometimes things are just bad. In other words, reassuring a child without acknowledging their pain and anger is not good enough.

We must always let them know that it is ok to be angry with something or someone as we all do it, but at the same time we have to teach them an acceptable way to do with it.


  1. Differentiate between on purpose and by accident.

Some children can react negatively very quickly if they have an accident. I will always say that I will never worry or get cross about accidents, but I always encourage them to help clear up the mess. If you have warned them to be careful beforehand, you may have to have a conversation later about warnings given and listening in the future, but try to limit it to that.


  1. Always start the day working with the child wearing a smile; new day, new start. We cannot hold grudges, if you’ve reached your limit, ask a colleague to step in.


  1. Don’t be afraid to say sorry if you’ve made a mistake. You don’t need to try to be perfect; always model appropriate behaviour but it’s ok to forget things, break things, have misunderstandings etc.


  1. Draw, doodle or do something non-threatening in quiet times when with a child who is de-escalating. You will probably find that a quiet activity that you do whilst waiting will also help you de-stress. Your calmness with help the child.


  1. TEACCH type activities may help. TEACCH activities are formulaic, independently achievable activities, e.g. working from left to right, top to bottom. I took a child to his workstation to do his TEACCH activity, and he immediately did his activity without my asking which calmed him down. This could be adapted for mainstream.


  1. Have objects that are safe to manipulate or destroy, e.g. paper to rip.


  1. Some rules must be kept and sanctions given seen through, but flexibility is key. Giving a child a way to earn back time missed from choosing etc. can positively change their mindset.


  1. Always tell a child there is a way to make things better.

E.g. “if I could press a magic button and turn back time I would” This concept with a drawn button to press can allow the child to express their desire to make things better/stop, without the need for verbal communication.


  1. Having a written yes/no that a child can point to instead of speaking can open up communication.


  1. Sometimes a child wants you to instinctively know what is going on. I have found that it is usually ok to make an educated guess if you show you are really trying to think and empathise with the child. Make it clear it’s a guess and not a fact. Can lead to child’s affirmation/offering a reason.



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Ashley M. Simonsen, Partner


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