It is often possible to minimise behaviours that may lead to physical harm or danger to self or others by taking action early—immediately before or as behaviour begins to escalate.
Ignoring escalation and not addressing its cause can increase the frequency and/or severity of the behaviour.
Therefore, it is important for teachers to identify the triggers that cause concerning behaviour and to recognise the early signs of escalation. This will provide an opportunity to apply strategies that reduce, rather than heighten, an emerging situation. In turn, this approach will help to reduce restraint and seclusion incidents, while enhancing opportunities for students to learn pro-social skills.
If a student is becoming agitated, but their behaviour is not placing them or others at an imminent threat of physical harm, school staff should employ targeted de-escalation tactics to prevent behaviours from further escalation and to address the cause of the escalation.
Some recognised de-escalation strategies include:
- using active listening techniques (LEAPS - listen, empathise, ask questions, paraphrase and summarise actions for moving forward)
- acknowledging the student's underlying or expressed emotion (anger/distress)
- problem solving with the student to address the cause of escalation if safe to do so
- keeping verbal instructions simple and minimal, using a calm tone of voice and clear, direct language or student's preferred method of communication (focusing on the behaviours you want them to display rather than the ones you don't)
- adopting a non-threatening body stance and body language (open, relaxed with hands down)
- allowing adequate personal space
- using non-verbal cues
- distracting the student from the source of any anger or distress by discussing another topic they are interested in
- providing options (within limits) to help the student feel they are still in control of their decisions
- going to an alternative space with the student that is less stimulating or removes access to the triggers.
When attempting to de-escalate a student's behaviour, staff members should observe whether the student's agitation is diminishing or if the behaviour is continuing to escalate. If it appears the behaviour is escalating to the point that it is placing the student or others at an imminent threat of physical harm or danger the staff member present will need to move from a de-escalation approach to
In some cases, physical intervention may be needed as a last resort to direct a student away from the source of their distress. For more information on physical interventions with students, see 'physical interventions' within the incident intervention section.
Our managing challenging behaviour professional development program includes additional information and advice on de-escalation.
Behaviour support planning
For students with a pattern of behaviour escalation, effective de-escalation techniques should be detailed in a behaviour support plan. Please note that de-escalation does not include restraint.
Teachers and other staff who are likely to be in close contact with that student should be familiar with the strategies outlined in the plan. Including parents/carers in this planning process is important, as the use of consistent de-escalation strategies across both school and home environments will help to make sure these strategies are effective and do not cause confusion for the student.