What’s the plan?: handling a behavioral crisis

The other day I had a student get very upset with me. Not because of anything I said or did, but because I was someone he was not familiar with. He had asked his teacher for help. His teacher, working with another student, was not available to assist him. She told him he could ask me for help. The student did not like that answer. He began to give me angry looks, and started to posture as if he wanted to fight. I looked at him, so he told me to stop staring. Using my Love and Logic, I responded by saying, “I do what people ask, when they ask me nicely.” He didn’t like that very much.

At this point he charged across the room towards me. I was leaning against a bookshelf with my hand on my chin, (a modified, impromptu modification of the CPI supportive stance), but did not move. He very angrily said he was going to rip my face off if I didn’t leave. I responded by saying, “I hope you wouldn’t, but if you feel the need to, you could try, I would just have to take care of myself and keep us both safe. However a better choice would be to go sit down and wait for your teacher’s help.”

Training to handle this type of situation is essential. I have seen this behavior before, therefore I was able to prepare a quick plan for how I would respond should we enter a full blown crisis. Having a plan helped me to stay calm in this situation:

1. Body position. I positioned my body in a way that wasn’t threatening, but at the same time was also safe and respectful. Coming off aggressively might only prompt the student to return the favor.

2. I set my limits. I could have easily said, “You are not allowed to hit me”, but he almost certainly probably would have tested that limit. So I responded by validating that he did have the choice to become physical. I did not get into a power struggle with him. Instead I informed him of what his choices were and from there he was able to decide which one would gain the more favorable outcome.

3. Awareness of the situation. Yes there was a risk, but I was prepared. My body was in position and I looked for signs the he was going to be physically aggressive. Where were his hands, was he continuing to escalate, was he breathing faster, was he looking for targets? My body was in position and I was ready to do what needed to be done, and in accordance with my training, in the event the student acted out physically.

4. Follow through. Since I saw no escalation, I continued my course of action. I felt no need to repeat my directive. I just gave him time to let the directive sink in and allow him time to process what he was going to do. Thankfully, I did not need to use any personal safety techniques in this situation.

The student grunted, then slowly turned around and walked back to his seat. He then asked if I would help him. I’ll be honest, I didn’t see that coming. But, he asked so nicely, so I acknowledged the appropriateness of his request and proceeded to help.In fact, later we were able to talk about how to get the things he wants sooner using more acceptable behavior choices and bring some closure to the incident.

My main purpose for describing this situation is to point out that this job carries with it a high level of risk. My response in this student could have gone downhill fast. However I responded the way I did being fully aware of the potential risk. I have seen this particular student engage in some highly aggressive and destructive behaviors towards others and his environment in the past. I often tell teachers and parents, “If you’ve seen it once, then you should develop a plan”. A plan keeps me from overreacting or underreacting out of fear. The last thing I want is to escalate a situation because I couldn’t react to a situation appropriately. Developing a plan and understanding the risks of your responses will helps me move forward to work positively in a crisis situation.


This is an example of how a behavioral crisis situation was handled. This is not intended nor shall it be misconstrued as advice. As always, before engaging in any any major behavior change program you should consult an expert or highly trained professional such as a Board Certified Behavior Analyst.


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