It’s an unfortunate reality that most teachers, at some point, will have to deal with a violent student in their classroom. By “violent”, I mean a student who regularly acts out physically, such as by hitting, kicking, biting, throwing, pushing, or performing other aggressive acts, towards the teacher or other students. Violent elementary students are particularly difficult to handle. Teachers feel badly for the student, who may have experienced trauma that has led to the violent behavior AND who is still quite young. In addition, teachers worry for the safety and well-being of the other students in the class, who are also quite young. Plus, teachers have their own health to worry about, although that often is not prioritized as it should be.
Violent elementary students may be challenging, but there are ways that you can approach the situation more effectively. If you are dealing with such a student, here are some tips and strategies that you can use!
Disclaimer: I am not an expert on this topic. This advice comes from my own personal experience and professional knowledge as an elementary teacher. I am not a mental health professional or a behavior expert.
Tips and Strategies for Handling Violent Elementary Students
1. Stay Calm, Think Straight
When violent elementary students act up in the classroom, it is easy for teachers to get overwhelmed with the stress of the situation. Doing so does not help! The most important thing you can do is stay calm so that you can think straight and assess the situation accurately. Your students, including the one acting out, are counting on you to keep them safe. You need to be calm and clear-headed to achieve that.
2. Know Your Student
Each student is a unique individual. As a teacher, you have more control if you know your students. Think about your student with violent tendencies. What are his or her triggers? What helps him or her deescalate? What signs are there that he or she is about to have an incident? What kind of behaviors can you expect from him or her? If you know these things in advance, you will be able to better read the situation, respond appropriately, and maybe even prevent incidents in your classroom.
3. Know Your School’s Policy
Every school has a policy about what to do when a student becomes aggressive and potentially dangerous. Usually, you can find it in your school’s handbook. If you don’t know where it is, ask. Not only will this help you handle incidents more effectively, but it also will prevent you from getting in trouble afterwards. Also, make sure you are aware if the student has an IEP (Individualized Education Plan), a 504, or a BIP (Behavior Intervention Plan). If so, that plan should have specific information about the child’s situation and what interventions are already in place. It may also tell you what to do when the child is getting worked up or when the child becomes aggressive. Remember, IEPs are legal documents, so you are required by law to follow what they say.
4. Protect Your Students
As a teacher, you number one priority is keeping your students safe. Knowing the school’s policy will help (See #5.), but you also need to use your common sense. If a student is becoming aggressive and violent, get your other students out of the classroom right away. First of all, this will prevent kids from being harmed. Secondly, it means you will not need to leave students unattended to get help (for example, if the student who is acting out has pulled the phone out of the plug…yes, I know this from experience). If you know a room clear is a possibility, make sure you have gone over it with your class so they know what to do. Practicing beforehand will make the room clear quicker and help your students feel less afraid.
Also, in the event that your student acts out violently, you may want to seek counseling for or have a check-in with some of your students. If they witnessed aggression against you or their classmates, or experienced it themselves, some kids may be shaken up and need some extra attention afterwards.
5. Protect Yourself
Although the safety of your students is always a priority, you need to protect yourself as well. Once you have your other kids safely out of the room and have contacted someone for assistance, stay out of the way as much as possible. Now, try not to allow the student who is acting out to get hurt, but don’t worry about stopping the behavior. That is not your job (unless you have been trained to restrain students)! Also, remember not to put your hands on the student. Protect yourself from getting in trouble later by just staying out of the way and letting administrators or behavior personnel to take over.
6. Get Help
If you are overwhelmed with a situation or simply don’t know what to do, get help. Most teachers are not trained to deal with violent elementary students, but there should be people in your building who can help you. Talk to your administrators, the guidance counselor, the social worker, or other teachers. Find someone you trust and ask for their advice. You do not have to handle the situation by yourself!
If you are dealing with violent elementary students, remember you are not the only one! Hopefully, some of these tips and strategies will help you. Do you have any suggestions about how to handle violent elementary students? If so, please leave a comment below! Have other questions or concerns? Shoot me an email and I’ll do what I can to help!