3 Strategies for Getting Upset Students Back on Track

March 4, 2015
Colored pencils next to a stack of books.

"In today’s world," writes Shannon Sobeck, principal at Paul Saylor Elementary School, "our students are faced with increasing challenges: The rigor of school expectations, trying to stay active in the community, navigating through social situations, and working to develop their unique self. At any age, those challenges can sometimes bring on worry and stress."

To help students at the Valparaiso, IN school learn and grow, Sobeck teaches her fellow staff members CPI techniques for guiding kids as they cope with challenges.

In this article, she shares three strategies for helping students get back on track when they're stressed or upset. The strategies, just a few from our Nonviolent Crisis Intervention® training program, include:

  • Seek to Understand. When a student begins to show signs of feeling upset or worried, it's "important to respond in a supportive manner by asking questions, listening carefully, and validating how they feel."
  • Provide Choices. "There are times, though, when we miss those subtle anxiety cues and a child becomes defensive." The student might ask challenging questions or draw staff into a power struggle. At such times, it's best to direct the student back to the task or expectation at hand and to provide clear and reasonable choices. Giving a child choices helps them feel like they have some control in an otherwise stressful situation.
  • Make Connections. If a student acts out by stomping their feet, yelling, or hitting, it's important to teach them not only that they're responsible for their behavior, but also that there are other ways to cope with challenges in the future. "We call this a 'learning moment,'" Sobeck writes. "This is when adults work to support a child by following through with seeking solutions to the problem."

For details, read "Nonviolent Crisis Intervention at Schools."

As one of several CPI Certified Instructors for Portage Township Schools, Sobeck has taught more than 200 staff members these and other techniques. All teachers, administrators, and assistants in Porter County have the opportunity to be trained in the program.

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