What to Do When a Kid Screams, Swears, and Calls You Names
“In those hours, they told me everything I needed to know about how to help them.”
How would you feel if a student screamed at you, “Get out of my way, b****!”?
What would you do?
A six-year-old child said this to Maria Navone, Safety Assistant and Lead Instructor for the Milwaukee Public Schools District (MPS).
Maria was observing a classroom at the request of two special ed teachers who had been having a lot of trouble with this student. They asked her to come and see what she could do to help, as the boy was often extremely difficult—and assaultive toward staff and other students.
As a Nonviolent Crisis Intervention® Certified Instructor, Maria is often asked to problem-solve tough situations. She had just trained the two special ed teachers in the CPI program, but they believed that no amount of training would help them handle this child’s behavior.
So when Maria visited their classroom, she started by standing quietly off to the side. As the boy entered the classroom, he told her to get out of his way—she was blocking the bathroom pass hook—and when she didn’t move fast enough for the boy, he repeated, “Get out of my way, b****!”
Now all eyes were on Maria with that “Now what?” look on their faces. But here’s what happened next:
“I knelt down to his eye level and told him that I would like to talk to him. He covered his ears and told me to shut up and get away!
“I continued to whisper, and told him I’m not mad or anything, but a little disappointed that such a handsome and clearly articulate young man was using such nasty language.
“He looked at me and said, ‘You're not mad I called you the b-word?’
“‘Nope,’ I said.
“He lowered his hands, came in close, so I pulled him toward me, and he sat upon my bent knee. In the meantime, the whole class was watching in shocked amazement as we carried on a lovely conversation.
“He then wanted to show me his artwork, and read a book to me to show me that not only was he ‘handsome and articulate, but smart too.’
“I was able to spend time with this child, and another student in the class with far worse behaviors, for a few hours that day, and in those hours, they told me everything I needed to know about how to help them.
“Besides what appears to be insurmountable precipitating factors both are facing in their young lives, both have suffered extreme trauma and yet, the three of us were able to come up with a behavior plan of action for each. I’m happy to report they are still abiding by it, with some tweaks of course.
“All of this was done in the classroom, in front of the teachers. Everything we discussed in the training was being played out for these two teachers—live!
“That AHA! moment came afterwards when they saw for themselves that we actually do practice the CPI techniques we preach, (don’t take it personally, have a plan, mind your P’s and K’s [Proxemics and Kinesics], be sincere in your approach to help, LISTEN, and so forth), and most importantly, that Nonviolent Crisis Intervention® training works—you just have to take the time to implement it.
“Now these two teachers are my biggest advocates, and this experience is one of my favorite success stories.”
For details about this story and Maria’s ongoing work to help kids and teachers who deal with significant challenges, listen to this podcast interview with Maria:
Maria is a Meritorious Instructor who has been training her coworkers at MPS in CPI programs since 1998. She has trained nearly 3,000 staff members in foundational techniques and tailored strategies for enhancing verbal skills, working with kids on the autism spectrum, handling particularly violent physical behavior, and more.
Thank you to everyone who has commented on this post and shared their concerns about dealing with problem behavior. Here are several resources that we hope will help you handle your challenges and realities.
- Secrets From a Behavior Intervention Pro by Maria Navone
- How to work with challenging students: an interview with behavior analyst Jessica Minahan
- Classroom Management Strategies with Rick Dahlgren of the Center for Teacher Effectiveness
- How to Set Limits (free guide with starter phrases, sample scenarios, and an action plan)