Via YouTube

Children that get anxious or defiant in a classroom, or even at home, are not a new phenomenon. What has changed, though, is the strategies we use to deescalate the issues that can come from our interactions in their time of, for lack of a better word, attacks. There is no “one size fits all” fix for these issues, but there are a number of strategies that you can employ to help students overcome their troubles.

Anxiety can come in two forms; nerves about school or an actual mental disorder. It rarely matters which form their anxiety comes from as most of the time the results are the same. Defiant students are rarely defiant just to be difficult, they are working through something and don’t know how to express that issue. It comes to you, as the teacher, to understand why these issues are popping up and how to prevent them if possible. When things get out of hand, your best bet is simply to work on a deescalation plan and get the issue back to a manageable level.

Via Huffington Post

The next 20 slides are going to go over a number of strategies, but use them as a starting point. You know your students better than anyone and you will know how to best make the choices you need to to ensure the issues are under control. These different steps are going to be valuable starting points, but don’t hesitate to use them as jumping off points to create your own strategies as well.

The biggest thing to remember here is how important it is to keep in touch with the student and make sure you are working towards a common goal, whether they realize it or not. The big focus is on the student, but remember that you are an important part of this process. Without you, the student will struggle to move forward. If you accomplish your goals together, on the other hand, the student will be much more successful as they move through school and life.

20. Reward Practice Or Strategy

Via YouTube

While we are so focused on results, we can lose how important it is to focus on practice and strategy. The key is to worry more about the journey that your student is taking rather than focusing on the actual result. If a student has come out of their shell, or worked through a particularly rough spell of anxiety, or better yet, kept themselves from starting a major fight with you, that is something to reward. The results don’t matter as much as the effort. If they started to become defiant, but ended it unusually early, don’t focus on the defiant behavior – focus on the fact that they found a way to end that behavior earlier than normal.

This is just as important with students that suffer from major anxiety. While plenty of studies are out there about the how’s and why’s, I can tell you first hand what it was like. I was that anxious kid in school. I was quiet and always had stomach issues related to the fact that I couldn’t get comfortable being in a crowded classroom. The odd thing though, I’m an extrovert. The best teacher I had was the one that let me work through things on my own and encouraged me when I broke out of my shell. After years of work, I ended up as the lead in multiple plays in Jr. High and High School and I was one of the big shots on the debate and speech team. I truly feel that this would not have been possible if it wasn’t for the caring and patient way that a few of my teachers treated me. The key was that they never called on me when they noticed I was having a bad day. I knew the answer, they knew I knew the answers, but they also understood that I could have a meltdown if I had to get up in front of the class and give that answer.


19. Give Them Time

This follows the point made on the previous slide. Kids will work things out in time if they are just given a little encouragement. With that said, time is extremely valuable in today’s classroom, so try to find a balance that is safe for the student and also lets you teach your lesson as effectively as possible. If they have a full on rage attack, step back and let them get it out. There may be things that you can do to help them calm down, but it is likely better done in the hallway so that they don’t have to face the embarrassment that will come when they recover.

To add to this point, you may not see a major change while they are in your course. It may take them years to get to that point that they can step up in front of the class, or keep their cool when they are upset about something. Fortunately, you are likely going to have a way to stay in touch with their future teachers unless they are graduating to a new school level. Spend time talking with the teacher or teachers they will be working with in the following school year and explain their situation. Don’t make it sound like they are a bad kid, just explain what you did and how you helped them on their journey to getting past this. They don’t want to be in the situation they are in and pushing them to come out too soon will only make matters worse.

18. Engage The Student

Via Avera Balance

While time is important, so is engagement. You don’t have to engage them in an overt way to make things matter. Instead, right a note on their homework or test, or quietly pat them on the shoulder as you walk the room while students are doing work. During group activities, try to match them with a majority of people you know they are comfortable with, but throw in a few they aren’t. This gives them some safety, but also ensures that they are engaging with other students. This will help them slowly overcome their anxiety. Once that is done, the defiant part of them will likely melt away. After all, the anxiety is most likely the reason they become defiant – fight or flight.

17. Keep Praise Private or Non-Verbal

Via SpeechBuddy

Mentioned on the previous slide, this deserves special mention. If the student does extremely well, there is no reason to point and yell out how great they are. Simply let them know through a head nod or a quick word as they are leaving. Try to catch them in the hallway or before class starts and quietly let them know what successes you have noticed. This is a huge boon and a confidence boost which will go a long way in building up the trust you will need for the next few steps.

16. Teach Them To Wait

Via Flickr

Waiting is the best way to trigger a reaction due to anxiety. That time where they aren’t sure what comes next can be a real stomach ripper. Give the class ways to enjoy the wait as they move on to something else. For example, after a student finishes a quiz, they can quietly draw or doodle, read a book, play on their computer, whatever it is that you feel is appropriate for the group that will not cause distractions to the rest of the students. While this is primarily being done for those students that are struggling with anxiety, it also will help the rest stay in line.

15. Give Them Distractions

Via The Conversation

Giving a student a distraction is key to reducing anxiety. On top of that, it helps students with other mental differences such as ADHD. One of my better teachers brought in adult coloring pages and offered them to us. While some of the students did not use them, or they didn’t need them, it was a life saver for me. By splitting my brain into two separate focuses – listening to the lesson and coloring boring geometric shapes – I was able to absorb what the teacher was teaching while also keeping my mind off my anxiety.

Ground rules are important here though. Make sure the distractions are fair for the students and those that start to struggle should know that they will lose the privilege. Also, whatever distraction you offer needs to be boring. If you have them color, only offer one or two colors and make sure the page is something simple and gives no real mental distraction other than a need to fill in simple shapes. If you offer anything that requires focus, you are defeating the whole point and will see each student suffer. This is an area I would highly recommend you take extra time in researching and make sure you are offering the right type of distraction.

14. Don’t Set Timers

In many classes teachers will give a 5 minute warning before ending an activity. This is especially key with younger children. In this case, let your anxious students know that you are setting 5 minutes for the class, but ask them to find a good stopping point as soon as possible. This probably makes you feel like you are playing favorites, but in actuality, it allows the other kids a minute or two to quietly talk, while those anxious students find a good spot to stop. In most cases it won’t take more than an extra minute and with practice they will often be done before hand.

13. Transition Steps

Via Spacious Acting

Moving from one task to the other can be a difficult time for your students. The best practice here is to ensure that the transition steps are explained clearly. Not only does this keep the classroom on track it helps those with a nervous demeanor come to grips with the sudden changes throughout the day. Generally, create a set of normal guidelines for a transition. For example, for younger students, have them wash their hands as they get ready for the transition, or clean an area. Older students can put away their current work and prepare for the next part of the day. Any steps you can create that are consistent are going to make the transitions significantly easier for everyone, but especially those with anxiety issues. This should also keep kids from having a chance to start to fight back as they already know it is time to change to a new project.

12. Create An Inviting Atmosphere

Via Mandy’s Tips For Teachers

Many teachers find ways to help the kids come in and get ready for class. This can be as simple as playing some music or having a fun puzzle on their desk that gives them a minor reward if they complete it. Another great option is to play a video from a YouTuber about something that you teach. There are some great history channels out there that give short spurts of information and they are extremely entertaining. The same can be said about science, math and really any subject. Use these options to allow the students to enter the room without feeling a need to socialize while they wait for class to start. The anxiety of being in a room where all the other students are laughing and talking can be a real hit as the anxious student sits quietly waiting for you to start class.

11. Use Technology

Via HeartMath

EmWave is a unique piece of technology that helps a child with coping mechanisms. It gives visual feedback that reinforces positive moves for the child through a number of different programs. In addition, technology should be integrated wherever you can put it. If tablets or computers are part of the daily routine, find ways that the student can use their time on the device to move away from being anxious.

Other technologies are emerging that may have a significant impact, but be careful about singling out a student in front of others as it is going to likely lead to regression instead of progression. You should find time to work with the child alone so they can focus without feeling as if they are being judged. Remove anything that could lead to an anxiety attack or an act of defiance and use the trust you have built up to ensure the student feels comfortable as they start to work on this new process. This will likely speed up their chances of overcoming their issues as opposed to not incorporating technology. Research this information every few weeks or months to stay on top of the latest developments.

10. Preview The Days Plan

Via iheartmrktg

Planning out the day is a huge help to your students. The plan should not be kept a secret though. Write out the preview of what will be done throughout the class or the day so that students know what to expect. This will help with transitions as well as students will have a good idea of what they are transitioning to. Try to spend a few minutes at the start of the day to explain the plan in rough detail and answer any questions the students may have.

If you can time-stamp the particular activities it is worth a shot, but see how your students, especially the ones that are the subject of this article react. They may feel more anxious if you don’t give a time frame for each activity, or the fact that specific times are coming up may trigger that response as well. It may be a good idea to simple give a rough estimate of when things are going to start and stick to them loosely. That way the students learn that around 10 a.m. something new will start. It may take until 10:30, or it may start at 9:45, but they have a good estimate of when to expect a transition.

9. Challenge The Student

Via Understood

Via Understood

Once you start to make headway into what has been bothering the child and they are making improvements, see how they feel when you challenge them a bit more. It wouldn’t hurt to ask them after class if they would be comfortable answering a few questions over the next couple of days. Don’t force it, just ask them if they are willing to try. Give them the control though and let them know that if they raise their hand to answer a question you will call on them first.

It would also be wise to give them time to muster the courage that day by explaining that you will be asking a few questions shortly and would like to let everyone answer. If they are included, and chosen early on so the anxiety can’t get control of them, it may start to give them a jump start on the confidence they need to start participating more openly in the classroom. This is going to be a delicate step to take so don’t rush it and let the student decide when the time is right. Give them gentle pushes, not shoves.

8. Work On Easier Problems First

If your student is struggling with a subject, say math for example, help them work out the easy stuff first. Leave the difficult problems for later. This will allow them to see that they are nearly done with the assignment and should give them the confidence to complete it easily. This won’t be a natural idea for the child, so make sure you go over this strategy with them, either on a class wide level or individually.

This also works when you are doing other assignments, such as writing. Have them lay out a template with a few idea of what they are going to write, then just fill in the blanks. The best example lets you get behind the curtain of how I write articles. I first format the page and create the headings based on my research. I then write based on what I read, then refer back to the subject matter to fill out anything that I may have been confused on. By having each step laid out first, I can see the whole project in front of me and tend to increase in my speed towards the later half of the article. This isn’t because I’m trying to finish, but because I am comfortable now with how the article is going to flow. The same thing is what you need to help your student figure out in regards to whatever project they are working on.

7. Help The Child Localize Anxiety

Helping a child localize their anxiety will give them the power they need to start fighting back. For me, it came from my stomach. Anxiety always turned my gut inside out and upside down. I always felt sick, went to the nurse, couldn’t function and lost a lot of time in the classroom. Once I saw a doctor and he explained that my stomach issues were simply the physical manifestation of the anxiety, I knew that I could try to focus that area away.

Without meaning to, I learned to meditate in the process. Or at least, I learned some form of meditation. For the moments when my stomach went crazy, or when I would try to sleep at night, I would simply count. At first I just started counting and would end up in the thousands before I got angry. Eventually, I learned to count to 1. By counting to 1 over and over – essentially saying “One, one, one, one…” and focusing on that number, the image of it, seeing it appear and reappear, I lost that feeling in my stomach and was able to push the anxiety away.

To reinforce this point, I’ll tell another personal story. In High School, I was the lead in a play where I was “forced” to kiss one of the more popular girls in the school. I was, obviously very upset about the practice, but doing the act in front of parents and students alike brought back the anxiety that I had thought I defeated. Before the opening night of the play I spent about 30 minutes counting to 1 in the dressing room. I stared at the mirror and my eyes eventually closed as I focused in on that number. When the stage director came to grab me to start the play, I stood up and felt completely calm and full of energy. In another play, which happened later, I had to play an ape that ran out into the audience. In previous years, the ape simply ran to the back of the audience, sat down, then ran back when the time was right.

Over the course of my lifetime I had slowly overcome my anxiety and learned how to push it away, teaching my body to fight back. That let me be myself. An extrovert that loved making others laugh, and creating uncomfortable situations. So when my time came to be the “Great Ape” and run to the audience, I headed up to a random parent in the audience, grabbed their foot, ripped off their shoe and threw it at the person on stage that caused me to run away. The crowd loved it and I grew in confidence. I ended up sitting in the lap of the principle and stroking his hair, bringing more laughter and taking focus off the stage. At that point, I had my “meditation” and the confidence of being able to pull off these acts to fight back when my stomach tried to start an attack. That is your goal, help your student get to the point to where they can be themselves. Once they get one taste, they will fight day and night to overcome their issues.

6. Prepare For Attacks And Use Calming Strategies

This step is going to require extra research and significant planning. At some point things are going to get out of control and you are going to half to calm the situation down. This isn’t going to be natural for everyone, so make sure you plan ahead. Lean to read the signs of these attacks before they explode and figure out strategies you can use to help calm the child down. This will take plenty of practice on your part, but it will build trust over time.

This is going to be one of the hardest steps you take on this list. There isn’t an easy example of how to handle this. Instead, you simply have to train yourself to think on your feet and guide the student out of the darkness that they are falling into. Anxiety leads to defiance, and – well that sounds like a Star Wars quote – but the point is the more effective you are at bringing the student back from that dark place of fear, the easier it will be for them to learn to cope with it.

5. Rehearse Replies

Via themidult

Rehearsing how you will reply to a defiant student is going to be difficult but effective. Watch some videos of kids going crazy and practice what your reply may be. This will help you start to create a plan for how you will handle situations that you weren’t ready for originally. For the most part, this is going to take a significant amount of practice and the best way to learn is from successes and failures in the real world.

As long as you are trying to help the child, you are likely not making anything worse, just try to use empathy as much as possible to ensure that you understand why they are upset. Then turn that into a discussion about how that can be prevented going forward.

4. Prove That Negative Thinking Doesn’t Work

Via Dominica Applegate

Via Dominica Applegate

The previous slide easily leads into this and the next. When a child acts out, it is important to show them how that did not create a positive response. That doesn’t mean you yelled or gave them time out or sent them to the principal’s office, you can just show them how much time was lost and what could have been accomplished. Try to spin the time loss into something that could have been truly enjoyable.

For example, if the class loves a particular activity, let them do it, but cut it just short enough to be noticeable. Explain that the time lost due to the outburst caused that particular activity to be shorter than normal. This leads to a pro vs. con view of how they react. If they become defiant, they are taking away from the things they enjoy, and they may be hurting others enjoyment in the process. In time this will click, but it likely won’t be immediate. Stick to it and you should see some change over the course of a few outbursts.

3. Fix Broken Relationships

Via Women Planet

At some point you are going to mess up. Or, to put it more accurately, your student is going to think you messed up. Swallow your pride and try to fix the relationship you have been building. Set aside time to talk to them and find out what you did that they perceived as a mistake. Don’t argue your point, but make it clear that you are there to help. Some relationships can be so broken that it seems all but impossible to recover, but you will find that over time it won’t be an issue.

Take your time and make sure they understand you are there for them. Let them speak to you openly and explain what they think you did wrong. Don’t scold them or tell them they are wrong to think that. If they perceived it that way it is factual in their world. The key is to bring them back to reality and ensure that they understand that you only had the best intentions.

2. Involve Parents

Via Quote Addict

At some point things will become more than just a little difficult. You will need to involve parents and work out a plan together to overcome the outbursts and anxiety. Don’t come to them with a plan, come to them with a desire to discuss a plan. Work out something as a team that can be implemented at home and at school and make sure you are both working towards that common goal. Use kid gloves with the parents as this is their child and if you say the wrong things they may take offense. Talk about the positives and what you have worked on so far with them, then ask them for advice to help you get better. Then move the conversation to a plan that they are bought in on. This will ensure that they did their job as parents, even if you had to guide them to the correct conclusion.

1. Work With Counselors In Extreme Cases

Via Wikimedia

At times, parents, research, technology and other teachers won’t be enough to come up with an answer. This is when you need to work with a counselor to get things under control. While you spent your time learning how to educate children, they spent their time learning how to help the kids overcome their problems. Anxiety is a common issue and one they are likely going to be more than willing to help you create a plan on. They will likely get involved, talk to the student, and decide what the best course of action is.

Don’t be afraid to throw in your two cents – the things you have learned and know about your students – but also listen to their advice. Work with them, question them, use their knowledge as much as possible until you start to come up with an answer. This is the step that will likely get you past that hurdle that seems to high to leap over. Sometimes you have to step back and let someone else look at the problem with fresh eyes. Then use their insight to guide you forward on a possible new path.