What are the key components to successful de-escalation in schools?
Join us in this episode of School Behaviour Secrets as we delve into the true meaning of de-escalation, explore the physiological changes in the brain during moments of dysregulation, and unveil our brand new four-part framework for achieving effective de-escalation.
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Show notes / transcription
Emma Shackleton 0:00
but the aim of de escalating is this, remove threats, reduce emotions resolve the problem later.
Simon Currigan 0:08
And that last bit, I think, is one that many people who work with kids in school I think that's one of the things they find difficult because there's a temptation to fall into the trap into thinking that you've got to dispense instant justice resolve problems very, very quickly, especially when there are the kids around them watching.
Hi there. My name is Simon Currigan and welcome to this week's episode of school behaviour secrets. When French philosopher and writer Albert Camus wrote, There is no more dreadful punishment than futile and hopeless labour. He probably wasn't thinking about the hours we spent producing the previous 132 episodes of school behaviour secrets, but if the cat fits, I'm joined today by my co host, who is anything but pointless. Emma Shackleton. Hi, Emma.
Emma Shackleton 1:31
Wow, what an introduction. Pointless. Thanks for that. Go on. You're gonna ask me a question then.
Simon Currigan 1:39
Yeah, let's get into it. Have you ever been involved in a situation that unexpectedly escalated you and you weren't sure what to do to calm things down?
Emma Shackleton 1:49
Oh, yeah, quite a few times actually thinking about in my early teaching career, I've got a really vivid memory of a very angry mom storming up to me at the end of the school day and shouting that I had accused her son of being a liar, but hadn't actually. But that's not the point of this story. I can still really vividly remember my reaction to this situation. Shall I tell you what I did? Well, I'd like to say I put on my metaphorical cape and totally calmed everything down with my soothing dulcet tones. But you see, this was quite early on in my career before I learned about all this stuff. So what I did was I froze. Yep, stood there while this woman hurled abuse at me, and then turn tailed and stormed off.
Simon Currigan 2:39
But you wish you'd known then? What you know now? Well, exactly. Yeah, that
Emma Shackleton 2:43
would have been really handy. But you do tend to learn as you go along in education and in life, don't you? So now I think I'd have a much clearer idea of what to do. But anyway, how is this all relevant to today's episode? Well, in today's
Simon Currigan 2:57
episode, we're going to look at De escalation, working with kids who are emotionally heightened and helping them get calm and regulated. And we're going to share a full step formula for successful de escalation that anyone can learn and start using right away. Whether you're a teacher or a parent, for that matter.
Emma Shackleton 3:15
Sounds good. But before we jump into the details, I've got a quick request to make. If you're enjoying the show, please could you leave us an honest rating and review on your podcast app right now. This tells the algorithm to share the show with more listeners just like you. And it means that we can help more teachers, children and parents. And remember that you can go back and listen to previous episodes of school behaviour secrets anytime you like. They're all there for the taking.
Simon Currigan 3:43
And with that, it's time to grab a toothpick. And yes, I pronounced it tough. I'm from the Midlands. That's how we say it. It's time to grab a toothpick and price out the fingernail dirt we call behaviour. It's definitely
Emma Shackleton 3:57
tooth. But anyway, I'm going to move on. So today we're going to look at how to de escalate pupils behaviour and a short framework we call the elder framework with elder spelt, E L. D R. It's a simple framework, we teach as part of our successful supervisors programme that anybody can use whether you're a teacher, a lunchtime supervisor, a parent or a school leader. It's short and sweet, but it works. But before we get to that, we need to think about what de escalation actually is.
Simon Currigan 4:32
So de escalation is about how we support people who are experienced heightened or escalated emotions. When that happens when someone becomes very anxious or angry or frustrated. What's happening in their body is they're getting an increase in the amount of stress chemicals sort of flooding around their system and the stress chemicals that are associated say with anger, adrenaline, which I'm sure everyone's heard of. There's a part of the chemical called noradrenaline, and there's another chemical cortisol, which is actually widely known as the stress chemical, and if you're listening abroad, especially in North America, you'll know these adrenaline is called epinephrine. And noradrenaline is called norepinephrine. If I'm pronouncing that correctly, along with the word tough Am I get that wrong when you've got all those stress chemicals flooding around your system, because you're finding a situation is anxiety provoking, or you feel like your body feels like it's in a situation where it might have to protect itself in a life or death situation that causes something called amygdala hijack. And what happens is it shuts down activation in an area of your brain called the prefrontal cortex. And that deals with the executive functions things like cause and effect, if I do x, then y will happen. It deals with thinking ahead, it deals with thinking logically and processing language. If you want a breakdown of the key executive functions that you see children needing to survive and do well in school, go back a couple of episodes to Episode one tonight, because we did dig into those in detail. So let's
Emma Shackleton 6:00
give a concrete example. Then, let's imagine we've got a student in school, and somebody accidentally bumps into them in the cloak room. And the student perceives that as a physical attack, especially if the other child laughs or makes light of it, the student becomes heightened. And they react as if they are now in a life threatening life or death situation. So they lash out, they're shouting, they're punching the other student.
Simon Currigan 6:31
So here's something we commonly see which you might in inverted commas called the problem. There'll be adults nearby who jump in and immediately respond and try and resolve the issue. So the first thing they'll do is separate the children. So there's no physical danger. First of all, we do have to keep children safe. That's absolutely the right thing to do. Then, because they can see children in distress, what they'll do is they'll try and resolve the problem. But the issue is resolving the issue requires the part of the brain that's been turned off because of amygdala hijack. So processing language, thinking about other people's points of view, being able to articulate the way you feel, being able to understand that if I do x, it leads to why all those sort of logical and social functions, the part of the brain that deals with them is turned off, the adult is not going to have success, because they're trying to communicate with a part of the brain that isn't available to the child and the child just gets more frustrated because they feel like the adult doesn't understand them. Also, another problem they'll have trying to resolve the issue immediately is that their nervous system won't allow the child to calm down while they're still in close proximity to the threat the other child in this instance, because it's highly sensitive. And this makes perfect sense when you think about it. So So imagine you are a caveman and you walk out of the cave, and you see and it is company policy at this point. It's got to be a sabre toothed Tiger I got a caveman is always being confronted by Sabre toothed tigers, there's a sabre toothed tiger and the body's activation system, the body's autonomic nervous system is going to kick in pump out loads of stress chemicals, get the caveman ready for a fight or flight situation, then what the caveman cannot just do is just stand there. The caveman is not going to become calm, while the body perceives there's a physical threat. And that's what we've gotten the situation with our two children, if one of them is seeing the other child as a physical threat, then we're not going to be able to deescalate them and get them calm, because the deep underlying evolutionary biology that's driving their actions is still really, really heightened. So it turns out that the adult trying to help and deal with the issue, at the immediate time it happens could actually make things worse, because to the heightened child, the adults position themselves as someone who doesn't understand or is someone who is keeping them close to a direct physical threat.
Emma Shackleton 8:52
Yeah, so trying to deal with the issue can actually sometimes create more escalated behaviour than reducing it. Ironically, the adults are doing this with the best of intentions. They don't want the pupils to be upset for any longer than necessary. But the aim of de escalating is this remove threat threats, reduce emotions resolve the problem later.
Simon Currigan 9:19
And that last bit, I think, is one that many adults, teachers, teaching assistants, learning mentors, people who work with kids in school. I think that's one of the things they find difficult because there's a temptation to fall into the trap into thinking that you've got to dispense instant justice resolve problems very, very quickly, especially when there are the kids around them watching. So we need to delay resolving the problem. But that's different from letting the other children in the room think that you're not going to resolve the problem anyway, introducing the elder framework and remember, it's E L D R and the E stands for First of all we need to deal with emotions. because the child is experiencing amygdala hijack, and their nervous system is very, very sensitive, because the amygdala has identified what it's thinking is a physical threat. And unless we deal with their emotions, we won't be able to make any progress towards that resolution. So our first focus has to be, we are going to guide the pupils emotions down, it's like the landing a plane, they're high in the sky, you know, there's lots of energy, we need to bring them down safely, that's going to involve co regulating them.
Emma Shackleton 10:30
Yeah, and remember that the child will often stay heightened all the while that they are in proximity to the threat or the problem. So we need to move the threat away. So in the instance, in the cloakroom with the children were ones bumped into the other one, and it's all going to be wrong, it's probably going to be easier to move the other child away. So that's sometimes the best course of action, move the other child away, if it's difficult to move the child who's upset or distressed, or if the problem is a piece of maths, for example, move the mat away, because while the perceived threat is still there and visible, even spoken about, it's going to be really, really hard to calm down. And this is just going to prolong this episode. And we've got to accept that it's going to take longer than we think for those chemicals that Simon spoke about to drain away. Really interestingly, scientists have taken blood samples from people when they've been very upset or angry or overwhelmed. And what they've learned is that it can take around 40 minutes or longer, it could be up to four hours for those chemicals to have drained away and for that person to return to their baseline state. So sometimes in schools, we might say to a child, you know, go and sit in the book corner have five minutes timeout. But actually, realistically, at the end of that five minutes, we've got to appreciate that they are not going to be fully calm.
Simon Currigan 12:05
So II means our first priority is to deal with emotions and not rushing and try and resolve everything. The L that follows is location. Now to aid with that child becoming regulated, again, what we can do is move the child to a another location, another room in school, that's ideally some distance away from where the issue took place. If it took place, you know, on the playground, we want to move them to a room where ideally, they cannot even see that location through a window. And there's a reason for this, there's an effect called the doorway effect. And when your brain moves through a doorway into a new location, or you move from place to place, it reinforces the sense that you are somewhere different, that you're away, and that you're safe, the emotions continue to go down with landing the plane we get in the child co regulated. So we deal with emotions first. And then our next aim is to switch location, we're not going to stay in the same place.
Emma Shackleton 13:03
Okay, so we've had E for emotion, L for location. Next comes D and the D stands for distraction. So as we've said, while the students brain is still focused on the threat, while they are still thinking about the problem, those stress chemicals are going to keep pumping out and the child will stay in that heightened place. Now we've moved locations so that they can't see the other students in this instance. And they're in a room where they can't see the location so they no longer can see the cloak room, you've taken away the physical presence. So
Simon Currigan 13:38
now it's time we've removed the physical presence to actually remove the psychological presence or threats, which is the child thinking about the event that's just happened that's caused them to be heightened. The brain does something really, really interesting when we're remembering an event, you can replay the emotions that you're having at the time and your brain doesn't really distinguish between emotions that you're replaying, and events that happen in actual time. If you think back to maybe a sad event, maybe the death of someone you loved or a pet that you loved, or maybe a breakup with a spouse or a partner from the past, you can experience those emotions almost as strongly as you did at the time. Now what we're going to do to avoid those automatic thoughts coming up and the child dwelling on what's just happening and thinking about it, instead of talking to them about it, which is going to bring that psychological threat back into the room and create more heightened emotions. We're going to use a lots of distraction, we're going to get their mind off it. So they're physically away, and then mentally away from the incident that's just happened. So that's going to depend on the individual child, you're gonna have to use your own particular knowledge of them you want something they're going to enjoy and find absorbing so might be an activity or getting them involved in a favourite topic or doing some mindfulness hollering or talking about anything but the incident, it might be giving them an iPad or a game us whatever it takes, we want their focus to be anywhere. But what's just happened. And I actually used to work with someone who was brilliant at this, she distracted, heightened kids so well, she could talk about her life, in such detail, the kids would start to be very, very focused on an event that just happened and injustice, you know, got, the child has just had someone run into them, I felt it was a personal attack, the way she spoke to the children, she would just get them off topic. And she would just lead them down this path of conversation. At first, there'll be very resistant, but then she'll kind of hook them in into an entirely different topic. And before they knew about it, they were talking about the gardening she was doing at home or a film that watched, then it was a really effective way of distracting them away from the issue that was provoking those heightened emotion. Yeah, so
Emma Shackleton 15:53
what we're doing here is just switching tack, aren't we we're trying to get the brain moved off the problematic thinking or dwelling on the incident, we're trying to switch that into something non threatening now. And it's really important that the adults don't bring up the incident, again, don't talk about it, until they are sure that the child is no longer in that heightened state. And there is a bit of a trap here. This has happened to me quite frequently, especially working in pupil referral units, where kids have said to me, I'm all right now Miss, or they've even said, I'm calm now. And I thought brilliant, they're calm now. And I've started to talk about the problem or what went wrong, trying to have that coaching conversation to help them deal with it next time. And as soon as I've brought the issue up again, boom, they fired up going up instead of coming down. So we've got to tread carefully, we've got to understand that they are in a hyper vigilant state, any mention of the thing that went wrong is going to set them off again. And even when children say I'm okay now or I'm calm. Now, they might not really be in a position to know that because the clever and sensitive and intuitive parts of their brain are not working so well, because they're still in that amygdala hijack. So we've
Simon Currigan 17:22
looked at emotion, we've looked at location, we've looked at distraction. Now it's time to look at the final R which stands for resolution, now the child is calm, it's time to resolve the situation. And for that you use whatever system is preferred in your school, your school might use something like emotion coaching, it might use restorative practice, it might use some specific form of post incident learning, you might have some CBT style reflection conversations, you might talk about boundaries and consequences. You follow the policy, whatever your school adopts, this is the conversation that you were trying to have during the incident. But what you should find now that they're calmer amygdala hijack is no longer a problem, those executive functions that calm sensible part of their brain is back in charge that you can have an impactful conversation, a reasonable conversation about what happened. And that might involve some coaching, it might be resolving the argument with the other child. Now the child is in an emotional state, where they can engage in that conversation productively and learn from it, it's going to have an impact. It's all about timing, trying to have that conversation too early, can actually fuel dysregulation rather than de escalate the child. That's the
Emma Shackleton 18:36
elder formula then, but we have got a cheeky bonus extra are to add on as well. And this is a really key component that often gets forgotten when there's been an incident. So our little bonus our is to remember to reboot the relationship. So remember to go back and have a conversation with the child, especially if the child was angry with an adult. But ideally, you would do this repair between students as well. But make sure you have the opportunity to bring the people back together who were involved, and get their relationship back on a good footing. If we forget to do that this leads to resentment. Children go away from a situation feeling like it hasn't really been resolved, maybe feeling like the grown up, he's crossed with them or doesn't like them, or feeling like that about another adult. And over time. This really does erode relationships and it stores up future problems. So it's really important that whatever has happened, we're able to draw a line under it and let that child know that everything is okay now we like them. We care about them. We want them to be there. Let's have a fresh start. What we don't want is for them to go away and worry or stew on a problem or think about something that has happened and feel like people don't like them or don't care about them. So that's a little cheeky bonus are. So that's our four part or maybe five part framework for simple de escalation. We've called it the elder framework, where E is for managing emotions, L is for changing location D is for distraction, R is for resolution, and then potentially a bonus are for rebooting the relationship. So if you find our framework for de escalating heightened pupils and resolving issues in school helpful, then we've got a free download that you might like. It's called How to help children manage anger, and other strong emotion Whoa, am
Simon Currigan 20:43
a slow down there, that title is a bit obscure. What's that download about?
Emma Shackleton 20:48
This download takes you through a proven approach to teaching regulation techniques to school aged children, and we'll even give you resources to print out in use with your students. All you need to do to get your guide is visit beaconschoolsupport.co.uk. UK, click on the free resources section near the top and you'll find this resource near the top of the page. Remember, it's called How to help children manage anger and other strong emotions. And
Simon Currigan 21:17
if you've enjoyed today's show and you haven't subscribed yet, it's time to get a wriggle on open your podcast app now while the show is still playing, and hit the subscribe button and then your app will automatically download each and every episode as it's released. So you never miss a thing. Warning. Subscribing to school behaviour secrets has been associated with side effects such as social embarrassment and deep regret.
Emma Shackleton 21:40
I hope you have a brilliant week and we look forward to seeing you next time on school behaviour see bye for now.
(This automated transcript may not be 100% accurate.)