Five ways to approach every behavior crisis knowing that we help.

Fear is a liar. We can do anything. We are strong enough, we have the capacity to develop the necessary skills, and we have people to lean on for help. Fear may be a big hurdle to overcome, but we don’t listen to liars.

Last year, my friend Tisha Richmond introduced me to the song Fear is a Liar by Zach Williams. I don’t know if I have ever been more influenced by a song in my life. Fear infiltrates our lives even more than we realize. It manifests itself in the form of self-doubt, frustration, anxiety, and even anger.

In my work to become a trauma-informed educator, I continue to come back to this idea:

What if we approached every behavior crisis KNOWING that we can help? That we have the very skills and resources to help the child work through the crisis? It might take more patience than we think we have, it might take getting creative, it might take asking others for help, but we can all work through it and come out the other end better than before.

How, though? How can we approach a behavior crisis unlike anyone we have ever experienced and feel confident that we can handle the situation? These five ideas can help:

1. We need a team.

In order to approach crisis situations confidently, we need to know that we have a team of colleagues who have our back instead of talking about us behind our backs. Colleagues who join us in embracing patience, creativity, and knowing that we are doing the very best we can do at the time. Colleagues who value reflecting and growing and working through mistakes with grace. Colleagues who give grace to both the students and to us.

2. Accept that negative feelings are human, and we are human.

We will have negative feelings. That doesn’t mean we are bad educators or bad people. It means we live and breath and care. I sometimes look at my dog’s life and feel a little envious at his napping all day, but, ultimately, I am really glad that I am human. So, I will accept the bad feelings alongside the good.

3. Separate our emotions about the problem from the actual problem.

I often visualize myself drawing a line in the air with my feelings on one side and the actual problem on the other side. When problem-solving, I push my feelings aside and work to focus on the actual problem. In the moment, my feelings don’t matter and they often get in the way. Once we have worked through the problem and re-established connection, I make sure to go back to my own feelings as I reflect.

4. It is almost always okay to be a little playful.

Sometimes we get just as stuck as our students do. We can have a zen-like focus on compliance during a behavior crisis, but in order to get unstuck, we sometimes need to incorporate a bit of playfulness. I had the benefit of being trained in Trust-Based Relational Intervention (TBRI) recently, and interrupting a crisis with a little playfulness is a key component to re-establishing connection. When we re-establish connection, we gain a little bit of traction to help us move toward problem-solving.

5. Focus on connection.

When I was being trained in Choice Theory and Reality Therapy, an important lesson I learned was that if all we do in the moment is connect and build relationship, the time is not wasted. Because before a child trusts you enough to learn from you, there has to be a strong relationship present. In a crisis situation, if all you can do in the moment is help the child trust you and build your relationship, that is okay. As I learned from Julie McGowan at my recent TBRI training, contrary to popular belief, no amount of connection or nurture will spoil a child.

Underlying all of these ideas is a very important concept:  we all want to feel good and be successful. Even the child who is experiencing the crisis, and all of the loving adults whose hearts are breaking for the child. Assuming positive intent from everyone is the foundation of successful and effective problem-solving, and contributes greatly to stomping out fear.

What helps you approach even your most challenging student behavior crisis with confidence rather than fear? Share your ideas in the comments, I am excited to learn from you!


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