The Strategy

De-escalation is when an adult responds to a students’ emotional outburst with strategies to help calm them down. These strategies are useful when a student is actively experiencing an emotional outburst (e.g. tantrum, aggression, acute anxiety).

Empathetic listening: make sure the student knows that you hear them and that you are aware they are experiencing an emotional outburst. To show your student that you are listening, you may want to make sure you are facing your student and that your body language shows you are open to hearing them talk (e.g. leaning in, uncross your arms, nodding along).

Verbally validate and normalize their feelings: Acknowledge the emotion that your student is experiencing let them know that you are there for them. You may want to let them know that it is okay to feel their emotions and that what they are feeling is normal. For example: “I see that you are feeling very angry right now, how can I help you?”, “I can tell that you are feeling sad right now, it is okay to feel sad sometimes“, or “I would be upset if that happened to me too”.

Be non-judgmental: Whether or not you think that your student’s emotions are justified in that moment, it is helpful to put that judgment aside and hear them out without dismissing their feelings.

Safe space: Let your student know that they are not in trouble. It may be helpful to move to the back or corner of the room for a more private conversation with them rather than having a discussion with them in front of their classmates. This may make them feel more comfortable to disclose their feelings and ensure that they do not feel embarrassed about the situation.

Common ground: Use your empathetic and active listening skills to help identify that want or need of your student and acknowledge that. Remind them that you are on the same team. You may both have the same goals in the situation and can use the common ground to help find a solution. For example: “I want you to get a good grade on the assignment too. Maybe we can come up with some ideas together to make that happen” or “I don’t want you to be mad at your friends either, how can I help you?”.

Because de-escalation does not effectively build the skills students need to independently meet age-appropriate expectations, it cannot be evaluated for effectiveness. The goal of de-escalation is to ensure the student can come down from their emotional outburst and for the adult to react in a way that is calming. If this strategy is selected for use in the short term, it is recommended that it be replaced at some point with an intervention to help the student develop the skills needed to independently meet age-appropriate expectations for classroom behavior.

Intervention Scorecard

This intervention is recommended for the following presenting problems.

Select an age group:


Other suitable presenting problems