Angry or agitated student?

Teachers often ask me what to do when a student becomes agitated or angry. The question is usually asked about a student who is repeatedly angry, causing disruption in the classroom, and a lot of stress for the teacher. 

There are many issues and conditions that can lead to agitated or angry behaviour, from challenging behavioural issues related to attention-seeking or unresolved loss or trauma, to anxiety conditions, autism spectrum disorders and family dysfunction.

The most important thing is to be prepared – by implementing an agreed, predetermined set of procedures with the child, other staff and the principal. The approach must be tailored to the individual child, but there are general strategies that work with most students, such as,

Remain calm. A steady, calm voice can reassure the child and help you to remain clear-headed and reasonable.

Do not talk too much. Keep your language meaningful, short and clear.

Avoid power struggles. Give the child one or two acceptable and previously arranged choices. For example, ‘You may choose either to go to the ‘calm corner’ or to your desk or table to listen to music.

Help the child to calm down by:

  • allowing the child to sit on a beanbag by themselves in the ‘calm corner’, the ‘reading corner’ or at a desk or table in the classroom to listen to calm music using headphones; use a computer for a set period; squeeze a stress ball; or hold a light plastic worry bead or similar sensory object
  • not ‘badgering’ or pressuring the child to return to usual activities or discussing their inappropriate behaviour too soon. Let the child indicate, via an agreed signal, when they are ready to return to the usual program
  • giving the child a ‘10 minute cool down’ card allowing them to go to a designated seat in view of the classroom or another area such as a ‘buddy’ teacher’s room, or a coordinator, deputy or assistant principal’s office with the goal of returning when calm.

If the student is repeatedly violent, aggressive or defiant an individual behaviour management plan should be developed for the child. For information on developing an individual management plan click here.

More strategies and advice to assist the child who exhibits agitated behaviour, irritability or anger outbursts are available to Psych4School members in the following ebooklets:

Zoe Ganim