Maybe it was the stress of six long days of state testing.
Maybe it was due to rushing around for the 20 minute periods that were shortened because of those tests.
Maybe it was the weak coffee from Dunkin Donuts.
Okay. That part was me. It was a tough week or two, so it's no wonder the kids felt stressed out.
I was too worn out to think clearly about what to say. Boy, did I need this student meltdown list.
I felt helpless; I knew I wanted to help the student calm down, but my brain was so fried that I stumbled trying to find the right words. The calm-down took much longer than it should have, and left both of us feeling crummy. I knew I had to find an effective and efficient strategy for handling such an event in the future.
So I went to an expert. I spoke with a good friend, a therapist who works with troubled teens. She told me that the keys to all effective communication must be both active and constructive. She then gave me an emergency script that teachers- and parents- can use to calm a young person who is agitated.
These are the soothing words that you can use:
1) Speak slowly. I'd like to help you.
This breaks the cycle. It provides the student with hope, and it provides them with constructive advice. They learn that you are empathetic, and if they calm down, you will try to help.
2) What can I do to help you?
This also breaks the cycle and provides the student with a specific action. It gives them an opportunity to articulate exactly what they need at that moment.
3) Let me repeat what I think you said...
The third phrase becomes the beginning of a dialogue. You repeat what they've said to show that you understand. Put the student's feelings into words, which they might be too agitated to do themselves. Thus begins a calm, back-and-forth dialogue.
One more thing. Use the student's name often. In How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie said this about using a person's name:
Acknowledging the student's name will make them much more likely to listen to you.
I'm keeping the phrases on a card behind my desk, just in case I need them. If you click on the image below, you can print one for yourself.