George Lucas Educational Foundation
Mental Health

How to Respond When a Student Acts Out

Research shows that disciplining a child when they’re in the middle of an emotional outburst isn’t effective. Try these strategies instead.

July 8, 2020
George Lucas Educational Foundation

For many students, learning isn’t the only thing on their minds; they carry their emotional baggage with them to school. The loss of a loved one, coping with poverty, or living in a violent home or community impacts the brain and its ability to regulate emotions. A 2014 study shows that not only does trauma cause emotional dysregulation, but also it may cause disorders that compound that effect, such as anxiety and depression.

Students living with trauma can easily be triggered by an accidental bump from another student or the unpredictable nature of transitioning from one activity to another—which can lead to an outburst like yelling in class or throwing a chair.

Warning signs, such as a student clenching their jaw, balling their fists, or withdrawing from their peers, may indicate a possible emotional outburst, but it’s not always easy to read the signs and anticipate the responses.

When emotional outbursts can’t be prevented, there are steps you can take to help bring your student and the rest of your class back to calm.

To learn more about trauma-informed practices, research cited in the video includes a 2014 publication from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration; a 2018 report by Tackie, Nixon, and Keels; and a 2013 article by Walkley and Cox

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