The Verbally Aggressive Student
Students may become verbally abusive when they encounter frustrating situations which they believe are beyond their control. They can displace anger and frustration from those situations onto the nearest target. Explosive outbursts or ongoing belligerent, hostile behavior become this student’s way of gaining power and control in an otherwise out-of-control experience. It is important to remember that the student is generally not angry at you personally, but is angry at his/her world. You may have become a convenient object for his/her pent-up frustrations. This behavior is often associated with the use of alcohol and other drugs.
- Acknowledge their anger and frustration, e.g., “I hear how angry you are”.
- Rephrase what they are saying and identify their emotion, e.g., “It appears you are upset because you feel your rights are being violated and nobody will listen”.
- Reduce stimulation; invite the person to a quiet place if this is comfortable. However, do not invite the person to a quiet place if you fear for your safety. In all instances, ensure that another person is easily accessible to you in the event that the student’s behavior escalates.
- Allow them to tell you what is upsetting them.
- Be directive and firm about the behaviors you will accept, e.g., “Please stand back; you’re too close,” and/or “I cannot listen to you when you are yelling”.
- Help the student problem-solve and deal with the real issues when they become calm, e.g., “I’m sorry you are so upset; I’d like to help if I can”.
- Be honest and genuine; do not placate aggression.
- Get into an argument or shouting match.
- Become hostile or punitive yourself, e.g., “You can’t talk to me that way”.
- Press for explanations for their behavior.
- Ignore the situation.
- Touch the student, as this may be perceived as aggression or otherwise unwanted attention.
Counseling Services, Kansas State University – adapted from information by UC-Davis Counseling and Psychological Services