Using de-escalation techniques for managing challenging behaviour

James Hourihan, Author

Every day, teachers, healthcare professionals and social carers face potentially difficult situations. It’s essential to have the skills necessary to manage challenging behaviour in a way that is both effective and respectful of the individual’s needs. 

One approach is using de-escalation techniques which are designed to reduce risk, without resorting to coercive or punitive measures. Let’s take a closer look at how these strategies can help you manage challenging behaviours within your own health, education or social care setting. 

What are de-escalation techniques? 

Firstly, there is no one all-round technique when responding to escalating behaviour. What may work for one person, won’t necessarily for another. So, it’s important that we are trauma-informed in our approach by considering factors such as their life experiences, circumstances and the overall context of the situation, before deciding on how best to move forward. 

De-escalation techniques are non-confrontational methods used to defuse potentially volatile situations, while maintaining respect for all parties involved. These strategies focus on communication in order for us to better understand a person’s needs and respond in the most effective way possible. 

Recognise the warning signs of escalating behaviour 

The key to successful de-escalation is recognising when someone’s behaviour is escalating and act accordingly before it develops. Some early warning signs of escalating behaviour may include: 

  • Aggressive body language (eg: increased body tension or rigidity, clenched fists or jaw)
  • Criticism of others or themselves (eg: blaming others for any issues and refusal to comply with requests)
  • Hostile language and tone (eg: raised voices, threats or increased speed of speech)
  • Physical action (eg: pacing, restlessness, pushing or hitting) 

6 de-escalation techniques for managing challenging behaviour 

Below are six key de-escalation techniques for managing challenging behaviour that can be used in a health, social care and educational setting. 

  • Be empathetic & non-judgemental 

It is essential to approach the situation with empathy. Being non-judgemental allows people to feel safe, which has a calming effect on their behaviour. This will help build trust between you and the person displaying challenging behaviour, creating an atmosphere where they are more likely to respond positively. 

  • Calm verbal & body language 

Your communication should be slow, clear, and deliberate in order to avoid any misinterpretations. Speak in an even tone of voice and maintain good eye contact. Be aware of your own body language; keep your arms open (not crossed as this may be perceived as confrontational) and smile when appropriate to show you are being friendly and supportive.

  • Active listening 

This involves actively engaging with what the other person is saying by focusing on their words and asking clarifying questions if needed. Doing so demonstrates that you are paying attention and that you understand their perspective on the situation which can help reduce any frustration or anger they may be feeling towards you or the situation itself. 

  • Allow personal space

Sometimes it may be necessary for someone who is displaying challenging behaviour to have some personal space until they have calmed down sufficiently. If someone feels threatened or unsafe then it could make matters worse when you try to intervene too quickly or forcefully. Allowing personal space respects their autonomy, whilst still providing supervised support for them.

  • Use distraction techniques

Distraction techniques are useful to help redirect energy away from challenging behaviour and towards something more positive. For example, if a person is agitated try giving them a task such as making a cup of tea or drawing. Suggesting alternative activities such as going for a walk or playing games also helps divert attention away from any negative emotions. 

  • Setting boundaries & offering choices

Finally, it’s important when managing challenging behaviour that boundaries are set clearly and we offer choices so that individuals feel valued and empowered within their environment for effective communication (eg: “We need to stay here until we figure this out but would you like another drink while we work on it?”). 

The importance of self care 

It is easy for frontline workers such as nurses or social workers to become overwhelmed by the intense emotions they may experience when dealing with people who exhibit challenging behaviour. That’s why it is so important to practise the art of self care, and make sure you have time for yourself away from work in order to avoid burnout or exhaustion. 

Some self care activities such as exercise, listening to music and mindfulness meditation can help keep you balanced throughout your day – improving your confidence to safely handle difficult situations when they arise. 

Experts in de-escalation

De-escalation techniques can be invaluable tools for managing challenging behaviour among patients, students or people in care. Our BILD positive behaviour management and physical intervention training courses teach staff how de-escalation works and explores a variety of proactive strategies that can help create a safe working environment, while still providing quality care for those who need it most.

Contact us today on 0800 987 4075 for more information or fill in the form with your details, and with a little bit of practice and patience, these skills will become second nature.

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