The Verbally Aggressive Student

Students may become verbally abusive when confronted with frustrating situations that they perceive as 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 with you personally, but is angry at his/her world and you are the handy target of pent-up frustrations.

DO:

  • Acknowledge the student’s anger and frustration, e.g., "I hear how angry you are."
  • Rephrase what the student is saying and identify his/her emotion, e.g., "I can see how upset you are because you feel your rights are being violated and nobody will listen."
  • Reduce stimulation; invite the student to your office or other quiet place, if this is comfortable for you. But don’t if you do not feel safe in doing so
  • Allow the student to tell you what is upsetting her/him
  • Tell the student you are not willing to accept their verbally abusive behavior, e.g., "When you yell and scream at me that way, I find it hard (impossible) to listen"
  • Tell them they are violating your personal space and to please move back (if they are getting physically too close), e.g., "Please stand back; you’re too close"
  • Help the student problem solve and deal with the real issues when she/he becomes calmer, 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.

DON’T:

  • 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 or reasons for their behavior
  • Ignore the situation
  • Touch the student, as this may be perceived as aggression or otherwise unwanted attention
  • Give away your own rights as a person.