Student Behavior Management—The Crisis Mountain

student behavior management

Student Behavior Management Tips

Combining several great resources for crisis management that I’ve learned over the years, here is a look at what I call the “Crisis Mountain” and how to respond to a student exhibiting challenging behavior to best support them through it. Find some great Life Skills Visuals HERE!

crisis management life cycle

Code Green: Feeling Good!

crisis management calm

This is where students LEARN.

This is the state where most students are most of the time. Things are going pretty good. Not perfect, but students are able to learn at their instructional level and attend to their environment. This is where we beef up new instruction, provide positive attention and reinforcement, allow privileges and social interactions with peers, all the good stuff. 

Code Yellow: Warning

crisis management anxiety

This is where students RESIST.

Here a student is typically starting to show signs of anxiety or frustration. This can look different from student-to-student (as is the case for all levels). Most often, I have observed a subtle body language change, maybe sunken shoulders and head down more, more verbal refusal or arguing or even an absence of verbal responses. Perhaps it’s subtle non-vocal signs like grunting or tapping a pencil or even an increasing of “class clown” behavior. 

Here is a good time to assess what is going on that might be causing the student to be moving up the mountain. Is the work being presented too hard? Is the student looking for attention from peers? Is the student hungry or have a headache? Is the student bored?

At this stage, we ask ourselves, what environmental changes can we make that can help the student rebalance? Do we need to modify the work? Offer choices? Provide a break? Intervene in a social situation? Provide space? Make things more clear for them?

The hope here is that we can impact the student in such a way as they can return to baseline and continue on in their day.

Code Orange: Alert

crisis management non-compliance

This is where students MAKE A STATEMENT.

At this stage, a student’s behavior can’t be ignored if that was working in the yellow stage. Behavior here is too disruptive, not necessarily unsafe/imminent danger yet, but definitely be ready for that next if things don’t change quickly. This is where a student has lost much control of their thinking and may be cursing, ripping paper, tossing chair, putting hands on others (but not yet to hurt), leaving an area (but still safe). 

Here is the time to casually (emphasis on casually) prepare. Be mindful of your body language so as not to trigger further the student by looking intimidating or panicky, but now is the time to make sure you are prepared for what might happen next to keep the student and others safe. Don’t let Red creep up on you unawares!

Code Red: Emergency!

crisis management unsafe behavior

This is where students EXPLODE.

Students in Red are not only now unsafe but are exhibiting imminent danger to themselves or others. This looks like aggression, self-injury, significant destruction, eloping to unsafe or unseen areas. The student is now in fight-or-flight mode. 

There is NO learning going to occur in this state, so don’t even try. This is not the time to tell them to finish the work or clean up or apologize or even listen. Now is safety patrol and TIME. Keep the student and environment as safe as possible, and let it run its course. 

Code Purple: Decompress

crisis management decompressing

This is where students DECOMPRESS.

No way to know how long it will take for a student to begin the recovery journey; it’s different from student-to-student and sometimes crisis-to-crisis. Purple state can be touchy, too. You might think they are coming down the mountain, only to find them jumping right back on top! Be mindful of that possibility.

A student here is usually tired, mentally and often physically. They are not in the same state as yellow/orange. There is a heightened increase of agitation that will likely last a while, also making it a real possibility to re-escalate later, even if you think the crisis has passed. Be ready and aware of that!

At this stage, it’s a good time to offer a snack or a drink, something to help confirm that all is well, it’s time to move on. This is NOT the stage, yet, to ask for compliance or restitution. It’s just the time to bring it all down and take a deep breath.

Code Blue: Recovery

crisis management recovery

This is where students RECOVER.

Finally, we see the old student begin to emerge. Again, not like Green state. There will often continue to be a glimmer of anxiety or reigniting the flame, but when you get to this stage, you can probably begin to get life back to normal (ish). 

At this point, we usually ask for a certain time to pass in this state (maybe 5-10 minutes), we ask for a compliance check (simple simple that we know the student can do to make sure they are ready to listen/learn), and any clean up that needs to happen (modified, of course) can occur (for example, if the room needs to be picked up for the rest of the students to come back in, we do that together). 

This is also the time to reconnect, to demonstrate that your relationship holds strong, that you are still there to help and support the student. You don’t have to agree or let “slide” any of the behaviors, but it’s important that you show that you still care for and want to help. Keep that relationship strong!

Code AFTERWARDS

crisis recovery later

Just a final note that immediately after a significant incident is NOT the time to do future problem solving or rehashing the incident. It’s not the time for community restitution or restoration. That’s a quick-and-easy way to ignite the fire again.  

I’ve found that usually at least 2 hours in Blue (or returning to true Green) needs to happen for a student debrief to be effective. Then we can go over the incident, talk about what happened, what we can do differently, how it affected people. Also still important to demonstrate caring and support.

For staff, later is also the time (but vitally important!) to do team debriefs (what we did great, what we can do better next time), intervention paperwork, looking at behavior plans (are they working? do we need to revisit?), and so on. 

And please, remember to communicate regularly and timely with caregivers! 🙂

Looking for classroom décor that brings clear and clean visuals for your young students? Posters for a sensory room, for a calm down corner, or your general preschool or Kindergarten classroom? Great for brain breaks, self-regulation, and calming strategies for wiggly students.

Looking for some great classroom behavior management ideas for your classroom decor? This is a classroom store system using positive reinforcement in the form of earning preferred items and activities. Work great in conjunction with Class Dojo, behavior charts, or other positive reinforcement systems in place. Take the student love to the next level!

Looking for help with IEP goals and objectives tracking for early childhood education? Need fresh ideas for preschool, Kindergarten, or 1st grade IEP progress monitoring?

This is a set of IEP goals WITH instructions and broken down into editable objectives for the domain of BEHAVIOR.

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Hi! I'm Audra!

I am a special education teacher, behavior analyst, and parent to an autistic adult. I love sharing the insights and resources I have gleaned over the past 25 years. Thanks for being here!

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