How to Deal With a Physically Violent Student

Dear Kid Whisperer,

I recently attended one of your workshops at my school. You touched on the idea that when a student does something that needs a consequence, you should do the consequence later so you don’t have to stop teaching and so you can come up with something that makes sense. My question is this: what if the student is hurting someone? I can’t wait to deal with that later.  -Pat, Cincinnati, Ohio


The answer to your question is that there are two wholly separate tracks that educators must go down when dealing with violent behavior. Here’s the first:

Do interventions that are necessary to keep students safe.

The problem is that these interventions often give violent students what they want. When a kid is removed, either with physical restraint or not, they get tons of attention, they avoid work, and they have a feeling of power over others by causing chaos. As you suggest, this still has to happen if we are to keep kids safe. If the interventions for keeping kids safe will reinforce the negative behavior, how do we make kids less likely to be violent? It is by following through on the second track:

Create solid, serious, logical consequences that will teach the student that violence, at least in the school environment, will not get them what they want (see above).

Once we understand that yes, we have to make kids safe first and then give violent kids consequences later, these violent situations start to look a lot more manageable. By the way, when in the world else would you consequence violent kids besides doing it sometime a long time after they are trying to beat the snot out of someone? How compliant and able to learn is a person if they are so angry that they are trying injure another human being? Consequencing kids well after the heat of battle is the only thing that makes sense.

This is often how I would deal with violence as a teacher or principal. Let’s say the kids in question are 7th grade boys. It would always be the day after violence occurred, once both parties had calmed down.

Kid Whisperer: Dudes. That was rough yesterday. You guys really don’t know how to get along yet.

Kid #1: SO?

Kid Whisperer: You’ll see. It is incredibly important to you both that you are able to not hurt each other with your hands or your words while at school. I am just going to give you the opportunity to practice not hurting each other. Today and tomorrow you both are going to spend lunch and two hours after school sitting at this table with each other. Today I will sit right in between the two of you, because right now, I can’t trust that you will not hurt each other. I’m going to get work done, but you guys can hang out, read, do homework, or even talk to each other if you want. Just so you don’t hurt or threaten each other for the day, we will count that as a successful practice day.

Kid #2: But I have basketball practice at 4:00.

Kid Whisperer: I already talked to Coach Clemmons right after I talked to your mom. He said you can rejoin the team when you have shown him and me that you can be safe with the people around you. Tomorrow, if you can be successful today, I will sit on the other side of the table and you guys can sit next to each other.  Again, if you can be successful, then you are done practicing and you’re good to go. I will also be counting the rest of the school day as practice. I know you can do this. Thanks, fellas.

Remember to do two separate things with violent kids: make sure everyone in your room remains safe, and then give them a great consequence later.