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De-escalation Techniques: A Vital Skill for Those Working with At-Risk Youth

Updated: Oct 18, 2023

Female mentor engaging young mentees in a classroom setting

Working with at-risk youth can be a rewarding yet challenging endeavor. Often, youth facing difficulties may exhibit behaviors that escalate to violence or aggression. In such situations, it is essential for mentors, educators, and support staff to be well-prepared with effective de-escalation techniques. De-escalation is a method that prioritizes safety while promoting a sense of calm and understanding. At Walk With Me Impact, we recognize the importance of these techniques and include them in our curriculum facilitators' guide, empowering professionals to engage effectively with at-risk youth.

Understanding the Core of De-escalation

De-escalation is not a one-size-fits-all solution but rather a set of strategies that can be tailored to individual participants, specific circumstances, and the overall context of a situation. It centers on fostering a sense of calm and empathy while using respectful, clear, and boundary-setting communication. Here are some key de-escalation techniques to keep in mind:

Female mentor engaging with three young mentees

1. Move to a Private Area:

If safety permits, consider moving the participant to a private space for a more confidential conversation. This change in environment can reduce tension and increase the chances of productive dialogue.

2. Show Empathy and Avoid Judgment:

Emphasize understanding the participant's feelings, even if you may not necessarily agree with them. Statements like "I'm sure other participants have felt this way too" convey empathy and foster rapport.

3. Respect Personal Space:

Maintain a distance of 1.5 to three feet from the participant and avoid blocking exits. This helps decrease anxiety and prevent potential acting-out behavior.

4. Neutral Tone and Body Language:

Be mindful of nonverbal cues. Keep your tone calm and your body language relaxed. Maintain open, non-threatening postures, with your hands in front of you and palms facing outward.

Male mentor talking with young mentee

5. Avoid Overreacting:

Stay composed, rational, and professional. Focus on empathizing with the participant's feelings rather than reacting to their behavior. For instance, you might say, "I understand you are feeling _________, but it's not okay to yell at staff."

6. Focus on Thoughts Behind Feelings:

Some participants may struggle to identify their emotions. Encourage them to express their thoughts and feelings. Questions like "Help me understand what you need" can help uncover underlying issues.

7. Ignore Challenging Questions:

If the participant challenges your authority, aim to redirect their attention to the main issue rather than engaging in a power struggle.

Male mentor talking with young male mentee

8. Set Clear and Respectful Boundaries:

When necessary, establish clear and enforceable limits. Provide concise choices and consequences while maintaining respect. For example, you might say, "It's important for us to talk calmly. Can you take a few deep breaths, and let's continue the conversation?"

9. Choose Boundaries Carefully:

Differentiate between negotiable and non-negotiable rules. Offering youth some flexibility can prevent unnecessary conflicts.

10. Allow for Silence and Decision Time:

Sometimes, silence can offer participants a chance to reflect. Give them time to process information and make decisions. For instance, you might say, "I understand this is a lot to take in. Can we take a break and revisit this in a few minutes?"

Black male sitting on the floor in from of a wall of clocks

Incorporating these de-escalation techniques into your interactions with at-risk youth can create a safer and more supportive environment for both participants and staff. At Walk With Me Impact, we emphasize the importance of these strategies and provide comprehensive guidance on de-escalation in our curriculum facilitators' guide. By equipping professionals with these valuable tools, we aim to empower those working with at-risk youth to build positive relationships, foster growth, and help youth navigate challenges effectively.

I would like to invite you to register for our Walk With Me Impact at-risk male youth Curriculum information session to learn more about our innovative and comprehensive approach to youth empowerment, education, and prevention. Register Here

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