Five Ways to Deal With Students Who Are Emotionally Disturbed

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FIVE WAYS TO DEAL WITH STUDENTS WHO AREListen to our podcast about behaviorally challenged students here

by: Lynette Walters

Dealing with emotionally disturbed students is no easy task.  No, let me place the emphasis on the words ‘NO TWO’ emotionally disturbed students are alike.They are simultaneously precious and fragile by nature.  Does expertise play a big part in handling? Or is instinct a better approach?

Let’s look at both to ensure we cover all angles and achieve the desired results: meeting the student where they are, providing for their needs, and making them feel secure.  In my opinion,there are  five essential approaches have proven to be the most effective when dealing with students who are emotionally disturbed:

1) Be sensitive – Think of your job as being to provide a security blanket for the student. I’m not saying for you to enable them, or give them a crutch, but to instead model your sensitivity to their needs.

2) Be informed – Study and/or observe the student, if you will. Read the Individualized Education Plan (IEP). Read the Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP) where applicable, and research the disability to further increase understanding.

3) Be proactive – Knowing triggers that may offset an episode is essential.  Always think PREVENTION.

4) Be a team player – Consult and collaborate with parents, students, other teachers, coaches, etc. to ensure that everyone is on the same page.  Working together always enhances a students’ chance of educational survival and success.

5) Be an advocate – Advocate for the child’s ability to cope with the emotional disorder in varied settings. Encourage them to be active, remind them that they are in control of their behavior, and encourage others to in be inclusive.

Understandably, the a fore-mentioned methods may seem a little overwhelming and time-consuming to both new and veteran teachers. Just remember that practice makes perfect when dealing with students who are emotionally disturbed. While trial and error is inevitable at best, making a viable effort never fails.  Most importantly, the student needs to know they have someone in their corner actively seeking ways to assist in their ‘special’ educational journey. Will that be you?

Have you ever dealt with students who are emotionally disturbed? Share some strategies you used with them?

Listen to our podcast about students who are behaviorally challenged.

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By | 2016-11-22T18:09:31+00:00 July 20th, 2012|Featured, Instruction&Curriculum, Management|13 Comments

About the Author:

The Educator's Room is a daily website dedicated to showing that teachers are the experts in education. If you are interested in submitting a piece for publication, please send a draft to


  1. Allison October 16, 2012 at 7:27 pm - Reply

    Complementing them at EVERY opportunity can be really helpful even if the complement is for a relatively small thing. A lot of these students rarely hear praise in their lives, especially in school. Also, making sure you think highly of them can go a very long way. Having a hallway conversation to tell that student that you think he's great can have a drastic effect on your relationship with him and consequently on his behavior. They often don't know or believe these things until we tell them, and sadly they rarely believe that they are good kids inside. Reminding them of that is crucial.

  2. lisa January 24, 2013 at 11:07 pm - Reply

    PBIS is key. And they need to know that no matter what YOU are on their side and will love and support them. I make sure my kiddo knows I am never going to get mad at him, raise my voice, or make a mean face. NO MATTER WHAT. He also is allowed to come to my classroom whenever he feels he is in trouble because otherwise it always escalates. He has faithfully come to my room every time where we can work it out calmly without further problems.

  3. @mzteachuh January 25, 2013 at 7:12 am - Reply

    Teaching the ED student is very challenging and requires the highest standard of execution. It's like the Navy Seal standard of teaching. Being very consistent, calm, and systematic is the beginning. Keeping up to date with new developments with medical, psychiatric, and parental can be daily.

  4. Julia January 25, 2013 at 7:48 am - Reply

    I have taught elementary age students with moderate to severe emotional "disabilities" for many years. First, and foremost, I must find a reason to love them. This is usually not difficult, but sometimes takes a few days as they try REALLY hard to push me away and show their worst side. They are certain I will reject them and want to get it over with. I refuse to reject them. I am unwaveringly consistent with expectations and consequences AND love. I have been able to turn kiddos who have not been able to attend public school for several years. It's simple. They need love (and you can't fake it), and security. Unfortunately, the government is continuing to push compassion and humanity out of the schools with policy decisions, so this is becoming more and more difficult. I am pushed to teach so many standards so fast, on schedule! Not only does this fuel the fire in the already overwhelmed child (and teacher!), but it leaves no time or energy for dealing with emotional and social needs.

  5. karen austin February 18, 2013 at 6:03 pm - Reply

    Treat them with respect. Show them what amazing young people they are

  6. Mark February 19, 2013 at 6:12 am - Reply

    Sure, work as hard as you can to insure the success of the ED student. But, also be mindful of the needs of the rest of the class. If the rest suffer because of an inappropriate placement, the ED student needs to be moved to a better setting. If you feel that is the case, fight for the rest of the class as hard as you do for the special needs student.

  7. Cindy May 27, 2013 at 4:38 pm - Reply

    Working with ED children demands that you be well informed. To know and understand psychology is essential. We have to be well balanced on our feet and realize that these children come to the table with poverty, shame, trauma, neglect, and poor nutrition and that often what occurs can not be taken personally. We also have to realize what we bring to the table as a “normal” human being. Each and every one of us have our challenges in life. Whether it is dysfunction in our own family, having a fight with a rude stranger or sitting in traffic getting anxious about being late to work, we are affected by our external realities. How we are able to deal with these life events will also determine how “present” we can be for our students. Are you able to realize the countertransferences that occur frequently with ED children? I liken it to two dances. One wants to do the waltz and the other the cha-cha. Our BD or ED students become masters of manipulation to survive and we must become aware of how they can “push our buttons”. Ultimately, they want to know if we will still be there after they have so aggressively “dissed” or disrespected us. And….we must be there. It is a delicate business to provide structure, discipline and nurturing simultaneously. However, when be are ready all of this lends to the beginnings of building trust and a relationship. Sadly, many of our ED children do not have many healthy relationships. By giving them our time is a gift and will accomplished far more than those who have passed them along, because they were rude, impossible, a lost cause, a failure or not worth the time. Each of these students will become our greatest teachers. I can not tell you how much I have learned about life, relationships and more importantly myself from having the privilege of working with them.

  8. […] Dealing with emotionally disturbed students is no easy task. No, let me place the emphasis on the words ‘NO TWO’ emotionally disturbed students are alike.They are simultaneously precious and fragile by nature.  […]

  9. James April 22, 2017 at 4:09 pm - Reply

    I recently worked for a daycare catering to abused children. I had 20 children and was occasionally left alone with all of them ages ranging from 5 to 14. I am wondering what the actual legal requirements are for the amout of staff necessary to care for this many emotionally distressed children.

  10. Kari May 21, 2017 at 8:47 pm - Reply

    I love all the positivity! I am a veteran teacher and brought my daughter to my school after she homeschooled with her retired teacher grandmother for 3 years. My mother provided her with a very nurturing environment and is was very successful. In 5th grade, we decided it was time for her to experience “real school.” She has a special education IEP for anxiety/Autism. Her school experience was a disaster. She had good and bad days. Her teacher of record had no idea what she was doing and when I tried to step in as a parent, I was accused of acting unprofessionally. At the end of the year, they recommended we take her somewhere else. They said they didn’t have the services she needed. I find it very hard to believe that any public school has the necessary knowledge or resources to adequately meet the needs of these ED kids! I am presently searching for a job in a different district and we have no idea, still, what to do with our daughter!

    • Karla October 24, 2017 at 8:28 pm - Reply

      I am a Paraprofessional that assist children, teenagers and young adults on IEPs and I am embarrassed that your school did this to you but most importantly your daughter. I would say that they most likely did not follow her IEP. They absolutely had no right to tell you to take her somewhere else! She deserves to be there just like any other child. I would look into seeing if they did follow her IEP and if they did not, I personally if she were my child would look into getting an attorney just so that this does not happen to another child. I hope you have found a great and supportive school for your daughter and a great school for you to teach at. God bless!

  11. Sarah June 29, 2017 at 11:58 am - Reply

    Hi Kari! Your post is the reality of many exhausted parents and you’re an educator! Wow! Is there a county board for developmentally delayed individuals in your area? I am aware of areas that have them, however where I live we are very rural and isolated. Many of our parents are forced to move with their middle school to high school age children in order for them to have transitional services and be part of the community. Best of luck to you and your daughter.

  12. Nancy July 18, 2017 at 1:30 pm - Reply

    Thank for this podcast. I have just been hired to teach middle school ED or a Behavior Class, and this will be my first year teaching. I’m feeling anxious. This has been a wealth of knowledge listening to this information.

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