University Counseling Center
The Verbally Aggressive Student
Students may become verbally abusive when they encounter frustrating situations which they believe are beyond their control. Aggression varies from threats to verbal abuse to physical abuse and violence. It is very difficult to predict aggression and violence. 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 at you personally, but is angry at his/her world. You may have become a convenient object for his/her pent-up frustrations. This behavior is often associated with the use of alcohol and other drugs.
Some indicators of potential violence may include:
- An unstable school or vocational history
- A history of juvenile violence or substance abuse
- Prior history of violence or abuse
- Fascination with weapons
- History of cruelty to animals as a child or adolescent
- Impulse control problems
- Fire-starting behaviors
What You Can Do:
- Assess your level of safety. Call 911 if you feel in danger.
- Stay calm and set limits.
- Acknowledge their anger and frustration, e.g., “I hear how angry you are.”
- Rephrase what they are saying and identify their emotion, e.g., “It appears you are upset because you feel your rights are being violated and nobody will listen.”
- Reduce stimulation; invite the person to a quiet place if this is comfortable. However, do not invite the person to a quiet place if you fear for your safety. In all instances, ensure that another person is easily accessible to you in the event that the student’s behavior escalates.
- Enlist the help of a co-worker.
- Allow them to tell you what is upsetting them.
- Be directive and firm about the behaviors you will accept, e.g., “Please stand back; you’re too close,” and/or “I cannot listen to you when you are yelling.”
- Use a time-out strategy (that is, ask the student to reschedule a meeting with you once he/she has calmed down) if the student refuses to cooperate and remains aggressive or agitated.
- Help the student problem-solve and deal with the real issues when they become calm, 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.
- Staying in a situation in which you feel unsafe.
- Meeting alone with the student.
- Getting into an argument or shouting match.
- Becoming hostile or punitive yourself, e.g., “You can’t talk to me that way.”
- Pressing for explanations for their behavior.
- Ignoring the situation or signs that the student’s anger is escalating.
- Touching the student, as this may be perceived as aggression or otherwise unwanted attention.
- Ignoring a gut reaction that you are in danger
Guide Table of Content
- Typical Concerns for UR Students
- What You Should Know About Student Problems
- Symptoms of Distressed or Distressing Students
- Responding to Distressed or Distressing Students
- Making a Referral to the UR Counseling Center
- Responding to Student Emergencies
- The UR Counseling Center
- Information About Confidentiality
- Mandated Risk Assessment
- Other Campus Referral Sources
- Academic Faculty: Classroom Climate and Prevention
- Responding After a Tragedy: An In-The-Classroom Guide
- The Grieving Student
- The Anxious/Shy Student
- The Student Who May Have an Eating Disorder
- The Demanding Student
- The Dependent/Passive Student
- The Depressed Student
- The Student in Poor Contact with Reality
- The Student Suspected of Substance Abuse or Addiction
- The Victim of Stalking
- The Victim of an Abusive Dating Relationship
- The Victim of a Hate Incident
- The Victim of Hazing
- The Student Who Has Been Sexually Harassed (Assaulted)
- The Suicidal Student
- The Suspicious Student
- The Verbally Aggressive Student
- The Violent Student
- The Absent/Disappeared From Class Student
- Responding to Students with Transition Issues
- Responding to the Student with Choice of Major or Career Concerns