Recognizing the Signs of Troubled Students

Recognizing the Signs of Troubled Students

Learn the warning signs of a troubled student to help keep them and your staff safe.

Recognize If a Student Is in Trouble

If a student is acting out, socially withdrawn or has severe anger for minor reasons, these may be warning signs of a troubled child or teenager. Behavioral and emotional problems can signal a troubled student when viewed in context.
Being able to identify warning signs and knowing how to respond can help a student cope with any issues or deal with their emotions appropriately, and ultimately keep your school, students and staff safe.

What Are the Signs?

Early warning signs are indicators that a student may need help, but it doesn’t necessarily mean the student is going to be violent towards anyone.
Imminent warning signs, however, signal that a student may engage in behavior that’s potentially dangerous to themselves or others. Imminent warnings signs generally require an immediate response.
Here are some examples of both early and imminent warning signs:
What are early warning signs?
  • Social withdrawal
  • Excessive feelings of rejection, isolation and being alone
  • Having been a victim of violence
  • Feelings of being picked on and persecuted
  • Low interest in school and poor academic performance
  • Expressions of violence in writings and drawings
  • Uncontrolled anger
  • Patterns of impulsive and chronic hitting, intimidating and bullying behaviors
  • History of disciplinary problems
  • Past history of violent and aggressive behavior
  • Intolerance for differences and prejudicial attitudes
  • Drug and alcohol use
  • Serious threats of violence
What are imminent warning signs?
  • Serious physical fighting with peers or family members
  • Severe destruction of property
  • Severe rage for seemingly minor reasons
  • Detailed threats of lethal violence
  • Inappropriate access to, possession and use of firearms
  • Other self-injurious behaviors or threats of suicide

Responding to Early Warning Signs

While it’s important to be able to recognize early warning signs in students, it’s equally imperative to not jump to conclusions.
Educators, parents and even students can help interpret early warning signs accurately by keeping a few things in mind:
  • Do no harm. Don’t use the presence of early warning signs as the reason to exclude, isolate or punish the student.
  • Understand violence and aggression within a context. Violence and aggressive behavior as an expression of emotion may be caused by something else, such as stress. Certain environments or situations can also trigger a violent action.
  • Don’t tolerate stereotypes. They can interfere with, and even harm, the school community’s ability to identify and help children. Stereotypes based on race, socioeconomic status, physical appearance, etc., can unfairly harm children, especially when the school community acts on them.
  • Consider the student’s developmental level. Students have varying social and emotional capabilities that may be expressed differently at various age and developmental levels.
  • Look for multiple warning signs. Troubled children usually exhibit many of these. So it’s important not to overreact to a single sign, word or action.

Responding to Imminent Warning Signs

When there are warning signs of imminent danger, the safety of everyone involved is the first and foremost consideration.
School authorities, and possibly law enforcement officers, should intervene immediately when a child:
  • Has presented a detailed plan (time, place, method) to harm or kill others, particularly if the child has a history of aggression or has tried to carry out threats in the past.
  • Has threatened to use a weapon.
  • Is carrying a weapon, particularly a firearm.
  • Presents other threatening behaviors.
If any of these imminent warning signs are present:
  • Inform the child’s parents of your concerns immediately.
  • If required by law, seek assistance from appropriate agencies, such as child and family services and community mental health.
No school is completely invulnerable to a crisis. It can happen at any time and any day. To best protect your school, students, teachers and staff, have the proper plans in place.
Develop and implement prevention and response plans with a specific focus. Devise and implement appropriate security systems. Understand and train staff to recognize and deal with early and imminent warning signs.
Is your school protected from the various risks it may be exposed to? The Hartford offers loss control services provided by our Risk Engineering team to help you reduce risks, plus a variety of insurance solutions to help make sure your school can prevail through unexpected events. Más información sobre insurance for your school.
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