I hope that most people never have to deal with this, but for people who work in urban, rural, or really any setting, this is a reality. Handling a physical altercation requires that you can think quickly enough to deescalate the situation and keep everyone safe. Here’s what you do:
- Make sure everyone is safe. This is the most important thing. As soon as the punches start flying, whether at you or another, make sure everyone else exits the situation by going to another room or outside. You want an adult leader to stay in the room with you while you try to verbally deescalate the person(s) involved so that you have a witness to the situation. If the person is angry with you, remove yourself from the situation and have another adult try to calm the person down.
- If it is you who is assaulted, don’t hit back. No really. Make sure that when your adrenaline is flying, you do not act out of anger. One, you could lose your job. Two, you could get in trouble with the law. Three, Jesus said a few things about turning the other cheek; if you teach your students to walk away from a fight, you had better do it too.
- In fact, it’s best you keep your hands off completely. There can be a lawsuit, or worse, something could go the wrong way. I have been trained to restrain (I’ve worked in mental health facilities) and I know from my training that even the most calculated and seemingly safe touches can go wrong in these kinds of situations. So just stick with a hands-off approach. Usually when two teenagers fight, they fight the anger out for a few punches and stop on their own. If they do not stop, call the police immediately. I still recommend not putting yourself into the situation, but if you feel it is necessary, use your best discretion.
- When do you call the police? This is a conversation you may want to have with your church staff. What becomes a problem for the insurance company? If two teens exchange a few punches, it may not seem like a big deal; however your church may have a policy on filing a police report regardless, so that the situation is on official and legal record. And if a student assaults you, it might be hard to imagine filing an assault charge on them. But it might be the most loving thing for you to finally show a student that their actions are going to really hurt them in the long run by pressing charges.
- Make sure that your leaders know how to handle a situation should a fight break out. Provide training for your leaders in crisis intervention so that they can effectively deescalate a verbally or physically aggressive teenager. There are many classes you can take to get certified in crisis intervention (plus it looks fantastic on your resume!)
Have you ever had to break out a fight? What suggestions do you have to add to the conversation?