Tiger yawningAs I continue to receive breaking news reports in regards to the 5-year-old Alabama boy, with an autism spectrum disorder, being held hostage by a 65-year-old former veteran and truck driver, I can do nothing but send multiple humble prayers to God. I also cannot help but share tips I have learned over time on how to deal with violent behavior.

It isn’t frequent that we come face to face with violent behavior that leaves us at the seat of mercy. But if you work in a psychiatric hospital, corrections facility, juvenile detention center, or residential treatment facility, you can guarantee that you will face aggression that will require wise interaction. For families, caregivers, and friends who may encounter aggression, it is important that you also know what to do.

Sadly, the presence of violent perpetrators are becoming more frequent in our society (shopping malls, movie theaters, schools, court houses, etc.) and requires that we consider ways to subdue violent behavior.

Having experienced aggression in my line of work, I have become quite hypervigilant and have learned ways to protect myself and others around me. Aggressive behavior can instantly turn deadly so it is important that we have some idea of what to do and how to react.

Here are a few things that might help you if you become the victim of aggressive or violent behavior:

  • Stay calm: It is important that you remain as calm as possible when safety is in jeopardy. Reframe from expressing fear or anxiety. The goal is to appear calm and in control. This can be extremely difficult, but you want to remind yourself to appear calm.
  • Remove others: In cases where others are near the aggressive person, it is important to get them to safety. Have them leave the area, stay back, or remain silent.
  • Use caution: Never come close to dangerous behavior. Use calming words when speaking to the individual and “test the waters.” By testing the waters, you are examining whether you can get close and use your words to calm the person.
  • Use the person’s name: In cases where you know the individual, you want to attempt to trigger an emotional connection. Using the person’s name is a reminder of your connection and expresses care.
  • Make them feel understood: In some cases where a violent person is talking or may have the capacity to listen, it is possible to speak to them in a calm manner. Your goal is to make them feel understood and even cared for. In many cases, the violent behavior stems from a need to be heard.
  • Scope out your safety zone: Always look for an out. Stay near entrances, windows, or phones. Make sure that you can quickly access these things.
  • Be ready to move: Consider what you would do if aggressive behavior becomes deadly. Know where to run, who to call, and what to do.


The goal involved in most aggressive and violent situations is to maintain safety. The secondary goal is to subdue the perpetrator.Violence is always hard to deal with and human behavior is extremely difficult (if not impossible) to predict. But you can learn ways to prepare for the worst.


For tips on what to do with violent behavior in educational settings, visit the National Education Association

For tips on how to deal with violence in the workplace, visit UCDavis Human Resources


Keep the family in prayer and pray for wise intervention,

All the best


UPDATE on hostage situation


©Photo Credit: Andreas Krappweis