Violence and Aggression

In some cases young people will escalate and become aggressive and violent.  When these situations do occur, there are some things to be aware of to be able to respond effectively. The primary goal for carers supporting young people when they are escalating is to try to de-escalate the situation and prevent violence. This is not the time to be pursuing therapeutic goals and applying strategies aimed at long-term behaviour change.

Be Aware of Signs

Responding to warning signs as early as possible will be the best chance to prevent escalation of aggressive behavior and violence. The longer a situation is allowed to escalate the greater the risk that aggressive behavior and violence will result.  Whilst each person will be different in how they present when angry there are some common behaviours that people exhibit when they are becoming agitated and potentially aggressive and violent.  

The acronym ‘S.T.A.M.P.’ can describe the behaviours of a potentially violent person:

  • S - STARING -prolonged glaring at staff
  • T - TONE -sharp, sarcastic, loud, argumentative
  • A - ANXIETY -flushed face, heavy breathing, rapid speech, reaction to pain
  • M - MUTTERING -talking under breath, criticising staff to self or others, mimicking staff
  • P - PACING -walking around in confined space, walking into areas that are off limits

Be aware of your own actions and remain in control

Whilst it can often be difficult to de-escalate a young person, in order to manage incidents involving aggression and violence effectively it is crucial that you remain in control of your actions. Things that help with this are for you to:

  • Focus thoughts on safety
  • Be aware of your own triggers
  • Regulate and control your breathing
  • Try using self talk - ‘remain safe’ or ‘remain calm’
  • Try to relax – practice some quick physical relaxation skills such as relaxing your hands
  • Try not to personalise the young person’s anger or share their emotion

Be aware of your own body language 

  • Focus on being non-threatening
  • Avoid facing them directly, try standing side on as it is non-threatening and instead encourages problem-solving
  • Don’t stare or only have shooting glances - maintain appropriate & attentive eye contact
  • Don’t point or clench fists
  • Avoid appearing impatient or like they are interfering
  • Avoid shaking your head or shrugging as it can come across as disapproving or disinterested
  • Use open body language such as open palms and raised eyebrows showing you are interested and attending to them -  this suggests there is no threat

Be aware of your positioning in the space

  • Don’t invade their person space or make rapid movements towards them
  • Don’t stand between them and the exit
  • Avoid touching them

Try to defuse the situation

When you are satisfied that intervening will not jeopardize your safety or that of others, there are things you can do to try and defuse the situation.

Try to:

  • Intervene early and ask another person to assist
  • Find a quiet place to talk, away from noise and other young people
  • Acknowledge their feelings and treat them with respect
  • Recognise the cause of the young person’s complaint and find a resolution with them
  • Allow the person time to respond to questions
  • Some ‘venting’ of frustration is ok but do not allow yourself to be subjected to abuse or threats
  • Provide guidance through suggestions rather than instructions
  • Use ‘I’ statements e.g. ‘I feel unsafe when you raise your voice’
  • Have ‘exit strategy’ - a ‘circuit breaker’ – a quick excuse that gives you an opportunity to exit the situation if is it you believe a physical attack is likely


  • Do not threaten or intimidate the young person
  • Do not raise your voice or speak rapidly
  • Don’t make flippant, sarcastic or dismissive comments
  • Avoid making promises that can’t be kept
  • Don’t rush the situation and look for a ‘quick’ fix - take your time and focus on resolving the situation together
  • Don’t try to enact long-term solutions or deliver consequences for behaviour when escalation is occurring
  • Do not use ‘jargon’, acronyms or confusing ‘technical’ language

Always consider your own agencies policies and procedures as well as the potential influence of substance use in such situations. 

Feel like you’re walking on eggshells? Adolescent Family Violence

In some cases young people start to use violence or abuse to intimidate or control people within their family or carers.  This is different from anger as it often is about control, threats or coercion.  This behaviour can be quite confusing and confronting and it can be hard to find ways to keep everyone, including the young person, safe.  These behaviours can include physical violence but can also be emotional, psychological and verbal abuse or financial.

See the resouces listed at the bottom of this page.

There are some practices that carers can do that inadvertently support violence.  These are things like:

  • Trying to give the young person everything they want
  • Sacrificing your interest for them
  • Fear of conflict preventing action
  • Prioritising their rights over other people living with them
  • Conflicting parenting styles

Check out the Limit Setting section of this Toolbox.

Further Resources