Responding to situations involving strong views and big emotions

This page provides guidance on how to respond to emotionally heightened situations and in situations where you feel unsafe.

Level of compliance Main audience Other


  • All Early Learning Services
  • Principals and Tumuaki
  • Teachers and Kaiako
  • Boards

Purpose of this guidance

This guidance was created when Government requirements during the COVID-19 response resulted in strong reactions from some people.

There were polarising beliefs and opinions about Government public health orders which were influenced by social media platforms, where misinformation and "fake news" was sometimes confused with fact. In some situations, these strong beliefs and opinions also influenced behaviours.

There may be times when an individual and/or group's reactions to are emotionally heightened and may impact on others.

You can use this guidance to help you respond to emotionally heightened situations and in situations where you feel unsafe.

Review your emergency plan

  • Review your safety and communication practices in your emergency plan.
  • Take a team approach and provide guidance to teachers and other school staff members on how to respond and report concerns (for example, document the date/time and what was said or seemingly implied – even if veiled).
  • Decide as a team if you are concerned and collaborate with police to discuss any concerns.

Keep a calm presence

Your tone of voice and how you stand will show that you are calm, willing to listen and not a threat.

  • Relax your shoulders and breath slowly to stay calm.
  • When you speak, use a calm, quiet voice. Speak slowly and repeat your message.
  • Stand slightly side-on instead of facing front-on.
  • Keep an appropriate distance to make sure the person doesn’t feel trapped and so you can move away if necessary.
  • Limit eye contact. Direct eye contact can be challenging and intimidating, instead look down and briefly to appear supportive.

Keep communication clear and purposeful

In emotionally heightened situations, people often seek to be heard and understood.

You can achieve this by:

  • being clear, concise and specific in how you communicate
  • nodding your head at appropriate times and repeating phrases you hear to show you are listening
  • allowing the person to communicate their position without interruption
  • identifying and naming any emotions. For example: "It seems/sounds/looks like you’re feeling very frustrated about …"
  • providing wait time to give them time to process and think
  • listening openly and actively, even when the person’s views and beliefs may be different from your own.


  • making challenges or threats to the person
  • trying to convince them to change their beliefs and philosophies
  • quoting statements from other people.

Use collaborative problem-solving

While a person’s beliefs or perceptions may be different from your own, a situation involving heightened emotional responses is not the time to try and change things.

Instead of viewing the beliefs as being in conflict with your own, consider the values that may sit behind the beliefs and what you both have in common. This can help you move out of a conflict situation.

  • Identify what is important to you both (what your common values are). 
  • State what the values are. For example, "I think we might both value some of the same things (for example, the importance of belonging or freedom of speech or choice). Even though I have a slightly different way of looking at this, can we use what we have in common to find a way forward?"
  • Ask for any ideas or solutions they have to the difficulties expressed and any next steps they might take or that you might be able to take.

Take time to reflect

Situations involving strong emotional responses can be stressful. Afterwards it can help to seek out others to inform, provide support and reflect upon what happened.

Prioritise safety

If someone is very angry or threats are made and you feel unsafe, don’t react or argue.

  • Phone the NZ Police 111 or call out for someone else to phone 111
  • Help move ākonga | students away to a safe place.
  • Leave and warn others to leave the area.

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