Responding to situations involving strong views and big emotions

Government requirements as part of the response to COVID-19 has resulted in strong reactions from some people. 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

Polarising beliefs and opinions about Government public health orders can be influenced by social media platforms where misinformation and “fake news” can become confused with fact. Sometimes strong beliefs and opinions can also influence behaviours.

There may be times when an individual and/or group's reactions to Government requirements in the response to COVID-19 are emotionally heightened and may impact on others.

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 show that you’re calm, willing to listen and are not a threat. For example:

  • using a calm, quiet voice, speaking slowly and repeating your message
  • standing slightly side-on instead of facing front-on
  • relaxing your shoulders and staying calm by breathing slowly
  • keeping an appropriate distance to make sure the person doesn’t feel trapped, and so you can move away if necessary
  • limiting eye contact. Direct eye contact can be challenging and intimidating. Looking down and briefly up can be supportive.

Keep communication clear and purposeful

In emotionally heightened situations, people are often looking to be heard and understood. Ways to achieve this include:

  • being clear, concise and specific in how you communicate
  • showing you’re listening by nodding your head at appropriate times repeating phrases you hear
  • allowing the person to communicate their position and not interrupting them
  • name any emotion in a calm, even voice, for example: “It seems/sounds/looks like you’re feeling very frustrated about …”
  • allowing wait time
  • Listen openly and actively, even when the person’s views and beliefs may be different from your own.

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. Look instead for ideas you have in common that might be similar so that you can move out of a conflict situation.

Ways to do this includes:

  • inviting the person to consider a way forward. This can start by stating their values (i.e. related to their beliefs) and your values (related to your beliefs).  Rather than viewing the beliefs as being in conflict, consider the values that may sit behind the beliefs and what they have in common
  • ‘What’s important to you?’ can help understanding values and taking an approach of open curiosity can also help find common values: “I have a slightly different way of looking at this, but I think we might both value some of the same things (such as the importance of belonging or freedom of speech or choice.) Can we use what we have in common to find a way forward?”
  • asking 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 care with tone of voice and avoid trying to convince

Some ways of responding to emotionally heightened conversations, can intensify the situation. These can include:

  • tone of voice, speaking loudly, arguing or interrupting
  • being too close physically, holding direct eye contact, standing front-on to the person
  • challenging or threatening the person
  • trying to convince the person to change their beliefs and philosophies
  • quoting statements from other people. 

Take time to reflect on what’s happened

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.

Safety is of utmost importance

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

  • phone the Police 111, or call out for someone else to phone 111
  • help move ākonga away to a safe place
  • leave and warn others to leave the area.

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