Keep Calm and Carry On

Less in more when it comes to restraining clients

While disruptive behavior can sidetrack an entire classroom from the lessons of the day, the staff at The Webb Schools, part of the Institute of Living (IOL), knew there was a better way to calm situations than restraining or secluding students.

“The goal was to reduce the instances of restraints and seclusions and change how we work with our students,” said Dr. Kikke Levin-Gerdner, director of the private special education schools in Hartford, Cheshire and Avon. “It fits with the history of humanistic treatment at the IOL, and we found that people were listening and open to this kind of change.”

Past methods of treatment have utilized behavior approaches and reinforcement techniques for change. However, a more relational approach has since proved to be more effective, she said.

“These practices help them break the behavior and ground them in that moment in reality,” Levin-Gerdner said. “Years ago, we thought you could change students by being rigid and inflexible with them.”

She began introducing alternatives when she was named The Webb Schools’ director 11 years ago, but said staff commitment to creating structured and consistent, but highly positive and nurturing, environment intensified over the last few years.

“We know culture changes take about seven years to really take root. Now, it’s the way we do things,” Levin-Gerdner said.

The Webb Schools’ new practice is PRaIS (Positive Relationships and Intervention Strategies), described as “a behavior support approach that is based in strength-based positive relational intervention practice, attachment theory and trauma-based treatment theory.”

“We believe all children and adolescents have an innate desire to be successful,” she said of the students, who ranges from kindergarten to age 21. “We are committed to help them reach their potential.”

PRaIS includes such intervention strategies as:

Active listening


Modeling behaviors through positive staff interactions

Natural consequences

Teachable/educational behavioral tactics


Relationship building and restoration, such as having students repair a relationship by playing a game together

Sensory modulation such as squeezing a stress ball or chewing gum to calm down

Mindfulness to help keep them in the moment


Webb in Motion, which launches each day with a different physical activity for all students and staff

Student empowering by introducing student advisory boards and other groups

Building positive behavior intervention plans with student input

Use of an adventure-based course on the school grounds in Hartford

Restraint and seclusion are still used periodically but only if a student is in imminent danger of hurting themselves or someone else.

“We are proactively working with students so they don’t need physical intervention,” Levin-Gerdner explained. “They are learning self-monitoring to identify a feeling before it becomes intolerable. Many students don’t have words for certain emotions so we help them communicate their thoughts and feelings, then use the coping skills we’ve taught them.”
She credits Webb School teams for the success of PRaIS, which is visible in statistics tracked annually for situations in which seclusion and restraint were required.

In 2018, the Hartford school realized a 56-percent reduction in the use of restraint and 29-percent reduction in the use of seclusion. In Avon, there was a 43-percent reduction in restraint and 65-percent reduction in seclusion. In Cheshire, there was a 26-percent reduction in seclusion.

“We are on the forefront of this practice,” Levin-Gerdner said. “We look at what the students are trying to tell us with their behavior and then go deeper to understand the psychological issues hidden behind it.

“It’s about meeting the needs of individual students. There’s nothing cookie cutter about this.”

For more information about The Webb Schools, go to