Categories
Anger Management

The 5 Stages of the Assault Cycle

Kaplan and Wheeler created a helpful graph to detail the five stages involved in an episode of violence, assault or physical aggression. Become aware of the five stages to inform how you act in each phase, what to expect to happen and how you might reduce the frequency of it occurring again. Each section of the cycle requires distinct action from the adults involved and this post aims to equip you in part to deal with whatever may come your way.

Stage One: The Trigger Phase

As a rule, there is always a trigger (For 7 Common Triggers: click here). It can be anything. It can occur over a split second like a particular noise, word or action. It could alternatively be a slow-burning trigger such as over-instruction, lack of attention or an internal issue like lack of sleep. If violence is frequent behaviour in your context, it will serve you well to be open and curious to identify the trigger. Keep a log of incidents where you detail what was happening leading up the outburst. Search for clues, patterns and commonalities in the situations and seek out the trigger. Intervening as early as possible through removing or resolving the trigger can prevent reaching the later phases of the cycle.

Stage Two: The Escalation Phase

If an intervention doesn’t occur after the trigger has taken place, the child’s behaviour may start to escalate. Escalation may be prevalent through physical signs such as clenched fists, slight shaking or shallow breathing. It may present through how the child speaks or acts out. As behaviour is escalating, adults should start to intervene. Interventions depend on resources and context. The SCARF model gives us five areas to consider when de-escalating conflict. Outside of these areas, remember to appear calm, use positive language, allow them personal space, offer to help them and seek to divert and distract their attention.

Stage Three: Crisis Phase 

Unfortunately, if the child has reached stage three, they have entered a state of fight-or-flight where they are acting irrationally. The limbic system has taken over from the frontal lobe. Reasoning and logic are of little use at this point. Stage Three is about crisis management. Ask yourself three questions: Can I reduce the audience? What do I want them to do? Is someone in immediate harm?

Avoid actions and statements that will escalate violence further. Do not stare or use excessive instruction, give them two metres of personal space and aim to guide them to a quieter environment away from prying eyes. You may have to remove the other children from the area as opposed to moving the child at crisis point.

Choose your words carefully and keep instruction to a minimum. Deliver short directive statements calmly with only the essential information. For example, calmly stating to put down the scissors.

Secondly, provide directive choices. Calmly ask them to go next door and take a break or have a seat. Non-confrontational tone and calm are a priority. Calm is contagious. If you are being ignored, you can add in a time-limit. Inform them if they do not choose in the next ten seconds, you will escort them next door to (insert suitable teacher/adult) who will let them take a break and calm down.

If there is imminent danger to other children in the room or yourself and all other interventions have been exhausted, physical intervention is needed. The ins and outs of this are beyond the scope of this article. One tip that has stood me well is the concept of fixing. If a child has grabbed or bitten any skin, hair or something which can be damaged, you can support their hand or head gently in place. Your gut reaction can be to pull them apart. Do not. This reaction could hurt someone more than necessary. Fixing the two things together will prevent further damage. The child will most likely release what they are clamping onto when you hold them in place.

Stage Four: Recovery Phase

Although called the recovery phase, there is still potential for further violence in stage four. This potential is why there are spikes on the graph in this section. De-escalation can occur quickly. Calming down, however, takes a prolonged period. If a child has hit a crisis point, it can take ninety minutes to return to baseline behaviour. Reducing the demands of the child is recommended at this point. The curriculum can wait. If there is a calm space for the child to go, this would be wonderful to aid a safe recovery phase where further violence is prevented. The calming process may be most effective by utilising predictability, engaging in special interests, being around people that make them feel safe or calming music, sensory objects and comfortable space. 

As they reached a crisis point where the irrational part of their brain took over, I would advocate for no punishment as they did not have full control over their actions. Even though you feel that the child has fully calmed down, remain alert to the chances of further violence – especially with those first ninety minutes.

Stage Five: Post-Crisis Depression

The final stage of the cycle is the post-crisis depression where feelings of guilt and shame kick in. Only 1% of people do not experience these emotions. The opportunity to talk to the child about the incident should only occur once they have navigated their way through this final phase.

As a team supporting a child through these five phases, there should be a debrief after any major incident. This debrief involves listening to the adult or adults who handled the situation and allowing them to talk. Keep this confidential and use it as a means to process the incident.

A supporting belief to hold is that the child did not have full control over their actions. They entered a state of fight-or-flight that leads to irrational words and actions. Remain positive with and forgive the child and offer them a clean slate to work off for the following day. Design and implement a crisis management plan if this is a frequent situation.

Finally, remember to forgive yourself. It is natural to experience your own negative emotions after dealing with a traumatic event. Prioritise your own self-care. You cannot pour from an empty cup and the need to recharge your own batteries is of paramount importance.

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Categories
Anger Management parenting

How a SCARF can de-escalate conflict

Dr. David Rock created a catchy acronym to bear in mind when faced with potentially aggressive and violent scenarios. It is intended for use as early as possible when faced with a situation that could potentially become violent. These situations always emerge from a trigger and escalate to a crisis point where violence and aggressive behaviour may occur. Using Dr. Rock’s SCARF model will give you five practical areas to guide your actions to de-escalate the situation and protect yourself and those around you from harm.

The SCARF Model

The SCARF acronym stands for status, certainty, autonomy, relatedness and fairness. These five areas require little to no expertise to understand which makes it a practical model to adopt across a whole team dealing with a child prone to violence.

Status

Protecting and promoting a child’s status will reduce the chances of escalated behaviour. When faced with conflict, neither party wants to lose face. If there is an audience, this is doubly true. As the first port of call, try and isolate the situation so there is less chance of the child feeling their status is being diminished. Find a quiet place to calm and de-escalate away from prying eyes. Never put them down in public or in private. As an adult, be aware of your feelings about status. Be conscious of trying to assert your authority in front of others to prove you have control of the situation or prove your status. Status in conflict works both ways and it can pay dividends to adopt a perceived “one-down” position to achieve your primary goal: de-escalation. Don’t be afraid to back down and reduce your demands.

Certainty

When a child’s behaviour is escalating towards violence, their fight or flight system starts to take over and they are on the lookout for threats. Establishing as much certainty in the situation as possible to aid the de-escalation process. Be clear and consistent in the approach you take. Slow down your movements. If this is a regular situation, consider a pre-agreed script amongst all key staff so the child is familiar with what is happening. Create a de-escalation script so adults have a process to calmly follow instead of making up each step as they go along. A script can be as simple as using their name, acknowledging their feelings and offering some pre-agreed positive options as to what they can do next. A script also avoids all the different adults taking different approaches and erratic changes of tactics that increase uncertainty.

Autonomy

A simple way to explain this is imposition leads to opposition. Over-instructing a child who is already upset will aggravate them further. Reduce the amount of direction and language being used and offer them some ownership over what they do next. Provide a small number of options that they can choose from. You may invite them to decide whether they would like to go out for an accompanied walk, take a break in the calm corner at the back of the class or select a different activity to engage with. The activities will depend on the age and context.

Relatedness

Displaying compassion and empathy for a child is a basic way to escalate. If they are becoming distressed, getting down to their level and conveying that you are there to help will aid de-escalation. Children feel safer around people they relate to and establishing rapport and positive relationships with them will pay dividends during conflict when they truly believe you want what’s best for them. 

Fairness

We are aware of the infuriating effects of perceived injustice. When you feel that someone has prejudged you, it can trigger extreme negative feelings. This is how riots start. Acknowledge the word feel. As de-escalation is the goal, the child must believe you are being just. Think of the child who always accuses you in a rage that you always pick on them. Even if it isn’t true, the belief still escalates their behaviour to a tantrum. Make an effort to display your fairness. Ask them their point of view. Repeat it back to them to establish you understand and are listening to them. Avoid making unfounded accusations or sweeping statements. Be fair.

Are you supporting a child prone to violence or physical aggression? Are you aware of how your actions measure up in these five areas? Take time to reflect on how you intervene in the triggering and escalation phase of the situation and ask yourself how you could change your approach to reduce the likelihood of hitting that crisis point. Preventing violence is superior to trying to stop it. The SCARF model provides a great framework to support you doing this.

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Categories
Anger Management

Before, During and After Physical Aggression

As teachers, physical aggression and violence are two behaviours that we never want to have to deal with. It’s not nice to see a child that upset. It is stressful and there may not be much time to react. There is no definitive way to respond but there are strategies that will help guide you before it is about to escalate, when it is happening or after it has occurred. This article looks to support teachers by providing strategies for whatever stage they find themselves at.

Before 

The Low Arousal Approach focuses on reducing and preventing arousal which will reduce the likelihood of physical aggression. There is a window of opportunity before aggressive behaviour occurs where a teacher’s intervention can de-escalate the situation. There are six simple ways teachers can implement some of the Low Arousal Approach principles:

Appear Calm

Even if you are not calm, focus on presenting yourself as calm. Be aware of what you are saying, how you are saying it and your body language. 

Avoid Staring

Prolonged eye contact and staring can appear confrontational and heighten arousal further. Keep eye contact fleeting when talking to the child.

Limit Touch

Physical touch can increase arousal further. Allow the child personal space if possible. One metre is recommended but some children may need more.

Divert and Distract

Avoiding and escaping the situation that is causing arousal, if it is known, will aid deescalation. Distracting the child with their interests, hobbies and favourite people can help them calm themselves before becoming overwhelmed.

Reduce Demands

Excessive instructions and demands can overload a child who is becoming increasingly aroused. Limiting your verbal instructions and demands can prevent arousal from rising further.

During

If you have reached a point where physical aggression is already occurring, you will need to act swiftly to mitigate the damage to the child, other people and the environment. As I mentioned at the start of the article, there is no single solution, but there are three things to consider:

Can you reduce the audience?

Removing the child from an environment where they are being watched can help them come down from their heightened state faster. Reducing the number of people also lessens the chance of others getting hurt. You may be able to do this by guiding the child to a more isolated environment or by removing the other children themselves.

What do I want them to do?

Choose your language carefully as we are aiming to keep instructions to a minimum. Short directive statements will be processed easier than a constant barrage of language. Calmly direct them to do what is essential. “Put down the scissors” is more effective than telling them “Do not hurt anyone with the scissors”. Secondly, provide directive choices. Calmly ask them to “Go next door and take a break or have a seat”. Non-confrontational tone and calm are key. If you are being ignored, you can add in a time-limit. “If you do not choose in the next ten seconds, I will escort you next door to (insert suitable teacher/adult) who will let you take a break and calm down”.

Is someone in immediate harm?

If there is imminent danger to other children in the room and all other interventions have been exhausted, physical intervention may be required. The ins and outs of this are beyond the scope of this article. One tip that has stood me well, however, is the concept of “fixing.” If a child has grabbed or bitten any skin, hair or something which can be damaged, you can support their hand or head gently in place. Your gut reaction can be to pull them apart. Do not. This could hurt someone. Fixing the two things together will prevent further damage and the child will most likely release what they are clamping onto.

After

If you have navigated your way through a crisis, you may be emotionally exhausted. It is a highly stressful event. Keep these four steps in mind for dealing with the aftermath:

Debrief

Talking about what happened will help you process it. If you are debriefing with someone who was handling the situation, just listen and allow them to talk. Ensure that everyone knows the conversation is confidential and a means to process the incident.

Maintain Positive Relationships

A key belief to hold is that the child may not have total control of their actions. They may have entered a fight-or-flight state where rationalising and reasoning with them just isn’t going to work. It is important to remain positive with the child and remember that the behaviour was negative a negative experience for you but the behaviour is not the child.

Forgive

After something so stressful, ensure you forgive yourself for any negative thoughts or feelings you have about the incident or child. It is natural to experience negativity after something traumatic to deal with. Equally, forgiving the child and providing them with a clean slate will prevent self-fulfilling prophecy causing this to be a needless repetitive cycle.

Consider a Crisis Management Plan

If this is a recurring event, identifying the trigger (Read: 7 Most Common Triggers) will help effectively intervene before reaching the point of physical aggression and violence. Creating a crisis management plan will also support teachers and adults to handle the situation effectively and cohesively. Having the plan laid out and automatic will prevent mishandling the situation or hesitation.

Physical aggression and violence are possibly the most challenging behaviours a teacher can deal with. Having an idea of what to do before, during and after it has occurred can help you react effectively at each point and hopefully, reduce the frequency at which you have to.

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