Cincinnati Family Magazine

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July 13, 2024

Phases of Acting Out Behavior

Understanding the Phases of Acting out Behavior can be helpful information in interrupting your child’s meltdown cycle before it gets to the peak, which I like to call HULK mode. Managing your child’s behavior appropriately in the early/Bruce Banner phases will prevent serious behaviors from occurring. Phases one through four are the phases to teach replacement behaviors (I can use my words vs hit a peer if they have what I want) and calming/coping strategies. During the peak, de-escalation, and recovery phases, the focus is on safety, re-entry, and following up.

  1. Phase One: Calm – The child is calm and cooperative. During phase one, focus on praising the positive behavior that is displayed. For example, “I like how you asked Shelly if you could use the blue block to build your tower.” This is the time where you should teach skills that can be used in challenging situations. Examples: Coping plan, social stories, Incredible 5 Point Scale, Zones of Regulation, how to ask for a break/for help, etc.
  2. Phase Two: Trigger – The child experiences a series of unresolved conflicts or problems. During the trigger phase, focus on prevention and redirection, increase the opportunities for success, and reinforce what you have taught your child.
  3. Phase Three: Agitation – The child exhibits an increase in unfocused behavior. This can look like a child becoming more active, or more withdrawn. During this phase, focus on reducing anxiety; provide the child with space while maintaining close proximity.
  4. Phase Four: Acceleration – The child may be off-task/non-compliant, provoking, threatening/intimidating, questioning and arguing, whining and crying, display avoidance and escape. During acceleration, focus on safety. Avoid negotiating and “disengage” from the child. Escalation is likely to run its course at this point. Remove all triggering and competing (things that will continue upsetting the child) maintaining factors.
  5. Phase Five: PEAK – The child may hit, throw, bite, swear, kick, cry, etc. During the peak phase, focus on safety. This is NOT the time to talk, direct, problem solve, or negotiate.
  6. Phase Six: De-Escalation – The child may display: denial, blaming others, sleeping, social withdrawal, avoidance or discussion. During this phase, focus on reintegration strategies. Avoid nagging/blaming, remove excess attention, and monitor potential re-escalation.
  7. Phase Seven: Recovery – The child displays eagerness to participate in activities and reluctance to discuss the situation. Focus on assisting the child in returning to normal routines/activities and returning to phase one. Follow through on consequences and debriefing.

If your child gets to Phase 5, remain calm! Take deep breaths and use a soft/low volume voice when speaking to your child. If you raise your voice, your child will likely raise theirs too which can add to the meltdown. Portraying a calm demeanor can help calm your child and reduce the length of time the meltdown occurs. Do not take the meltdown personally! Instead, focus on what skills you can teach your child when they are calm. Most importantly, if you told your child for example, they were going to have a time away or lose electronics due to their behavior choices, follow through on the consequences! If you do not follow through with the consequences, you can be inadvertently reinforcing your child’s negative behaviors.


About the Author

Tina Pratt

Tina Pratt is the mom of two littles. She is a former PreK- 5 special education teacher that now works as a behavior coach. She enjoys being a tourist in her own town and finding ways to embed lessons into everyday fun!