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The more we do something, the more engrained a behaviour can be. We can arrive at work without really remembering any of the journey. Over time, behaviour can become habitual and experiences programme us to behave in a certain way.
As professionals and carers, however, if we continue to react to situations without being conscious, we’re potentially missing opportunities to influence and de-escalate situations before they reach crisis. This means moving away from an automated reaction to a conscious and measured response to redirect behaviour.
A planned approach helps us know how to respond opposed to react to the behaviours we face. It considers the individual needs of the child, young person or adult and focuses on how we can set individuals up for success.
The Conflict Spiral
For some children, young people, and adults we work with, previous events and experiences cause them to behave in a certain way. The Team Teach Conflict Spiral model describes how experiences, feelings, and thoughts can all feed into one another.
Imagine rotating the conflict spiral so you are looking directly down through it. Each loop of the spiral comprises our experiences, feelings, behaviour, and responses. The experiences we have drive our feelings and this includes prior experiences we’ve had in the past. Feelings then drive our behaviours, often automatically and without conscious choice. The behaviours we show drive a response that reinforces the experience when it happens again. The more entrenched the cycle, the more frequent behaviours can become and conflict can lead to an increase in risk and restrictive practices.
To step away from this spiralling effect and avoid conflict altogether, we need to unpick the experiences and corresponding feelings driving the behaviour and create a toolkit of strategies to respond to behaviours as opposed to subconsciously reacting. When we have these strategies to hand, we can deescalate the situation, encourage replacement behaviours and remove the need for unnecessary restrictive practices.
As professionals, we can control our own reactions to behaviours so they do not feed the spiral into conflict. The most effective way of influencing other people’s behaviour is by controlling our own responses to it. When an individual faces a different response to their behaviour, it can subtly change their experience, create new experiences, and prompt different feelings. With practice, we can develop new behaviours to further reduce conflict.
Making connections and building strong relationships with the individual gives them the confidence that we’re acting in their best interest. It’s this level of trust and mutual respect that helps us to redirect and de-escalate situations.
A Planned Approach
There are ways we can set individuals up for success by having a planned approach to both reduce the likelihood of a behaviour and being ready to respond to it. When we make adaptations to reduce the likelihood of a particular behaviour, we’re pre-empting how an individual might respond in given circumstances.
1: Meeting the individual’s needs
For many individuals, an automated behaviour to not being able to do something is withdrawal, refusal, and general frustration and agitation. As professionals, we need to eliminate the feeling of failure and break the behaviour cycle for the individual to be successful.
We must teach individuals the skills to achieve in a way that’s accessible to them. Resources such as visual cues, social stories, and ‘now and next’ cards can support the individual in processing stages of their learning into bite-size pieces. It’s also important to set manageable expectations so they see themselves achieving their goals. This is a valuable part of raising confidence and self-esteem.
We can also consider whether the environment suits the individual needs of the person. Think about lighting and sound; is it too bright or noisy for the individual to settle? Does the person feel comfortable in what they’re wearing? Could they be feeling too hot or too cold? Are we asking them to do something when they could be tired or hungry? These slight adjustments can make all the difference to how the person is feeling.
2: Body language
The way we present ourselves can have a huge effect on how an individual feels and the behaviour they, in turn, adopt. What we want is for the individual to ‘mirror’ the behaviour they’re seeing modelled by us.
We can position our bodies to show our neutrality in a situation. A relaxed posture, non-staring eyes and a low and slow voice are ways of letting the individual know that there is no judgement. Positioning ourselves in a ‘sideways stance’ as opposed to ‘square on’ lets the individual know that we’re there to support and listen, not shout, and punish. The ‘L’ shape position of a ‘sideways stance’ allows the individual to see a way out and not feel closed in. The ‘square on’ position, standing face to face, can, in contrast, feel confrontational and threatening, especially if the individual is in crisis.
3: Dynamic Risk Assessment
A Dynamic Assessment is about how we respond to escalating behaviours in real time. To try to stop behaviour spiralling into conflict, our response needs to be measured and based on needs of the individual.
‘Take up time’ is a moment in time for us to pause and assess how we can redirect feelings and behaviours. It allows us to make a considered response instead of rushing in and reacting to a situation. In order to divert the feelings driving the behaviour, we need to really know the individual we’re supporting. An individual Support Plan should inform us of potential key triggers and the deescalating strategies that have previously worked well and should be updated regularly to reflect changes we see over time.
There are so many facets to the way we behave. Not being conscious of how we behave can lead to deep-rooted habitual actions and responses. As professionals and carers, these automated behaviours can prevent us from spotting opportunities to deescalate situations. For those children, young people, and adults we support, repeated experiences can cause ingrained feelings and behaviours. When we can positively influence them, it’s possible for those we support to reach goals and be successful.