Behavior Management, hardly ever refers to the prevention of problem behavior. Most of the time, it is related to crisis de-escalation, “managing” the behavior, so it does not get worse.
Ideally, we should be working towards building the skills which the individuals with whom we work often lack, and in turn lead to crisis situations. When that is not possible due to environmental limitations, or simply because the staff dealing with the behavior do not understand it, your aim should be to not make it worse. So, to start, instead of teaching you how to avoid crisis situations, I am going to talk about how make sure that you don’t make it worse.
Whenever we see someone in distress our first impulse is to say “Relax” or “calm down”. Those are two of worst things you can say during a crisis. When you ask someone to “stop” or to “be calm” you are addressing your needs to have the crisis end, not the patient or the person in distress.
Think back to a time when you were very upset and someone asked you to “relax”. How did that make you feel? More upset? Embarrassed? Discounted? When someone is expressing his emotions during a crisis (even if in a challenging way) and you tell them to stop, you may make that person feel discounted, as if his emotions are “wrong”.
Instead of addressing the behavior (e.g. “stop punching the wall”, “stop yelling”), tell the person you see how upset he is and you are willing to help (e.g. “ I see you are upset, is there anything I can do to help?”, or “it looks to me as there is something bothering you, would you like to talk?”).
I understand that ultimately we do want the behavior to stop, but we can get there without making it seem as if it is inadequate. For example, we can say “I see that you are upset, and you might get hurt punching the walls, help me understand how I can support you now so that you don’t need to punch the walls to feel better.”
During a moment of crisis, the worst mistake you can make is to forget about the individual and address only the behavior. Your best bet at de-escalation is to acknowledge the emotional state the individual is experiencing and offer support.
This article was originally published on The Behavior Web Newsletter. Click here to subscribe and have the newsletter directly delivered to your e-mail.