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Crisis Cycle

Intro: Helping Students Thrive

Various psychology theories address and provide research on happiness and ways to thrive in life.

The R.I.C.H. theory (Kahle and Bray, 2004) discusses four things humans need to thrive in their environment. These four pillars are Resources, Intimacy, Competence, and Health. The following are ways we address these needs in the classroom:

  • Resources: By providing quality education
  • Intimacy: By teaching students social skills and ensuring consistency in our interactions
  • Competence: By supporting and celebrating our students’ success
  • Health: By supplying our students and their families with health provider information, CHIP, etc.

The PERMA Theory of Well-being (Seligman, 2013) posits that we can help our students thrive by practicing optimism in our classrooms and in our interactions with students and stakeholders.

It is important to understand that our first responsibility as educators is to create and maintain our classrooms as safe places both physically and emotionally.

However, even when our classrooms are safe and students are thriving, conflict and behavior escalations might happen.

The Crisis Cycle

The Crisis Cycle is a pattern of behaviors individuals go through when they are experiencing immediate emotional and behavior crisis. This behavior pattern has been described as phases of acting out behavior (Colvin, 1992; Kaufman, Mostert, Trent, & Hallan, 1998; Sprague & Golly, 2004).

The Phases of the Crisis Cycle


  • The student is in a personal best state for the individual, both physiologically and emotionally. Their reasoning and communicating ability and skills are within a range that is typical for the individual student.


  • Something in the environment (external) or within (internal) has changed. (E.g. the room is becoming warmer than usual, another student said something, the power went out, the student didn't have breakfast, has a fever, etc.)
  • Student begins to behave in an atypical manner for baseline.
  • Staff Response: Remove or address the aversive stimulus. (E.g. opening a window to cool down the room, emergency power generator coming online, providing student with a snack, etc.)

Escalation (Agitation + Acceleration)

  • The change that initially aversively stimulated given student persists externally, internally, or both, OR
  • Other stimuli that might normally not be aversive increase the already escalating behavior.
  • Staff Response: Use precision requests, set and maintain boundaries.

Peak Crisis

  • May include explosive verbal behavior, as well as physically aggressive behaviors.
  • Staff Response: Use the least amount of interaction possible from staff and teacher, unless the student or others are in an immediate, believable danger and the student is capable of harming themself or others. If that is the case, staff that is ASPEN or MANDT trained may need to provide ESI. Otherwise, student should no be engaged.


  • Student is no longer actively verbally or physically aggressive, however they are still clearly escalated (heavy breathing, cussing, sitting in a corner with head down)
  • Staff Response: During de-escalation it is important to observe and provide some but limited interaction. It is during this stage that most staff make the error of re-engaging the student too soon with too many demands thus causing return to crisis.


  • Student is breathing normally and communicating with their surroundings and staff. The student is able and willing to discuss what happened and problem solve.

Post Crisis Drain

  • A phase of physical exhaustion and/or confusion. Not all students go through this phase, especially if the crisis episode was short and low to moderate. Some students return to their specific level of baseline.