Shooting the Rapids of the Behavioral Cascade

behavioral cascade

Shooting the Rapids of the Behavioral Cascade

Dr. Bob | executive function, temperament traits | 0 Comments | Post Date: April 18 2019

Do You Come Out Dry, Damp or Drenched?

The three phases of this failed response to completing and solving a problem are as follows. First, lock up; second, meltdown; and third, lash out. Parents can help manage the raft (child) and rapids(situation).


Phase I

Lock Up - Managing the Raft


When it becomes evident to the child who  has only one answer to the problem is not going to work, and his only other reaction is to shut down. The first thing that occurs when children are overwhelmed is that they lock up. During the lock-up phase, their brain is engaged and still working, so they can solve the problem with help. We all know a child’s lock-up face: pouting lips, frowning forehead, crossed arms, and generally unhappy demeanor.


The less emotional we are as parents, the better we can help the child solve the problem and not fulfill the rest of the cascade. However, often at this phase, the child is pushed to rapidly solve the problem by either himself, his parents, his teacher, or a sibling or friend.  The first step in managing the raft is to stop the process. Calming deep breathes are in order.


After calm prevails, go back to the original problem and start over in the problem-solving process. During this phase, their brain is still open, aware and capable of solving a problem with a little help. This is the ONLY time you can intervene with success.


Phase II

Meltdown - The Rapids


This is the natural subsequent phase if Phase I is not resolved, or a parent, sib, or teacher continues to push the child. When children are pushed, they move to the next phase of this cascade, which is a meltdown. This is where the rapids get crazy and take over. You cannot stop this phase, only make it worse. You can merely steer the raft to avoid the rocks.


When they are in the meltdown phase, their brain disengages, and they cannot solve the problem. This looks like anything from crying to a full-fledged, foot-stomping, throwing-themselves-on-the-floor fit. When we become angry and upset, we lose IQ points; the experts say as many as fifty points.


This is the point where things can really escalate and get ugly. If the parent attempts to stop the meltdown by yelling, “do it now,” or to “hurry up,” you just pushed him into what I call the mudhole. Picture yourself crawling down into a mudhole. When you try to stop a meltdown, you are figuratively getting into the mudhole with your child. Nothing good or clean comes out of the mudhole.


If the child has gotten to the meltdown phase, stay away from the machinery, it is too late to help.  Allow the meltdown to run its course. After calm has been established to say, “Wow, you didn’t solve that problem, let’s start over.


Phase III

Lashing Out


Lashing out occurs when there is continued mud wrestling with the child, and she is not left to calm down. The child will lash out with aggressive verbal or physical behavior. Usually, what happens next is lashing out. The child spits calls you names, claws, kicks, bites, throws things, says he doesn’t love you, and generally goes totally berserk.


This is most commonly accompanied by a yelling and screaming parent. The parent is lashing out, too. Everyone suffers. The overall situation, a nasty, scary sight.


Occasionally, more violence follows, and the child is spanked or punished. Whew, that requires a lot of energy and leaves everybody drained. Guilt follows.


Identifying the Issue


All because your child was struggling with solving a problem, and someone tried to intervene. The child was being driven by his temperament, overwhelming him, but not because the child intentionally misbehaved.  No one would get mad and react angrily to a deaf child throws a fit because she cannot hear. Why do we commonly react in this angry way when our child cannot solve a problem?    


After you comprehend the behavior drivers and the brain wiring of your child, it will be much easier to facilitate a problem-solving, non-fit-throwing experience. The resilient child rarely has a meltdown and infrequently locks up. The less flexible the child, the more often he or she locks up, and experiences a meltdown, or lashes out.


Once parents can revise the myth that the child’s behavior is intentional, their frustration and anger are replaced with empathy, and guilt vanishes. The more we understand and identify children’s temperament traits and executive functions, the better equipped we are to help our child  struggling with his behavior and learning.


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