De-escalation techniques with children
- Understand how to prevent things getting out of hand and how to manage if they do.
All children might experience big upsets from time to time. Sometimes their emotions escalate and become overwhelming. Their behaviour can then also escalate and become destructive. Or some children might ‘shut down’ and refuse to listen.
Then, as parents, our emotions can get stronger too! It’s natural. But, it can make it even harder to manage our children’s behaviour.
Knowing how the escalation cycle works can help us deal with those situations. It can also be helpful to prevent our children (and us!) from repeating the same unhelpful cycle of behaviours in those moments.
The escalation cycle is made of six phases:
🙂 Calm phase
Signs: your child seems content, not agitated, able to engage in activities and enjoy them.
What to do: praise good behaviour and find opportunities to connect.
🤨 Trigger phase
Signs: your child may show signs of struggling to do something. They could be hungry, tired or bored.
What to do: help them work out what is bothering them, and solve it with them if you can.
😣 Escalation phase
Signs: your child displays signs of agitation such as whining or sulking.
What to do: distract and redirect your child’s attention.
😡 Overwhelm phase
Signs: your child seems out of control, for example they might be kicking, crying or screaming.
What to do: focus on safety, give space to your child to calm down. STAY CALM. Control your own response. This is your opportunity to model calm behavior. Focusing on your body language can help.
😟 De-escalation phase
Signs: your child is starting to calm down.
What to do: DO NOT rehash the incident. Show respect and compassion.
😐 Recover & Repair phase
Signs: your child is completely calm.
What to do: discuss what happened, problem solve together and practise calming techniques.
During moments when your children’s emotions are escalating it will be difficult for them to use their brains. They’ll struggle to think clearly or problem-solve effectively.
This means that it’s not the best time to try “talking it through”. You won’t be able to reason with a child who is near to the peak of their emotional escalation.
When our children’s emotions are escalating we often experience strong emotions too. And that can mean that we can’t reason clearly either.
Our children need us to be able to keep calm and help them with de-escalation. Easier said than done!
Because it’s so hard for anyone to think when we are overwhelmed, it’s better to think about ways of keeping calm before things escalate.
Check out our blog on this topic, where our Regional Clinical Lead, Cecilia Corbetta reflects on the challenge of coping with meltdowns, and her own personal experiences of de-escalation as a parent.
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