Learning to De-Escalate Emotional Situations With Children

DeEscalate My eight year old daughter, has been attending a special Psychiatric Day Treatment program for emotionally disturbed children for a year now. My four year old son started attending a few months ago. This program has been wonderful for our family and for our children. Along with the therapy and treatment the children receive parents have access to a number of helpful services as well. One of these services has been a weekly parent support group where I have learned some wonderful skills to help me parent emotionally disturbed children.

I am sure most of these skills would apply to parenting any child. And, I would bet the skills I am learning will help me with aspects of many relationships I have during the course of my life. We recently learned some tactic designed to help De-Escalate a situation that is about to lead to a tantrum or rage.

When dealing with an emotionally distressed child in an emotionally charged situation here are a few tips I have learned and found useful:

  • When the voices get loud, lower yours. Everyone else will usually follow. I like to use what I call the “Whisper-Yell.” and it works very well and things remain soft.
  • To help avoid confrontation don’t “frontally” face your child. Stand facing them with your side. This body language is less threatening and puts you in a better self-defense position should the child get out of control.
  • Avoid smiling during tense situations. Research shows some people with mental illnesses or personality disorders view this as threatening behavior much like an animal that is bearing its teeth.
  • Understand the cycle of “pacing” Pacing is a cycle of feeding off someones emotions in order to escalate. If a child is upset with you and wants to get angrier they need to “hook” you into their game. If the child can get you as angry as the child is then it gives the child permission to become angrier. The more upset and angry the parent becomes the more the child can justify his or her increase in hostility. Pacing is the same as they old saying our mothers used to say, “It takes two to tango.”
  • Remember children will try new ways to remain in control. When a parent no longer participates in the escalation game, the child will try something new to get the parent back on the Hook.
  • Stay in control. When is child has the least control of themselves it is the time for the parent to have the most control of themselves.
  • Speak in statements of fact Avoid saying “if you don’t… you can’t…” or “If you’ll… I’ll let you…” Bargaining, bribery and threatening is ineffective with an emotional fragile child. It is far more effective to say in a matter of fact way, “When… Then…”
  • Help your child stay focused on the issue or task. Communicate one thought or idea at a time. Try to break down complex concepts into smaller ones or smaller steps. People with brain disorders can feel overwhelmed by multi-level tasks or concepts.
  • Do not try to discipline or change the mind of someone while they are in crisis. Pointing out reality will only increase your child’s frustration. Wait for neutral times to talk with a child in order to get your point across.

Photo credit for this blog entry: sxc (no use restrictions for this photo)

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For more information about parenting special needs children you might want to visit the Families.com Special Needs Blog and the Mental Health Blog. Or visit my personal website.

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