This is the third and final blog post/article in a series on “de-escalation wins”. The first post explained the scientifically recognized parenting styles, along with pros and cons of each. In the second post, “breaking the cycle” of behaviors that negatively impact parenting and child outcomes were discussed in order to learn why de-escalation works well as a parenting strategy.
De-escalation essentially means to reduce the intensity in any given situation. When applied to parenting, it can have desired effects and outcomes for children. The number one reason to utilize de-escalation methods with our children is due to the brain development that is occurring throughout the lifespan of a young person. As you can see in the image below, brain development required for higher, more critical thinking does not fully develop until the early 20s.
While the brain is developing at it’s most rapid speed before the age of five, the frontal lobe of the brain is not fully developed. The frontal lobe is responsible for a person making reasonable decisions along with impulse control. The Prefrontal Cortex of the Frontal Lobe in the brain readily develop in the preteen-early adulthood years. According to Choose Mental Health (2022), “De-escalation is the act of responding to a child’s outburst or tantrum in a way that controls, diffuses, and/or calms the situation.” As a parent, what can we do?
2. If a meltdown is ramping up and distraction was not effective (or the beginning of a meltdown was missed), start with basic, physical needs. During a meltdown, your child is essentially in “fight or flight” mode which means they are unable to reason logically. Utilizing logic will not help the situation, especially for younger children. While setting clear limits and boundaries with children is essential for proper childhood development and safety, during a very emotional time it is certainly ineffective and likely to aggravate the situation further. During normal interaction, the forebrain is functioning more effectively. Once the hindbrain (which is focused on survival) is in control, the child will not be able to listen to reason until the forebrain is back in control (Day, 2022). This is why reasoning, saying “no”, and using logical statements is highly ineffective and can further exacerbate the situation. Instead, once the child is safe, we can try feeling validation.
3. Validating feelings means that the parent is sitting calmly with the child, making statements that identify a feeling, such as sadness or anger, and validates that it makes sense for the child to feel that way. For example, “I can see that you are sad, that would make me very sad too” is a simple sentence that utilizes validation. However, be sure to not validate poor behaviors.
4. Allow the child to have their desired personal space and do not try to yell to get the child to hear you. Do not try to hug or pick up your child unless they are imitating the physical touch. Additionally, ignore communication that is angry or aggressive that comes from the child, and only address questions and comments in a calm manner.
5. Decrease sensory input. Have you even been overwhelmed? I certainly have! The TV is blaring, the kids are fighting and yelling, the lights are bright, and your youngest keeps climbing on you? That anxious, angry feeling is due to sensory overload and can lead to explosion (aka meltdown!). It happens for any age but children are not able to manage it. If you see your child ramping up for a meltdown, and even if your child has already entered full meltdown mode, reducing sensory input can be effective in reducing the intensity and time of a meltdown.
6. Wait until your child’s brain has regained frontal brain control to try to reason with them. Until that time, the child’s brain will perceive a threat and be unable to listen or reason.
7. Apply these tips to both younger and older children. While the word “meltdown” is typically used for toddlers and younger children, de-escalation tips can be applied to teens as well.
8. Seek help if the behaviors are frequent and you need help dealing with your child! Never strike a child. Research has shown hitting to be highly ineffective and for all age groups. Physical punishment increases the likelihood of negative outcomes for children.
In conclusion, de-escalation wins because it aids to the brain development of a child. It works with the child’s brain. De-escalation allows the parent, who is in control, to utilize tools that can help their child now and later in life become adults who are better at self-regulation. Children who feel safe physically and emotionally have better outcomes. As previously recognized in this series, children who have parents who have clear boundaries along with high emotional support have less likelihood of drug and alcohol dependence, and gives your child the best chance at having a healthier, happier life.
Still want more tips? See the articles below!