Brain Science and De-escalation Techniques: How to Help Your Child During Crisis Mode
Updated: Nov 1, 2021
Has it ever been a mystery to you how your child can go from calm one minute to angry and throwing a tantrum in seemingly the blink of an eye? You wonder what could have occurred during that short period of time to cause such a change in your child’s mood. While sometimes the reasons may be obvious, on other occasions you are stumped as to what happened and find yourself in the midst of playing catch up and trying to help your child calm down. These days you may be finding that arguments are occurring more frequently in your home due to increased contact with family members, providing more opportunities for disagreements to ensue. Today we are going to focus on what is occurring in your children’s brain when they are in crisis mode and ways you can intervene when they are in this elevated state.
Brief Look into the Brain Science
When your child is in an escalated state, the part of the brain called the amygdala is being activated. When teaching your child about this part of the brain, it can be helpful to introduce the amygdala as being like a security guard, who watches over us and protects us. At times, however, the amygdala can be overwhelmed with emotions and the instincts of fight, flight, or freeze are likely to kick in. When this happens, your child’s behavior may escalate and then they reach crisis mode (i.e. tantrum). Anger often is referred to as a secondary emotion because underlying this powerful emotion can be other emotions, such as fear, sadness and embarrassment to name a few. To help your child with de-escalating, it is important to provide a supportive environment where you can help them start using coping strategies and begin accessing their prefrontal cortex, an important part of the brain that allows us to make good decisions and use problem solving skills. The prefrontal cortex is the last part of the brain to fully develop and therefore your children may rely on the amygdala more often to make decisions as compared to adults. As parents, your involvement during these times of crisis for your children can play a crucial rule in their brain development. Here are three tips to keep in mind when helping your child de-escalate.
1. Regardless of the situation, but especially when a child is agitated, the body language, facial expression, and tone of voice of the adult can have a significant impact. It is easy for your emotions to rise in these circumstances, however, your children are looking to you to model calm, even if you are not feeling this yourself, as they are still trying to learn how to navigate what to do.
2. When your child is in a crisis mode, fewer words are best, as your son or daughter may have trouble processing what you are saying. In fact verbally engaging with your child may be a trigger and continue the prolonged behaviors. Depending on their developmental level, you may need to keep an eye on your children during these episodes or you may be able to give them space and let them know you will be there to listen and discuss the issue when they have calmed down.
3. While a younger child may engage in aggressive behaviors when escalated, you may find that your school age child continues to demonstrate challenges with aggression in the school and/or home environments that is not age appropriate. This may be a sign of a basic need not being met or an underlying emotional issue that is not being addressed. At Think Happy Live Healthy, we have experience working with children and adolescents who display aggressive behaviors and assist them with managing their anger in healthy and productive ways. Please contact us at 703-942-9745 or firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.