Parenting is one of the most demanding things an adult will ever do. When one of your children cops an attitude or gets into trouble, it’s easy to panic, ignore the problem, or escalate it out of anger. Allowing the tension to heighten will only lead to loss of control of the situation and yelling, which can be damaging to your family. Having the tools to de escalating kids and teens are essential to parenting.

You already understand that this isn’t the right way to handle a high-stress parenting situation, so we’re here to help you recognize an escalating situation and diffuse the tension before it ever gets out of hand. 

What Is De-Escalation?

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. It involves tracing the situation back to the point where things got out of control and addressing the root of the tantrum rather than simply trying to quiet the child. It’s easier said than done, but here, we list some de-escalation techniques for you to try the next time you encounter a tense situation with your child.

De-Escalation Techniques to Try

Avoid Trying to Reason With Them

During a meltdown, a child’s prefrontal cortex — the part of the brain that involves logic — is not active because the brain is flooded with cortisol and adrenaline due to the fight-or-flight reaction that takes over. Because the physiological reaction is due to a perceived threat, try not to say things like, “I know you want to go to your friend’s house, but you have piano lessons tonight.” Instead, deescalate the situation by reassuring them that they are safe, remaining calm, and making sure their physical needs are met.

Validate Their Feelings, Not Their Actions

When a child is overwhelmed by emotions over something you perceive to be minor, you may be tempted to say something like, “It was just a toy. You don’t need to be so upset.” This could amplify the meltdown. 

Instead, if the child will let you, validate what they are feeling. One of the best ways to calm a child is to say things like, “I bet you are angry, I would be too if that happened to me.” This gives a common ground to begin. Be patient and listen, and then listen more — not to reply but to validate and to understand, responding only with, “I think I understand. That was really not fair. Tell me more”. Your child does not want advice or examples or anything but listening and validation to begin with. 

Be sure that they understand the error of their behavior and give them alternative ways of managing their emotions. “I understand you are angry that he stole your toy, but it is never okay to hit people. Next time, take some deep breaths and find a different toy to play with.”

Be the Child’s Advocate

Meltdowns often occur in public places. If you are around others, do not disparage your child or embarrass them in front of others. Instead, let them feel your support in a public way. Be their advocate by inviting them to another room to discuss. In some cases, it might unfold right then and there, which is also okay. Be patient with yourself and with your child.

Be Patient

This process is powerful, but it takes patience. Maybe you’ve tried all the calming techniques you know, and they’re not working. Just keep practicing, and you will get better as you do it a few times. Don’t react or get angry or embarrassed; be the adult and the parent. It doesn’t matter who witnesses the situation, or what they think. Your child is the most important thing at that moment.

Try to Work Things Out at Home

The time may come when the need for other options of diffusion may arise, but don’t turn to these to begin with. Let your child know you are on their side and that you can help them sort this out. Let the meltdown take its course to the point where you can offer ideas on how to solve it or other options to see from another perspective. 

Get Help From Choose Mental Health

A child who regularly goes down the same path may have needs beyond what a parent can give — and that’s okay. It doesn’t mean you’ve failed; it only means that your situation is bigger than your capacity. That is the reason for Choose Mental Health’s existence. 

At Choose Mental Health, we offer a vast network of mental health providers and resources to help parents struggling with the mental health of their children. Contact our professionals today to see how we can help you further with escalation problems at home.

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Kids and youth deserve our best mental health solutions, help and support. They deserve to not be afraid of their thoughts. They deserve the best we can give them. By supporting Choose Mental Health you are standing up for 20 million children and youth with chronic or debilitating mental health needs suffering right now.

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