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FUN FACT: An Escalated Adult Cannot De-escalate an Escalated Teen!

Updated: Oct 21, 2021

During an #intenseemotionalreaction, the brain enters #survivalmode. It shuts down the thinking part of the brain (#upstairsbrain) and simply reacts to a threat (whether perceived or real), their (#downstairsbrain) has temporarily taken over their ability to control themselves and they are feeling overwhelmed (#flippingyourlid). Adolescents & children will tend to mirror the stress and emotions of the adults around them. It is important that you model #emotionalregulationskills by responding to the emotions of the #dysregulatedteenorchild vs reacting to the behaviour presented.

The Window of Tolerance

Coined by Dr Daniel Siegel, the #windowoftolerance refers to the optimal zone of arousal where we can function, manage, and thrive. This is the zone in which we successfully handle the stressors of our daily lives without excessive emotional distress or engaging in maladaptive behaviours.

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Dr Daniel Siegel's #handmodelofthebrain is a helpful way of showing the functions of the brain and what happens when we ‘flip our lids’. This is what happens when the lower parts of our brain take over (fight, flight or freeze) and our cortical, or thinking, the brain becomes disconnected.

Modelling Emotional Regulation Skills

Adolescents & children often have intense emotions that are difficult to manage, such as anger, shame, guilt, depression, or anxiety. Difficulties controlling these emotions often lead to problematic behaviours that affect you and those around you. Problematic behaviours are often ineffective solutions to intensely painful emotions.

We want our children to become the captain of their ship, the boss of their own emotions, #Emotionregulationskills help us reduce emotional vulnerability, stop unwanted emotions from starting in the first place, feel less emotionally vulnerable, and feel more in command of our own emotions, by learning how to experience emotions like a wave without drowning in them.

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20 Ways of Responding to a Dysregulated Child

Do not try to reason with them

It may be tempting to try to reason with your child but often that will make them angrier.

Avoid saying things like “I know you wanted me to take you to Chapters after school, but I had to work late.”

Demands & Threats don’t work

Have you ever known anyone to “stop” or “calm down” when asked during a meltdown? It doesn’t matter how nicely, or assertively, you ask.

Do not attempt to yell to be heard over a dysregulated child

Yelling makes you appear threatening and will not help de-escalate a meltdown.

Validate their feelings, but not the behaviours

Giving validation to their feelings shows your child that you accept their thoughts, feelings, and sensations.

Respect personal space

Everyone’s personal “bubble” is different, but regardless that bubble gets bigger with heightened emotions.

Be aware of your body language and facial expressions

It’s important to appear calm and non-threatening throughout your child’s meltdown. The best way to do this is by being mindful of your body language and facial expressions.

Get on your child’s level

Don’t stand over them, looking down at them as you talk. It gives off a vibe of superiority that isn’t helpful at the moment. It also can feel threatening.

Use distraction carefully

Distress Tolerance Skill #ACCEPTS offers multiple suggestions on using distraction as a crisis survival skill, collaboration may be difficult with a dysregulated child. Creating a #copingkit when your child is emotionally regulated can be beneficial to bring out in these moments, by reminding them what they had listed as coping tools.

Reflect on your child’s wants and needs

Reflective listening shows you are listening to their concerns, however poorly they are being communicated. If you’re lucky enough to get a moment where your child says “YES!” to your reflection, it opens an opportunity for you to then validate your child’s feelings and help them calm down.

Acknowledge your child’s right to refusal

like they are being “forced” to do something. Acknowledge this right by saying “You’re right, I can’t make you do …….” then explain why you would like them to choose to do what is asked and provide a logical consequence. You’re allowed to set boundaries and allow them to choose.

For example, “You’re right, I can’t make you do your homework. However, we also can't play basketball until your homework is done. The choice is yours, just let me know how I can support you”

Answer their questions but ignore targeted aggression

If your child asks a question during a meltdown, even if it’s asked inappropriately or rudely, provide a calm and concise answer. Keep talking to a minimum, using short responses. Answer their questions and nothing more.

Use Silence

Sometimes total silence can help your child begin calming down and then start seeing things more reasonably.

Offer a movement break or a walk

Getting moving is proven to reduce stress, help you calm down, and increase serotonin; the feel-good neurotransmitter.

Be non-judgemental

Regardless of the situation at hand, acting judgemental during a meltdown will only make things worse. Avoid things like using sarcasm, dismissing your child’s feelings, blaming them, shaming them, or treating them as unintelligent.

Also, avoid lecturing or trying to solve their problems for them at the moment. This conversation needs to come later when they’re back to baseline again.

Decrease stimulation

No matter what caused the meltdown, additional stimulation can contribute to more overload. Minimize this stimulation by dimming lights, turning the TV down or off, having other people leave the room if possible.

Avoid saying “no”

If your child is asking you questions, avoid saying the word “no” because it can instantly make things worse. No is a trigger word for a lot of people. Simply offer more open-ended answers like “we can plan a time to do that” or “that’s something we can talk about when everybody is calm.”

Use calming visual input

Certain visual input can be mesmerizing and help children calm down. (Just Breathe Video)

Model deep breathing exercises

Stop talking altogether to both your child and anyone else around you. I also try to take slow, deep breaths when I’m trying this strategy. Breathe deeply enough that it’s audible in the silence. It helps me to remain calm and also models a healthy calming strategy for my child – even if they aren’t ready to use one.

Use Non-threatening Nonverbals

The more a person is in distress, the less they hear your words—and the more they react to your nonverbal communication. Be mindful of your gestures, facial expressions, movements, and tone of voice. Keeping your tone and body language neutral

Keep Your Emotional Brain in Check

Sometimes all we have is the power of our own self-talk in these moments, try a few of these verbal affirmations/self-talk examples; "Attempting to do this took courage and I am proud of myself for trying", "I am capable and strong, I can get through this", "I can learn from this situation and grow as a person", "I am doing the best I can with what I know".


All of these strategies won’t work on all kids or teens, and the ones that do work probably won’t work every time. Having a toolbox of #emotionalregulationskills & #distresstoleranceskills to apply in the tough moments, is useful for parents and the dysregulated child, in decreasing emotional suffering; gaining the skills to stop or reduce unwanted emotions once they start and decreasing the frequency of unwanted emotions.

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