The 5 C's of Responding to an Escalation

by Shannon Iacobacci, Collaborator
I am often asked "What do you do when your child is having and emotional escalation or episode?" That is such a hard question to answer because each child is different, especially those with FASD, brain-based and neurobehavioral conditions. However, in my experience, there are a few things that I have come up with to help me with my own children. I must first remember that this is a brain issue, not a behavior issue. What I am seeing and experiencing is my child’s brain-based disability in action. That being said, first and foremost, safety is key. Keeping my child safe and those around her safe is THE most important thing, and we do what we need to do for safety first. 
I have come up with my own 5 C's to remind myself in the middle of an escalation:
  1. Stay Calm- This is THE HARDEST thing to do. When my child is turning over furniture, slamming doors, screaming, hitting, biting, throwing things, and everything in between, all that is within me wants to "discipline" like I was brought up to do. But that is a “traditional parenting” style that will be counter-productive and will not help my disabled child. A triggered adult can NEVER calm a triggered child. Never. One way I keep calm is by not taking what is being said personally. When in the middle of an emotional episode, what is being said to me is not reality. It is her brain and all she knows. I must remember to keep myself calm by not taking anything personal.
  1. Remain Connected- What do I mean by this? Offer the connection. My child may resist me to her core, but I am OFFERING her a sense of calm and safety. With my arms open wide, "Do you want me to hold you?" I may stay there with arms open wide for a long time until she is ready to come to me. I may just be in her presence sitting silently or following behind as to ensure safety. But I am present, and my presence offers connection so that when she can emotionally connect, I am there for her immediately.
  1. Consider the Circumstances - While I am in the middle of the moment I am asking myself the why behind the behavior. What triggered this rage? Tiredness/Nutrition? Transition? Something didn't go according to her plan/what was in her mind or what she perceived was supposed to happen? Did I do or say something that triggered her? We adults can do that without even realizing it. What do I need to do to help her through this moment? Punishment is never an option in these moments because when a child is purely emotional there is no rationale or understanding, and punishment most often will escalate the situation. 
  1. Open the Communication - Inevitably when my child is able to come to me, I allow her to tell me what happened. I may already know because it may have been screamed at me for the last hour, but I listen, and I listen with an open mind. I let her know it's ok to have these big feelings and I am here to help her through them. Validating the feelings is so important. This helps children feel heard and understood in a world they so often are misunderstood. 
  1. Co-Regulate - Providing the dictionary version "warm and responsive interactions that provide the support, coaching, and modeling children need to “understand, express, and modulate their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.” Notice it doesn't say modify the behavior or punish. Comforting the child is so important at this point.

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