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Close up portrait of boy shouting
Adults always want to know more about de-escalating children’s behavior. Many report that despite good intentions, their attempts to intervene only make things worse. Here are some strategies used in trauma-sensitive schools to improve the chances for success:

Understand the conflict cycle
Interpersonal conflicts are like good novels. Each has a narrative arc that starts with the back stories of the main characters, and channels its way through the events described in the text. Tension builds as the reader observes the behaviors of the protagonists and tries to predict the outcome.

Like good novels, the back stories of people involved often determine the outcome of the conflict. Adults responsible for de-escalating children’s behavior must know how to manage the emotions triggered by their own back story as they work to uncover the irrational beliefs that are fueling the child’s behavior.

Drain off intense reactions
Strong emotions have the ability to shut down the language center of the brain, making reasonable discussions of the “how” and “why” of a target behavior impossible. Give children time to calm down before asking them to describe what happened or explain why they are so upset. Sit close by, relaxing the child by your deep breathing , and maintaining a neutral facial expression.

Ask the right questions
Encourage the child to describe the incident from their point of view by asking open ended questions in a nonjudgmental manner: “How did it happen?” “Can you say a little more about…?” “I missed that last point. Would you mind repeating it?”

The goal is to establish a timeline for what happened from the child’s point of view. Gently correct any misunderstandings, and identify what s/he hoped the conflict would achieve. Direct the child away from any self-defeating behaviors.

Reframe the results and move on
Acknowledge how children feel as a result of the conflicts they are involved in. Help them recall self-soothing strategies that they can use to feel better about what happened. If mistakes were made, support their efforts to repair any injury they may have caused. If they were able to manage the conflict successfully, point out the decisions they made that allowed this to happen. Regardless of the outcome, make a plan for how they will handle similar situations in the future.