Our nervous systems are designed to receive their distress. Fight or flight in them raises fight or flight in us - to get our bodies ready to fight for them or flee with them.
When they’re in actual danger, it’s a brilliant response, but ‘danger’ is about what the brain perceives.
Big feelings and behaviour are a sign of a brain that has registered ‘threat’. A felt sense of relational threat and emotional threat all count as ‘threat’.
This can happen any time there is any chance at all of humiliation, judgement, missing out on something important, felt disconnection, not feeling seen, heard, validated, not having the resources for the immediate demands (stress).
Think of this in terms of interruption, transition times, sibling arguments, coming home after a big day at school.
When the threat isn’t a true physical danger, there is nothing to fight with or flee from (except maybe siblings and instructions).
This is when the fight or flight that’s been raised in us can move us to fight with them (we might get irritated, frustrated, angry, annoyed, raise our voices) or flee from them.
These are really valid feelings and signs of things working as they should, but it’s what we do in response that matters.
Think of it this way. Brains don’t care for the difference between actual danger and things that are safe, but annoying or upsetting. They all count as ‘danger’.
Pause for a moment, and see that this is a young person with a brain that doesn’t feel ‘safe’ right now. Whether it’s emotionally safe, relationally safe, physically safe - they all matter.
First, they need to be brought back to safety. We’ll do this most powerfully through relationship - co-regulation, validation, touch.
In practice this looks like breathe (to calm your nervous system so you can recalibrate theirs), be with (validate with or without words - let them feel you believing them and not needing anything from them in that moment), and wait.
If you need to hold a boundary, add that in (‘I won’t let you …’) but don’t take relationship away.
Then, when they are calm, have the chat - ‘What happened?’ ‘What can we do to put things right?’ ‘What might next time look like?’♥️
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