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De-escalation Strategies and How to Use Them

De-escalation strategies graphic

When a person experiences any form of trauma, certain memories, emotions and actions can trigger severe reactions associated with that trauma. In some cases, people with certain types of traumatic experiences like historical, intergenerational or cultural trauma can even experience re-traumatization. While many children arrive to our programs happy and healthy, some experience these triggers or emotions while in our care. So, we make sure our staff and services encourage healing by using de-escalation strategies inspired by Trauma-Informed Care (TIC). This allows us to create an environment of healing and recovery by considering the needs of youth and children in our care who have a history of trauma.

What are de-escalation strategies?

Triggers of trauma alert the person of possible signs of danger based on their personal traumatic experiences. As the person experiences these triggers, this leads to an array of survival responses that can be emotional, psychological and behavioral.

Within the Trauma-Informed Care approach, there are a range of de-escalation strategies one can practice in order to diffuse problems before they develop further. The National Child Traumatic Stress Network has several examples:

  • Reframe the conversation to focus on relationships, not events.
  • De-personalize the interventions.
  • Refer the youth to Clinicians who can help youth process emotions and outbursts.
  • Convey messages of compassion, empathy, and care.
  • Teach Trauma Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT) strategies to help youth and families recognize maladapted behaviors and consciously avoid them.

How do we use these strategies?

De-escalation strategies can be personalized to better fit the child’s environment. If you work in  a shelter like ours or somewhere else that provides mental health services, being able to repeatedly share messages of compassion, empathy, and care towards a child can help create a safe environment. We also customize the environment and make modifications to their services based on individual youths’ needs. Often times, we won’t be able to work through all the phases with children who are in our shelters or community-based programs for a short period of time, so we focus on stabilization and integrating trauma-informed techniques. This helps diffuse tense moments and decreases the chances of anticipated trauma-related problems while also making the child feel safe and confident.

Another strategy that can help is referring the child to clinicians that can provide coordinated, integrated trauma-informed care. This can better equip the child with tools that will help them process triggering events, which is a great strategy to implement in the moment of de-escalation.

Using de-escalation strategies at home

We understand that the environment and tools at our disposal are a little different from what most people have access to at home. However, many of these strategies can still be implemented in the home as well.

One way is educating both youth and families in Trauma Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT) techniques to help them recognize maladaptive behaviors and how to address them. This will help foster a proactive mindset for everyone involved and decrease the chances of triggering events.

Trauma Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy consists of 3 phases:

  • Phase one – Stabilization
    • The clinician provides education about trauma and healing, helping the child develop skills to promote meaningful development.
  • Phase two – Trauma narrative
    • The clinician helps the child construct a narrative of the trauma they experienced, in order to help them process the events.
  • Phase three – Integration/Consolidation
    • The clinician helps the child use the trauma narrative to consolidate the lessons they’ve learned, build skills and improve development.

Within these phases, there are 8 components that make up TF-CBT that spell out the word PRACTICE:

  • Psychoeducation and parenting skills
    • Learning more about the trauma
  • Relaxation
    • Teaching mindfulness and reversing the physiological arousal from trauma
  • Affective regulation
    • Learning strategies for regulating upsetting states of mind
  • Cognitive processing of the trauma
    • Learning how to recognize and cope with stress from trauma
  • Trauma narrative
    • Understanding and sharing the narrative of the trauma, with perspective
  • In vivo mastery of trauma reminders
    • Helping understand trauma reminders and master feared stimuli
  • Conjoint child-parent sessions
    • Helping families reconnect and improve communication
  • Enhancing future safety and development
    • Applying learned strategies to daily life moving forward

Each component focuses on a specific area of learning. For example, the Psychoeducation and parenting skills component focuses on learning about the child’s trauma, common behavioral problems, while educating both parties that their reactions and feelings are normal, understandable and valid.

Although these steps are not foolproof, creating and continuously building a trusting, safe and therapeutic relationship between the therapist, parents/guardians and child is essential for TF-CBT to be successful.

De-escalation strategies are essential tools to the Trauma-Informed Care approach we practice at Southwest Key. These strategies are valuable and versatile which can be practiced in a shelter, community programs, or at home. We pride ourselves in community and youth development — and a big part of that is committing to create safe healing environments for the youth, families and communities we serve.

Learn more about our use of Trauma-Informed Care (TIC)