de-escalation training for foster care

De-escalation Techniques For Young People In Foster Care

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This course reviews effective de-escalation techniques for children in foster care, especially those who often display very strong levels of emotion.

Course Description

Gary Benton, family counselor, discusses the importance of using de-escalation techniques with children in foster care.  One of the main skills he encourages caregivers to use is teaching replacement behaviors. When a child is acting out, parents are encouraged to look at feelings of fear or hurt before addressing the behavior directly.  Responding to these behaviors by promoting the use of feeling words, as well as utilizing appropriate consequences, is recommended to promote behavior change.

Detailed Summary


In this course, Gary Benton, family counselor, reviews effective de-escalation techniques for children in foster care.  Gary begins the lesson by pointing out that “you cannot teach a child to ‘not’.” He explains when children are acting out, they are trying to solve a problem, but are doing it in an inappropriate way.  He recommends moving forward with children and teaching them replacement behaviors instead of focusing on the behavior that is incorrect.

Gary discusses research he participated in when he was in school to address stress.  In the experiment, children were asked to sit down with multiple choice math questions to solve, while sitting in metal chairs that were wired to zap them with electricity if they didn’t answer the question correctly or quickly enough.  Physiologically, as stress increases, the amount of adrenaline increases, and capillaries become constricted. In the experiment, it was shown that as the machines increased the children’s stress, problem-solving improved. The stress would then continue to increase and hit a plateau where the higher level of stress was no longer beneficial.

Under this level of high stress, problem-solving can worsen and become more primitive.  People may count on their fingers for math problems under high stress. This is an example of regression.  Regression is something that everyone experiences when under high stress. In families, Gary recommends that with a high level of stress should come a high level of forgiveness.  Additionally, as a foster parent, making a commitment to self-care is very important to avoid regression of their own.

It is discussed that someone can be internally or externally controlled.  Internal control can be “I make me” and the external control is “you make me.”  As an example, people who are able to manage themselves well, tend to be internally controlled. In terms of anger, Gary reports that inside every difficult behavior, is an element of anger.  He encourages parents to look at the feelings of fear or hurt when a child is acting out. For example, a child may have a fear of abandonment after people close to them have left. To address anger, it will be up to the parent to decide the personal values in the family and when it is appropriate in the family to express anger.

Going back to the discussion about brains, Gary explains that the survival brain is very interested in structure, safety, predictability, routine, traditions and rules.  On top of the survival brain, is the limbic system, or the emotional brain. This brain motivates processing, thoughts, and problem-solving. The neocortex, or thinking brain is next and is considered the creative, novelty, problem-solving brain.  Gary reports that people always “stress out” from the top down. For example, the thinking brain is the first to go under high stress, resulting in poor concentration and problem skills. The emotional brain will start to kick up when the thinking brain shuts down.  At the highest level of stress in the survival brain, behaviors can be shown as flat-affect, depression and less energy.
When children return to their foster home after home visits with their family, it can take several days for their survival brain “to settle down after crisis.”  Gary recommends if a child acts out, the behavior of the child should be addressed by the parent by explaining how the behavior made them feel. He reports by making it personal, it opens a gateway to the thinking and problem-solving brain.  An example he uses is for parents to avoid overstimulating the emotional brain of a patient with ADD, and to make sure there is a real consequence for their negative behavior. He suggests utilizing work as a consequence, because it is time-limited, and the parent can also talk about how the consequence affects them personally.

For a full transcript of the video this course is based on, click here

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