Working with young people is rarely easy, especially in high-stress settings. Whether you're an educator in a high school, a parent dealing with an unpredictable teenager, a social worker, or you work in a facility such as a juvenile detention center, you are going to deal with some tough situations involving kids and teens.
Depending on the situation, de-escalation techniques might end up being critical. You don't want the issue to escalate or to get the authorities involved if possible. It's always better if you have to tools to calm down a young person who is upset, angry, or scared.
The most important thing is to put everyone's safety first. Here are 4 techniques you can use if you find yourself in a difficult situation with a young person.
1. Stay Calm
If you're dealing with a juvenile who is anything but calm, it can be hard to keep your cool. But, it's extremely important to keep your own emotions in check as you work through the situation. Getting emotional will only escalate the situation further.
There are a few techniques you can use to not only appear calm, but to calm yourself down in a tense moment. Your breath will be your biggest asset, as you can perform breathing exercises at any time. Take a few deep breaths before your speak. This will also give you a bit of time to think about what you want to say.
When you do begin to speak, use a low tone of voice and reduce your inflection. In these kinds of situations, you don't want your voice to convey any kind of emotion. If a young person is wound up and ready to escalate, you want to keep things as neutral as possible.
2. Show Empathy
Today, most people who work with young people are familiar with the concept of trauma-informed care. Basically, it means that any care that is provided takes into account the impact trauma may have had on a person's life and behavior.
Trauma can affect a person's sense of self, mental health, and perceptions in many different ways. Even if you haven't suffered from severe trauma, it is important to understand how it can play a role in the lives of young people you work with. Understanding how trauma triggers work and how trauma can show up can give you more empathy and understanding.
Empathy is key in working through difficult moments with juveniles. Even if you are angry, frustrated, or scared, it's important to think about why a young person would be behaving in this way and what could have influenced their behavior. Instead of thinking about your own feelings, try to empathize and connect with the person in front of you.
3. Give Simple, Clear Instructions
Intense situations are not the time for long lectures or vague concepts. If you need to de-escalate a situation with a young person, make your communications as clear and simple as possible. Sometimes, less really is more.
Think about what you want the juvenile to do and give instructions that are easy to follow. Sometimes, all it takes to defuse a difficult moment is to provide direction in a clear, concise, and non-judgmental way.
4. Give the Person Time to Think about the Situation
Many people who work with juveniles don't give them time to think, assess, and respond, especially if they are already part of the juvenile detention system. We all deserve the chance to think through a tough situation, regardless of age or criminal background. We all deserve respect.
If you can, give the young person a chance to cool down and think about the situation critically. They might get out of "fight or flight" mode and see things more clearly. They might be willing to talk calmly about the situation if they've had a chance to think.
Remember: You Don't Have to Fix Everything Immediately
It's easy to go into problem-solving mode in tough situations. But in reality, it's better to work through the immediate problem: de-escalating the situation. Listen and figure out what the main issue is and forget about everything else for the time being.
Once everyone is calmer, you can move on to solving the next problem. Focus on what's really important and stay safe!