Tip of the Month: Disarming the Fear Response with Felt Safety

Have you ever wondered why a child has an explosive behavior when they hear the word No? What we encourage you to do is to recognize this “behavior” as A Fear Response. Past Trauma is encoded within the child’s brain and can be easily reactivated.  We want you to have some techniques on how to Disarm these Fear Responses in Children!


1.            Helping A Child Feel Safe Builds Trust: This strategy is referred at “Felt safety.” This means that adults arrange the environment and adjust their behavior so children can feel in a profound and basic way that they are truly safe in their home and with us.
2.            Disarming The Primitive Brain’s Fear Response: Providing an atmosphere of “felt safety” disarms the primitive brain and reduces fear. It is a critical first step toward helping your child heal and grow.
3.            Chronic Fear Causes Hypervigilance: With careful observation, parents can detect physical symptoms of hypervigilance, a state of chronic anxiety. For example, the dark centers of the eyes, the pupils, are often enlarged in hypervigilant children, even during minor stressors or when a child seems calm. For other youngsters, the effect is reversed, making their pupils look unnaturally tiny. Either extreme indicates an imbalance in the stress response system.
4.            Building Trust: Offer consistent care, offer warm interaction and be responsive.
5.            Reducing Stress Improves Behavior: Cortisol is a hormone which is activated by and responds to stress. Cortisol levels normally rise and fall at varying times of the day, but when children have too little or too much cortisol in their body over an extended period, it can cause serious problems.
6.            Strategies That Reduce Chronic Fear: Alert Children To Upcoming Activities, Make Their Day Predictable, Give Appropriate Choices To Share Control, Speak Simply And Repeat Yourself, Be An Effective Leader.
7.            Prevent Sensory Overload: Intense sights, sounds, and bodily sensations may bewilder and frighten an at-risk child whose senses haven’t developed fully. Parents can be surprised at the little things that distress them: someone wearing perfume, the unfamiliar texture of clothing, or getting bumped in the school yard.
8.            Help Children Identify Safe People: Kids whose early years were not spent in a stable and safe home have trouble recognizing people likely to do them harm. That makes their world more unpredictable and scary. Parents can increase felt safety by teaching the child to distinguish between friend and foe.
9.            Handle Food Issues Gently: It’s not unusual for adopted and foster children to hoard food. The deprivation they suffered early in life has hardwired their primitive brain to believe that starvation is around the corner.
10.         Help The Child Meet New Challenges: Instead of: “That’s ridiculous, Jenny, why should I come and get you with the car when it’s such an easy walk? Plenty of other kids do it every day and they’re fine.”
Say: “Sweetheart, here’s what I’ll do. I’m going to walk beside you and you can ride your bike next to me for the whole way home. I’ll do that for a week or a month or a year, however long it takes until you feel safe. Then you can say to me, ‘Mom, I’m ready to ride my bike alone’.”
11.         Introduce The Child To A New Environment: You can help make a child’s world predictable by explaining and orienting her to new physical surroundings.
12.         Don’t Catastrophize: Remember not to catastrophize in an effort to gain compliance. By painting the worst case scenario, you will terrorize an already-scared child; instead give the youngster only enough information so he can make smarter choices.
13.         Honor Their Emotions: Adopted and foster children may carry deep sadness inside them from their earlier losses, in addition to the ordinary feelings that come up in every day life.
14.         Respect Their Own Life Story: Adopted and foster children are on a unique journey through life. No one knows an individual child’s personal history in the same way that they themselves do – after all, they lived it. Parents need to respect and accept the stories that these children bring with them.
15.         Feelings of Safety Take Time: Despite their scars of past deprivation and lingering fearfulness, at at-risk children can learn to take comfort and safety from their families. Be patient, and do everything in your power to let your children understand that they are safe and welcome in their new homes.


You can find more specific approaches in the full chapter: http://child.tcu.edu/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/The-Connected-Child-Chapter-Four.pdf

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