How to De Escalate a Child in Crisis

A child acting out, having a tantrum or becoming uncontrollable can be a frustrating and scary situation to be in. You are responsible for remaining calm and keeping safety as a top priority. The ultimate goal is to handle the situation in such a way that the child trusts you more after the interaction and the behavior decreases over time.


  1. Image titled De Escalate a Child in Crisis Step 1
    Assess any safety risks.Take a moment to look around the environment and identify if there are any dangerous objects or hazards. Some examples of safety risks are:
    • Sharp objects
    • Cords that could become tangled around the child
    • A set of stairs that could be fallen down
    • A hot stove or fireplace
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    Make adjustments to the child's environment to ensure their safety. If you identify safety concerns do what you can to remove them from the child's crisis area. Some things you can do to ensure safety are:
    • Move dangerous objects to a high shelf or secure cupboard
    • Stand in front of sharp corners
    • Physically move to another room - the child may follow you to keep your attention
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    Calm your self. This step is easy to skip, but it is very important for a successful outcome.
    • Take deep breathes
    • Remind yourself that you can resolve this safety and effectively
    • Feel the contrast between your calm demeanor and the child's out-of-control one
    • Let go of planning how you will resolve this
    • Let go of thinking about discipline or consequences
    • Let go of worrying about how much time it is taking or may take
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    Calm the child. Each situation and each child is different so you must think on your feet and be creative. Their initial escalating behavior may have been attention seeking or manipulative, but a child who has become out-of-control is not doing it to be malicious or cause trouble on purpose. They are acting out because they are not being fully understood and they are angry. Some things you can try are:
    • Sit near them and speak soft reassuring words.
    • Let them destroy something that you are okay with (ex: break all their Legos apart, rip all the sheets off their bed, stomp grapes on the sidewalk, etc.)
    • Tell them you would like to help them but can't do so until they calm down.
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    Give them some quiet time and space. A child who has calmed their body down still needs to calm their mind down. They are likely ashamed of causing such a scene and may be upset or embarrassed about some of the damage they did. Do not proceed to yelling at them or discussing consequences until they have had time to rest and get back to a more stable state of mind. Make sure to tell them you are proud of them for calming down, that you are not mad, and that everything is okay. This will feel counter-intuitive, but shows the child that their acting out didn't phase you and that you are strong and capable of handling stressful situations.
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    Discuss how to make amends.
    • Ask the child what they need to do to make it right.
    • Make sure they clean up any thing they destroyed or damaged.
    • Have them apologize to anyone who may have been hurt or scared by their actions.
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    Discuss what they will do next time.
    • Have the child brainstorm what might work better to get what they want.
    • Come up with more ways to express their anger that are safe and appropriate.
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    Tell them how you feel. Make sure you tell the child how their words and actions affected you. If a certain location, person, time of day, activity or object played a role in their out-of-control behavior make sure you discuss it. Did they loose some of your trust? Are you going to stop bringing them to the store because of their inappropriate actions? Will you need to be present next time that particular friend visits? Is their baseball bat no longer a safe toy? Finally, tell them you care about them and will be there for them no matter what happens.


  • Make sure children who are prone to physically acting out have other outlets for physical activity and expression.
  • Enlist back-up or other adults to help. Everyone has a different approach and can teach you something new about handling crisis situations.
  • Do you best to identify warnings signs of a tantrum coming on. The best thing you can do take steps to prevent a crisis from occurring.
  • If possible ask other children or on-lookers to leave the area or get the child to move to a place where they won't have as much of an audience for their behavior.


  • Yelling, threatening, or scolding them while the tantrum is occurring will only escalate the situation further.
  • Do not try to trap or hurt a child in crisis. If they are dangerous to themselves or others you may need to wrap your arms around them to keep them safe.

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Categories: Disaster Preparedness