The second step is to become fully aware of the other person’s escalating style. How does the other person activate your sensitive buttons which when pressed lead you to lose your cool? What kind of tone of voice, phrase, gesture will activate your “out of control” reaction? When, where, in what situation is this person most likely to trigger you?
When you become aware of your vulnerabilities and triggers it changes your experience of the next escalation “routine”. It does no longer happen. You know that it is done, and you know how it is done be the participants. The spell of the escalation pattern is loosen. It lost its automatic, light speed quality, didn’t it?
At this point I like to imagine that during the escalation you hold in your hand a petrol can. The other person does the same thing. In between you there is a bonfire. When you decide to de-escalate it looks like you prevent yourself from pouring petrol on the fire. The other person might decide to add fuel yet you refuse to do so. You are breaking the pattern by altering your usual routine.
This is when your de-escalation begins.
In reality it may look like this – your son for the nth time left his things lying on the stairs. You have notice that, felt your frustration rising. You feel the petrol can in your hands sooo eager to empty itself…You make a decision – Now because I feel irritated I cannot guarantee I would be able to speak with my son calmly. My aim is to teach him how to look after his things, how to be respectful and mindful of other people’s feelings (now he is hurting me by disrespecting my wishes). I want to teach him how to be a team player by fulfilling his responsibilities so the whole team (household) works smoothly. I will not do it by shouting at him again, losing control and giving in at the end – that’s for sure.
The third step
That evening, or next morning you are ready to deliver your announcement because you thought through exactly what you wanted to say (how you wanted to do it, where etc. so you are in control of yourself).
You announce to your boy – I would like you to come to the sitting room. I have something to tell you. Sit down. For some time now you have disrespected me and hurt my feeling. You have done this by ignoring my requests for you to put your things away and clear the stairway. This situation cannot continue. It needs to change. I expect that you do the right thing. Now you may go. Have a nice day in school. Spaghetti Bolognese for dinner.
You completely disrupted the familiar pattern of communication. Hurray. You gave an example of how to control yourself, express your feelings and expectations in a calm manner. You carried out yourself in a dignified fashion, you were prepared, composed and your clearly addressed the problem. You stopped adding fuel to the fire. Congratulations.
Recently I was working with a family where a parent for the first time since a painful situation which happened in the family 5 years ago, was able to speak to her child as an adult. The parent refused to add fuel to the fire, she refused to go down to the level of the child and have a shouting match with a teenager. The sense of empowerment, strengths, dignity and HOPE it evoked in that parent was unbelievable. Has that turned things round immediately – no. But the parent continues practicing the de-escalation which increases her sense of parenting presence and authority. It creates clear new boundaries for the child so it is easier for her to adjust her behaviour accordingly.
The more the parent controls herself the more the child is able to execute the same faculty. The easier is for the child to regulate her behaviour the easier it is for both of them to deal with the real issue which the misbehaviour stemmed from. The more empowered mother feels in dealing with the child’s rudeness the easier it is for the parent to confidently help the child with underlying it difficulties.
Often after practicing the de-escalation for some time parents may reach a point when they feel “why to bother, he continues his outrages/risky/rude/worrying/weird bahvaiours anyway. I am de-escalating but it feels like I am simply allowing him to get away with things. My father would have never allowed that. I am a wimp. I should rather give him a good thrashing”.
Those feelings come and go. It only means you need to regroup, review the situation. Check your understanding of the de-escalation.
De-escalation contains of two main elements. The first is the refusing to pour petrol on the open flames.
Depending on the situation it may mean refraining from interactions with the child, walking away, OR actually staying in, fighting an urge to flee, instead of walking away taking a stance “I am not leaving this place” e.g. a father who was literally hiding in his bedroom most of the time noticed that his presence in the sitting room was in itself de-escalatory. When he started actually speaking to the children “you please respect your mother’s privacy now, she needs a few moments for herself. You do not go into her room, you stay here with me” that proved to be the best de-escalation technique for this family.
The second part of the de-escalation is dealing with the main issues, the actual problem around which the escalations evolve. You decide when and how you are going to have this conversation about the problem. It is done in a calm way because you de-escalated the situation. When you are clam, you are ready to effectively deal with the issue. In the past you might have tried to do it during the escalation – you were shouting and explaining and pleading and lecturing and reasoning AND it was all wasted. The child was out of your reach then. She stopped listening to you after the first 3 seconds.
So the de-escalation is complete when you have this conversation about the problem. It is not forgotten! You are not worried about rocking the boat. You come back to the issue BUT on your terms. When you are ready.