3 Tips To Calm Your Child’s “Fight” Response

Is your child hyper-vigilant and inflexible to change? As guest expert for MN Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome’s Family Center recently, I gave parents of children with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) three ideas for calming distress.

Many intense children register sensory information at too high a level.  The kitchen timer may sound like a fire alarm to your child and elicit a scream; an accidental brush of your sleeve against his bare arm may elicit an attack response, like a hit, as though you intentionally meant to harm him.  What these behaviors tell us is that the sensory system, which is controlled by the brain, is stuck in “fight or flight” mode.

If a child’s brain is constantly in “fight” mode you will recognize it by his behaviors.  He appears to be hyper alert, wary of others and mistrustful of new situations.  His brain spends so much energy being on the lookout for dangerous stimuli, of which there are many to a child who has this type of brain, that he has limited resources for other childhood tasks.  He does not:

  • read social cues well and therefore lacks friends;
  • process or follow directions and therefore appears obstinate;
  • communicate politely and therefore seems rude, confrontational or demanding.

What can we do to overcome this?  We activate the relaxation response.

To trigger feelings of safety rather than danger, try these tips:

  1. Rehearse events that are troubling either ahead of time or after high emotions pass.  For example, if your child reacts to the fire truck sirens every year at the parade, discuss it ahead of time and use books or other visuals so he knows to expect it again this year.  Assure him that, while it bothers him, they will still be there and brainstorm ways to handle the situation so he gains a feeling of control.  If you have toy fire trucks, simulate the event in play and let your child rehearse different responses with you.
  2. Use heavy-muscle activities (Occupational Therapists call this “proprioception”) to soothe the sensory system.  For example, while standing on the curb during the parade play around by jumping, doing push-ups, or carrying heavy objects (e.g. mom’s purse or the cooler) from one family member to another and offer them something from within.
  3. Take your child to a chiropractor who practices the specialized nerve-based approach called Torque Release Technique (TRT).  It is a gentle adjustment style that involves zero cracking/popping and is effective at shifting the brain into relaxation mode.

If you want your child to feel more peaceful, connect more lovingly, and learn new skills—but don’t want to waste time experimenting—contact Brightening Connections.

We are experts at teaching you ways to sharpen your behavior detective skills in order to overcome “fight or flight” behavior through parent coaching and play-based therapy.


  • Ucenk says:

    Great post! My son has sensory prnsseciog disorder & his speech & communication skills are closer to a 2.5-3 year old instead of a 4 year old. (He has excellent literary skills though.) We took photos of my son’s classroom, playground, the coat room, his teachers, the gym, the library, the computer room, the office and even the bathroom. These went in a small album. We visited the school ahead of time too, but the EA used the pictures as a reference to show my son what was coming next. He is not good with transitions and the photos helped when his ears were ‘turned off’. In noisy places he can get overwhelmed &.listening skills drop off dramatically. His JK class is all day every other day, but he does not go the whole day. He started off going for 90 minutes then gradually added chunks of time to his day. He now comes home for 90 minutes & is at school the rest of the day. His sensory issues have lead to a delay in toilet training too. The school has not had a problem with this. The EAs take him into the bathroom to ‘try’ and change his pullup as necessary. Overall we have had a very positive experience with his first year of school. Definitely could use some improvements with support through the CCAC, but that’s a different story. @BlueRaveFinn

    • Samantha says:

      Visuals are SO important to help the brain process information and learn new skills more quickly. Sounds like you are on top of sensory needs!

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