The low arousal approach for behaviours of concern

The low arousal approach is way to handle concerning behaviours where children are highly emotional, based on the principle that children do their best.  Children are learning to regulate affect, which we call “managing feelings”.  So, they are prone to concerning behaviour such as hitting, screaming and biting.  They also can be very sensitive to the feelings of others, and many times cannot differentiate between other people’s feelings and their own.  For example, when other people are angry at them, they can respond with equally or more intense feelings.

The low arousal approach aims to create a calm environment where everyone’s affect (feeling) is thought about.  The methods aim to reduce the affect intensity for both children and parents/caregivers/teachers.

So what does this approach look like?  Let’s take the “escalation phase” as an example.

In the phase leading up to concerning behaviours, you might notice your child will do things like raise their voice, talk faster, fidget, interrupt, tense up, or tease siblings.  You might know some of your child’s escalation signs and find yourself preparing for conflict when you notice them.

What to do next is perhaps counter intuitive, or different from what many parenting courses prescribe.  The suggestions for the low arousal approach are:

To use a calm, even, quiet voice

To sit down if possible

If you are standing, to stand slightly side on to child, rather than front on

If the child steps away from you, to step back also

Not to demand eye contact

And most importantly, definitely not to set limits (this is likely to get children even more worked up.  Setting limits are best done when everyone is calm)

You can find out more about the low arousal approach from Bo Hejlskov Elvén, who is a Clinical Psychologist based in Sweden.  You can find some of Bo’s work in his books (ie Sulky, Rowdy or Rude?), website and YouTube videos.  Or you are welcome to come and see me to discuss more in relation to your family.

Photo by Maria Lysenko on Unsplash


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