De-escalating a young person. I have been asked that a few times since starting my business, and my response is that, based on my experience, it still boils down to how you project yourself, your body language, how you control your tone of voice, and how well you engage and listen to the young person vent.
In reviewing information online and, of course, Youtube, I find exactly what I teach in my conflict de-escalation training workshops, it comes down to body language, tone of voice, and active reflective listening. I came up with an acronym for my training – ACE, for Appearance, Communication and Engagement.
Young people look to adults for signs of safety or threats or danger, hence the importance that your Appearance is that of non aggression, non hostility. Too often times adults will fall back on THEIR normal instincts in a stressful situation to use their larger size to try to dominate or intimidate a smaller/younger person into submission. I’m not going to lie, I have done it myself, and in those situations it did not always end up the way I wanted it to. Because I was aware of the basic animal instinct to react with fear aggression to something larger than it, I would always try get to a younger person’s physical level, so for example I would take a seat or take a knee when talking to someone smaller than me. In my experience that ALWAYS helped a great deal when I was dealing with a juvenile.
I remember an incident where a kid about 15 years old or so started damaging things in his home because he got caught doing something he wasn’t suppose to do, lying about it, and his mom had grounded him. This kid was much larger than his mom too, so his throwing a fit and getting violent was very scary to his mom who then called the police. He was relatively calm but still angry in his room and sitting in a chair when I made contact with him. I asked if he was still angry, which let him know I was recognizing HOW he was feeling, and let him know I was there to have 2-way communication with him. I maintained a reactionary gap between us and took a seat on the end of the bed, and sat as relaxed as possible while still prepared for any attack against me. We were about at the same level and I just simply began to talk to him, and that leads me to my next basic concept, Communication and your tone of voice.
I had a conversational tone of voice, and we could hear his mom angrily talking to my partner in the living room. We talked for about 20 minutes or so, about family life, school, interpersonal relationships and he responded in a conversational tone too, and I could see he was relaxing with me as we spoke. I got him to admit and fully acknowledge his part in getting in trouble, he had to admit that HE would have been upset too if he had instructed a child of his to do something and they blatantly disobeyed and then lied about it. I made a point of being encouraging too, telling him that sometimes being a teen was a heck of a challenge, and I told him that the fact that he and I could have a calm conversation told me that he was going to be okay, just had to work through his own family dynamics. And that leads me to my third basic concept to keep in mind when de-escalating a situation –
Engagement, your active reflective listening. I listened to this young man, probably something he was not very use to, especially from a police officer. I pointed out where I could relate to things in his life from my own growing up years, I found common experiences and I established a rapport with him. I have heard other police officers basically tell a young person that their parents are their parents and have authority over them and they are juveniles and that is that. I would cringe when I heard a young person spoken to that way. I’m not saying that at some point I did not remind the juvenile of that chain of command but I delivered it very differently and I timed it differently.
I think that people of any age when angry or what ever tap into their basic animal instinct, and when in contact with you they are going to looking at you and considering whether you look like a threat, and listening to you to consider if you sound like a threat.
When de-escalating a young person it still all boils down to ACE, your Appearance, your Communication, and your Engagement.