What’s inside this article: 6 non-violent crisis intervention strategies that help with aggressive, threatening, or violent behaviors in children during meltdowns. These strategies help keep the child and others safe while remaining supportive of the individual having the meltdown. These are based on training from the Crisis Prevention Institute.
NVCI stands for Non-Violent Crisis Intervention, and it consists of various intervention techniques for aggressive, threatening, or violent behaviors. The goal of NVCI skills is to maintain the safety of everyone involved while being supportive and respectful of the individual.
This post will explain several valuable non-violent crisis intervention (NVCI) skills that may help you deal with your child’s meltdowns or outbursts.
However, it is not a substitution for a certified NVCI course.
If you frequently deal with meltdowns involving aggressive and violent behaviors you should consider professional NVCI training. You can find training in your area here.
The Escalation Cycle
The escalation cycle is how I refer to the various stages of arousal or emotional state that your child progresses through when they are having a meltdown.
You can learn more about each stage of the escalation cycle, including what types of behavior to expect at each stage as well as additional strategies you can use that are not part of the NVCI program by reading: The Ultimate Guide to Preventing Meltdowns.
NVCI Skills for Meltdowns & Outbursts
There are six key NVCI techniques covered in this article.
You can refer to this chart as a quick guide to remember what techniques work best during each stage of the escalation cycle.
Note: Everyone is different. Some children find certain strategies triggering that others find calming. If you know a strategy will escalate your child’s meltdown even more – don’t use it. During a meltdown, you cannot discipline or reason with a child. Read over these 18 de-escalation strategies that are meant for the heat of the moment, and hopefully, you’ll find a few new ways to help calm your child during these difficult situations.
When to use: Trigger, Agitation
When your child is upset they may have questions that, although they may sound trivial to you, are legitimate questions to your child. Rather than shutting down their questions with abrupt answers like “because I said so”, practice reflective listening.
Handling Backtalk and Attitude
When to use: Trigger, Agitation
Backtalk is usually used by a child to express their anger about a situation and maybe even to entice you to become angry too.
- Be aware of your own facial expressions, posture, and tone of voice. You must remain calm and do not react in a negative or aggressive way. For example, make sure you don’t cross your arms. – avoid afflictions in your voice that indicate frustration, impatience, and condescension.
- Keep a distance of at least 3 feet from your child. Everyone’s personal space varies and can increase when agitated, this distance ensures you aren’t entering their personal space.
- Talk slowly and civilly
- Explain what the expected behavior is. Saying “stop that” is not enough. You must explain expected behavior in a way your child understands.
- Redirect back to the topic you were addressing if they change the subject. However, keep talking to a minimum.
Offering Choices for Refusal
When to use: Agitation, early acceleration
Your child may refuse to comply with a demand, and challenge your control of a situation by physically and verbally refusing a demand.
Example: You ask your child to “Clean your room” and they respond with “I’m not!”
Example: You can clean your room then we can watch a movie together, or you can go to bed early. You decide.
Remove The Audience
When to use: Acceleration, Agitation, Peak, Deceleration
Behavior may escalate faster when there is an audience.
This is not because your child is seeking attention or to “put on a show” – but because having other bystanders increase anxiety responses and may feel threatening to your child.
Non-Physical Skills for Outbursts
When to use: Acceleration, Peak, De-escalation
Outbursts can be both verbal and physical. They can include screaming, yelling, crying, kicking, throwing, hitting, spitting, etc.
This type of behavior occurs when your child is no longer in control of their behavior- during the acceleration period through to the post-crisis depletion part of a meltdown.
If the outburst is verbal only:
If the outburst is physical:
When to use: All stages
This is the single most important strategy to remember.
Using this strategy is necessary in order to implement all the other techniques discussed in this post. Without rational detachment, it will also be incredibly hard to stay calm throughout the situation.
Rational detachment is the ability to stay in control of your own behavior and not take your child’s acting out or meltdown personally.
Choosing the Right Language
As you implement these NVCI techniques and navigate through meltdowns or challenging behavior, it’s important to choose the right language.
Giving consideration to how you say something can positively impact how your child responds.
A process known as emotion coaching is a helpful way to communicate with a child about their behavior, that validates their feelings while helping them develop better strategies for managing those feelings. Read about emotion coaching here.