• Sarah Dove

Supporting the Fight, Flight or Freeze Response

Last week, we used our #KidsCovidMH chat to discuss the fight, flight or freeze response and its increased prevalence as a consequence to the pandemic. As many of us continue to feel anxious, angry or isolated, we explore what this response means and how we can support our young children as we experience ongoing changes in the government response to COVID-19.

In today's society, we experience a barrage of stressors that do not need the increase in arousal. The challenge is that we are often in environments that do not allow us to use the increase in arousal and 'unspent' increased arousal can make us feel anxious, uncomfortable and afraid and the problem is that living with increased, unspent arousal response can lead to changes the biochemistry of our brain that does lead to mental health challenges and long term trauma response.

So, what do we do about this?

With an inability to change the involuntary way we respond to threat, we need to support our children in the way they perceive threats and process the responses that may trigger.

As part of this, giving out our children the opportunity to understand and question the threat that COVID-19 present, is vital. Some children will need regular reminders of the rules and restrictions that are in place to protect them. Others may wish to wear a mask at all times and others may know that they should wear a mask but struggle with the textures and feelings of the mask itself.

As parents and teachers, we should ensure that children are able to 'escape' when they feel the need to. When the threat of the classroom or the pupil sitting next to them becomes too much to bear, children that are particularly vulnerable to the flight, fight or freeze response should be given the opportunity to escape the situation without the need for permission or justification. Resources such as time-out cards, a different traffic light card on a child’s table to show they need to ‘break out’ or a gesture which indicates they need that space could be all ways in which support children.

If unable to ‘flee’ some children are likely to be more restless, fidgety or even become agitated, volatile and potentially aggressive. Children who may respond in this manner, may benefit from extra time to 'spend' their increased arousal in the playground or through a form of sport or exercise. Allowing them to go for a run around the playground or giving them five minutes to play ball in the hall could be incredibly beneficial to them and the other pupils in your class.

In all instances, we agreed that supporting your children and pupils with understanding this process and promoting neuroeducation within your class, is vital when it comes to giving children control and clarity around their feelings and associated behaviours. We are yet to know what a generation who have spent significant periods in heightened stress response will respond but providing safety, reassurance and opportunity to act out or respond to emotions is the starting blocks for minimising long term harm. If you have particularly concerns or specific questions, please feel free to get in touch @phoenixgrouphq or @phoenixedsarah online.