What is flight, fight or freeze?

What is flight, fight or freeze?

December 10, 2014 - 10:48 am
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What to do if a child senses danger when there is none

If a child tries to take flight from a situation that isn’t that dangerous it might be a good idea, once the child feels safe, to help them find a new response.

Sensory modulation is how we perceive our senses and how we appropriately respond to what our body sees, hears, tastes, touches, smells and how our body balances or moves. An appropriate sensory response means that the way we respond is adjusted to match the environmental demand.

For example, when it is midnight and you are walking to your car alone in an unlit parking lot and a car alarm goes off, it is appropriate for you to jump a foot in the air, gasp in surprise, tense your muscles and quickly look around you for danger. But when it is a busy Saturday after- noon and you and seemingly everyone else in town is shopping at the grocery store and a car alarm goes off in the parking lot, it is more appropriate for you to barely notice or ignore that car alarm altogether, unless, of course, it is your own car!

One part of sensory modulation is showing fight, flight or freeze response appropriately. So, if a child shows a fight, flight or freeze reaction to a circumstance or environment that really presents no danger, then we need to provide the child with a safe place and a safe response. What matters with fight, flight or freeze is that the child feels s/he is in danger. S/he needs to feel safe first and foremost and before you or the child can do anything else. When you are in fight, flight or freeze mode, you are not listening well, you are not seeing well. You are just trying to survive.

Flight; ever have a child take off on you?

Fight; ever have a child hit when someone just slightly bumps into them in line?

Freeze; ever have a child “clam up” and not respond to your simple questions? Think of stage fright magnified by 100.

What can you do to help a child who shows a sensory modulation response of flight, fight or freeze to no danger?

1.The first reminder is always prevention. I just entertained family visiting from Germany. We have a litany of questions that we jestingly ask when we travel together; are you tired? Are you hungry? Are you thirsty? Do you want to take a break? Funny how we take care of guests and forget to take care of ourselves and our children to the same extent.


2.If fight, flight or freeze happens, help the child immediately feel safe. Provide reassurance and redirection.


3.When ready, help the child “do over” with the skill set and strategies in place at another time. That might mean a few minutes later, days, weeks or years. Teach the skills and strategies during a non-threatening time. When ready, introduce the non-dangerous event that provoked a danger response the first time, with the skills and abilities to respond appropriately this time. Remember you don’t want to practise fight, flight or freeze responses. Practise what works, and not what doesn’t.



Do you want more sensory strategies?  I have written an eBook full of tried, true and tested ones.  Download Sensory and Behaviour:  Strategies.


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