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My child is completely dysregulated!

Sometimes the signs of safety that you use in an attempt to help soothe and calm a child's stress response and nervous system doesn't seem to be enough. Then what?

2 year old Violet was having a complete meltdown in the dining room. Despite usually loving cuddles, Violet didn't want anyone near her and her mother Hannah's use of a soft, slow, low tone of voice was having no impact. Hannah thought about trying to distract Violet from those very strong and intense feelings by offering her an attention shifting or focussing task. A task that Violet enjoyed and one where she would have to focus her attention hence engaging her prefrontal cortex, part of the reflective part of her brain.

Violet enjoyed peeling hard-boiled eggs. Hannah placed an egg in front of Violet and suggested she might like to peel the eggshell. Hannah reminded Violet with voice and gesture that Violet tapped the egg first, then rolled it a little before starting to peel off the shell with her fingers. Violet immediately started on the task and her rage subsided.

What was going on her for Violet?

By encouraging Violet to shift her attention away from her experience of rage and focus it on a physical/sensory task requiring focussed attention such as egg peeling, Hannah was supporting Violet to engage her prefrontal cortex. With this part of the brain engaged, the reactive and emotional part of the brain was dampened. Violet's neuroception was detecting signals of safety,

'Violet is able to focus on one task and ignore everything else going on around her, it's safe'.

Violet's vagus nerve sends the good news from her brainstem and down throughout her entire body so that her heart, lungs and all the rest of her organs respond appropriately and together. Violet's nervous system calms, the energy costly fight-flight response of the sympathetic nervous system has been calmed by the parasympathetic nervous system and Violet returns to a healthy state of rest, relaxation and sociability.

Once she finished peeling her egg, Violet is able to look around at others again, make eye contact and with a little smile bites into her peeled egg.

An awful lot has gone on during one mother's recognition that distraction might be a useful way to support her child's rage.

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