How to Stop Escalating Challenging Behaviors and Start Defusing the Situation

Inside: We’re breaking down the concept of 4-step in-the-moment plans using our You-Cue framework to defuse tantrums, outbursts, and meltdowns – all while staying connected with your kid.

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What is the best way to quickly defuse your child’s challenging behavior in the heat of the moment?

Yelling at them? Punishing them? Locking them in their room? 

Nah, that’s not the way to go!

I mean, do you respond well to being yelled at or told to go away when you do something “wrong”?

“WHY did you do that?” 

“Didn’t we JUST have this conversation?”

“I just said NO! Go to your room!”

“You know the rules! If you can’t listen, no more TV for the rest of the day.”

Although a surprising number of experts advise using such measures (okay, nobody advises yelling, but definitely strict rules and limits) and insist on staying consistent no matter what. It’s giving “Show ‘em who’s BOSS” vibes. 

They make it seem like if you’re a gentle parent, your kids are going to walk all over you and everyone else. 

But using these harsh methods will only add fuel to the fire. 

And the point is NOT TO make things worse in those intense situations.

I’ve been using an alternative approach for a while now, and guess what? It works! Not just for me but for countless families I’ve shared it with.

My system has nothing to do with quick hacks or tricks you’ve seen scrolling Pinterest, TikTok, or Instagram. Here at Calm the Chaos, we’re all about creating lasting change.

So how do we do that?

I’ve created In-the-Moment plans using our You-Cue framework. And I can show you how to handle tantrums, outbursts, and meltdowns while staying connected with your kid.

What’s the secret?

By using these in-the-moment plans, you’ll gain invaluable experience and become better at defusing tense situations while empowering your child. 

With these small changes, you can build trust and even bond in the tough moments (instead of having to repair over and over). 

And while you gain confidence in your parenting, your child is learning to trust that you have their back, and that you’re on the same team. 

And the best part? 

You’ll even learn to anticipate and prevent tantrums, outbursts, and meltdowns before they even happen, so you can go from putting fires out, to preventing them entirely!

The Calm at the Center of the Storm

As we dive into the Calm the Chaos System, its 4-step framework, and the 5-stage road map, it might sound like some complicated, mind-blowing stuff. But it’s actually a simple concept that can be summed up in one idea:

Treat your kids like fellow humans. Just that.

See, while we’re busy building structure, setting boundaries, and sticking to rules, we often overlook their needs and abilities (physical, emotional, and intellectual). 

And our little ones need a safe space to mess up, make mistakes, and have a bit of misbehavior.  

What they really need is a coach or mentor who can teach them how to respond differently and get their needs met without resorting to hitting, arguing, or pushing boundaries.

And In-the-Moment plans are all about diffusing those challenging behaviors and guiding them towards building skills and improving communication. 

FYI, if you’re working on putting all of the pieces together, it’s worth noting that these plans build on the other stages in the road map.

In a previous post, we tackled Stage One of the Parenting Road Map, where we learned to ride out the storm (if YouTube is your jam, check out the episode here). We have also covered finding time and energy for ourselves (Stage two is also on YouTube). 

And now, it’s time to figure out how to handle those intense moments and stay connected through it all.

At this point, you’re a true Chaos Wrangler, dealing with different hurdles with your kiddo(s). And it just feels like you’re trying to remain calm no matter what you do, but it’s really difficult.

In the Heat of the Moment

When your kid refuses to budge from their electronics or the siblings are fighting, it’s all too easy to jump in and attack. 

  • “How dare you?”
  • “What’s wrong with you?”
  • “How many times have I told you?”

But let’s face it, that approach never works. It’s like banging your head against a wall. 

You can’t expect your kids to listen, follow directions, or trust you when you’ve just yelled at them, criticized them, or talked down to them.

Even the advice from therapists falls short. They say, “Leave them alone in their room to calm down.” (And this is the worst part) “You’re fueling their tantrums and meltdowns and making them worse.”

When we were dealing with some of our biggest storms, we were hearing all kinds of terrible advice from “experts” – and out of desperation, we tried everything. Even the things that go against our gut feelings. 

So, during one of our son’s meltdowns, despite my reluctance and doubt, we decided to try the old “leave them alone to calm down. Do not engage!” 

I shut the door and held the backside so he couldn’t come out. I sat there in silence while he screamed and kicked. 

And when the room finally went quiet, I cautiously entered.

But what I discovered shook me to my core.

It’s still difficult to think about today. 

He had opened his second-story window and was on the brink of jumping out. 

And to top it off, he had a plastic bag over his head.

I rushed in and he blurted out: 

“I just want it to stop! I don’t want to be mean. I don’t want to feel like this, but I don’t know what to do.”

I had unintentionally put my son in a position where he felt unsafe, rejected, alone, and scared. 

That moment was a wake-up call. We realized we needed a different plan for handling these high-pressure moments.

4-Step In-The-Moment Plan 

We needed a system that would assure him that I’m his safe place, that he can rely on us, and that we’re there to help him defuse the bomb instead of trying to fix, solve, or change who he is when things get heated.

Because in the heat of the moment, it is never the time to:

  1. ignore
  2. try to fix and solve

So, the In-the-Moment plan was born.

Just like the other plans we’ve talked about in Calm the Chaos, this one follows the You-Cue framework and has 4 simple steps.

(For those of you who haven’t checked out our podcast, now’s the perfect time to catch up and binge-listen.)

You – Swapping the Thought Monsters

In the “You” piece, we have this cool technique called Thought Swaps.

Here’s the deal: When we’re feeling resentful, frustrated, angry, or mad, it’s impossible to approach the moment calmly, compassionately, kindly, lovingly, and openly. 

To change our feelings, we need to start with our own thoughts.

The easiest way to do this is by depersonalizing the thoughts and feelings that pop into our heads, like:

  • “This will never get better.”
  • “My kid always yells.”
  • “There’s so much going on. How will I ever get through this?”
  • “I should have done this.”
  • “If only I had done that.”

That’s where Thought Monsters come in. These are common negative thoughts we can swap for positive ones – AKA: Super Swaps.

Thought monsters and their Super Swap counterparts:

  • Cyclone: Feeling overwhelmed, frantic, with thoughts like “How can I do all this?”
    Swap it for DJ Breakdown, who helps you gain clarity and get into the “I’ve got this” mindset.
  • Always & Never Beast: Feeling helpless, thinking your child always or never does something you ask.
    Bring in Fact Finder Freddy to look for proof that it’s not “always” or “never”. It’s “sometimes”, “when stressed”, “when there is less time”, or … fill in the blanks.
  • Shoulda/Coulda/Woulda: Feeling sad, embarrassed, and regretting things you’ve (not) done.
    Enter the Sparkler, which focuses on recognizing your strengths and small growth moments and seeing the good in yourself.

The game-changing idea behind these swaps is that the thoughts that pop into your head may not be true at all. Instead of buying into the nonsense… challenge them and replace them with more positive and empowering ones.

Connect – Get Closer and Lower

When things get heated, it’s definitely not the time to fix, lecture, or try to be a skill-building ninja. That’s when we need to focus on building trust and connection with our kids and being their safe place.

So here’s the key to connecting in the moment: get closer and lower. 

I know some of you are thinking, “Yeah, right! I tried getting closer and got a foot to the face.” or “If I get closer, she’s just gunna get angrier! She doesn’t want me anywhere near her.”

The “closer and lower” idea here is more about aligning your energy, building a relationship, and adjusting your physical presence. It means getting in their proximity in a way that works for you both. 

Like, instead of yelling across the house, go to the same room as them. If you’re in the same room, cross the room to be near them (but in a supportive, not intimidating way). 

Similarly, the “lower” part involves disarming your body language, not looking like a towering force. You could squat down, lower your body, or have them stand up.

The goal is to level the playing field so you don’t appear as this huge, scary monster coming to shut down whatever they’re doing.

Understand – Identifying Root Causes of Challenging Behavior

Now, when I’m in the heat of the moment, my focus is on identifying the unmet needs that drive these outward expressions of frustration or explosive behavior.

I’ve spent a lot of time pinpointing the most common root causes of children’s challenging behavior and created a simple checklist system to make it easier.

Of course, I don’t mean you should go through the checklist while your kids are brawling. 

It’s about recognizing that there’s something under the surface, that what you see on top isn’t the whole story.

In the heat of the moment, it’s about having empathy and understanding. You’re actually looking for the most probable missing need, moving down the checklist to explore less likely causes. And here are six causes that I’ve identified:

  1. Basic needs
  2. Connection 
  3. Sensory 
  4. Skills
  5. Desires
  6. Avoidance

If one of these is lacking, it’s absolutely contributing to your chaos. 

For a deep dive into these causes, make sure to catch this week’s podcast episode.

challenging behaviors

(And if you’d like to dive even deeper into this, you can check out my book Sensory Processing 101 or pre-order your copy of my Calm The Chaos Book. Snag those epic pre-order bonuses!)

Empower – Knowing Ahead of Time What to Say/Do/Provide

The final piece is all about empowering yourself to be prepared in advance for what you’ll say, do, and offer in the heat of the moment.

Because let’s face it – if you’re bombarding yourself with a bunch of strategies in the midst of it all, they’ll go out the window, and you’ll end up feeling guilty for yelling instead of calmly expressing what you really wanted to say.

So the key is to create a more predictable situation by having a plan in place, minimizing the need for last-minute changes or improvisation.

Start by observing and understanding what usually goes down, and then practice your responses, actions, and provisions before the potential explosion hits.

In our Huddle Membership, we’ve got around 30 ready-to-go plans for different scenarios tailored to each child. However, it’s important to view it as a flexible framework that you can tweak and adapt to fit your unique family dynamics.

What’s Next

In our upcoming post (and podcast episode), we’re going to be talking about how to actually get ahead of these moments, unravel the behavior, problem-solve, and build those skills outside the heat of the moment. 

Because that’s what the next stage is all about – building that unwavering trust, deepening the bond, and creating the skills that your child needs so that both of you can feel empowered

And until then, don’t forget that you are not alone in this rollercoaster journey. 

Even if you’re thinking, “Yeah, but they don’t know my kids.”

Believe me, we have heard something very, very similar. So don’t hesitate to reach out and share what you’re struggling with. 

And here’s a little reminder for you – you’re no failure, your child isn’t broken, and…

You’ve got this!


– – –

Calm the Chaos Parenting is a podcast offering parents practical tools and strategies to navigate the challenges of raising strong-willed, highly sensitive, and neurodivergent children.

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– Check out my website 

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