De-Escalation Techniques for Kids: Mirror and Match

How do we help a child de-escalate when exhibiting a big behavior? The “Mirror and Match” de-escalation technique for kids involves using your body to show validation for someone and that you’re taking them seriously during their outburst. ChildSavers‘ Bob Nickles, LCSW, RPT walks us through this de-escalation technique for kids to use at home, in the classroom, or in public.

Watch the step by step video for de-escalation Mirror and Match techniques:


Understanding Mirror Neurons

Mirror neurons tell our minds to start echoing the nervous systems of others and to start calming down. When a child is extremely upset, perhaps engaging in unsafe behavior, we might need to “get big” in our body or volume to match theirs. This does not mean hitting back or mirroring their language/attitude. Simply adjust your posture and find a mature, matched tone of voice.

De-Escalation Step 1: Showing Validation During an Outburst

When someone is “getting big” with you, do not urge them to stay calm. It can make the child feel invalidated and escalate the situation. By mirroring their posture and volume, we’re showing the child that their feelings are important to us.

As we’re mirroring, tell the child something validating like “I can tell you’re very upset. I really want to understand that.”

This helps connect with the child instead of pushing them away or escalating the situation.

De-Escalation Step 2: Gradually Make Yourself Smaller

Once the child understands that you care and that you’re serious about the situation at hand, gradually make yourself smaller or softer. Relax your body intentionally to see if their mirror neurons will “catch”  and “match” this behavior.

As you start to unwind, continue to express validating statements or verbally repeat the things they’re saying.

If their posture, tone, and attitude behinds to soften, keep relaxing and softening. You may even want to ask them to sit down with you or go for a walk. The end goal is “to be two people who are upset about something and talking about it together,” says Bob Nickles, LCSW.

De-Escalation Step 3: Start a calm conversation

When the child has cooled down a bit, try asking a few close-ended, yes or no questions. You may even want to throw a few open-ended questions to gauge their interest in talking things through.

If the child begins answering your open-ended questions, this means they’re in the “front” of their brain, calming down, and a step closer to solving the problem at hand.

Related resources for de-escalation:


Bob Nickles is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW), Registered Play Therapist (RPT), and actor. He was born in South Carolina and has been moving around ever since. Bob lives on the Northside of Richmond and hails most recently from St. Louis. ChildSavers welcomed Bob to the Mental Health team in 2015 and recently, he became the School-Based Program Manager for ChildSavers and Richmond Public Schools Resiliency Partnership. Bob is leading the delivery of clinical services within Richmond’s East End schools and supervises the school-based mental health team.


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