De-Escalation Techniques for Kids: Mirror and Match – ChildSavers

Understanding Mirror Neurons

When children exhibit intense behavior or engage in unsafe actions, it is crucial to help them de-escalate. One effective technique is called “Mirror and Match.” This approach involves using your own body and voice to validate the child’s emotions and show that you take them seriously, without resorting to mirroring their negative behavior. In this article, we will explore step-by-step how to utilize the Mirror and Match technique for de-escalation at home, in the classroom, or in public.

Step 1: Validating During an Outburst

When a child is acting out, it is important not to dismiss their feelings or demand that they calm down immediately. Instead, mirror their body language and intensity while maintaining a mature and appropriate tone. By doing so, you convey that their emotions are valid and that you genuinely want to understand what they are experiencing. Connect with the child on an empathetic level, rather than pushing them away or exacerbating the situation.

Step 2: Gradually Soften Your Approach

Once the child feels that you genuinely care and are taking the situation seriously, begin to gradually make yourself smaller and softer. Consciously relax your body, hoping that their mirror neurons will mirror this calming behavior. While you unwind, continue to offer validating statements and repeat what they are saying, verbally acknowledging their thoughts and feelings. If you notice their posture, tone, and attitude begin to soften, keep relaxing and softening yourself. You might even suggest sitting down together or going for a walk. The ultimate goal is to create an environment where both of you can discuss the issue as two individuals who are upset about something.

Step 3: Initiating a Calm Conversation

Once the child has started to calm down, it’s time to engage in a calm conversation. Begin with a few closed-ended questions, allowing for yes or no answers. If the child responds positively, you can gradually introduce open-ended questions to gauge their willingness to talk things through. When the child starts answering open-ended questions, it signifies that they are in a calmer state of mind, with their rational thinking abilities taking over. This brings them one step closer to resolving the problem at hand.

For additional resources on de-escalation, check out the following:

  • Calming Breathing Techniques For Children
  • Understanding Big Behaviors: What Does It Actually Mean To “Flip Your Lid”

To learn more about de-escalation techniques and how to support children, visit

Bob Nickles

Bob Nickles is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW), Registered Play Therapist (RPT), and actor. Born in South Carolina, he has lived in various places throughout his life. Bob currently resides in Richmond’s Northside, having recently moved from St. Louis. In 2015, Bob joined ChildSavers’ Mental Health team, and he now serves as the School-Based Program Manager for ChildSavers and the Richmond Public Schools Resiliency Partnership. He leads the delivery of clinical services in the East End schools of Richmond and supervises the school-based mental health team.

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