Talking Through A Crisis

Blog Article: Talking Through a Crisis

Have you ever thought, “I don’t know what to do in a crisis”, “what can I say”, or “I’m afraid I’ll only make it worse”? We know that a crisis can affect anyone at any time. We are often glad when we have professional resources to help us. However, when it comes to a crisis with our own teens, we are often the first on the scene and often by ourselves. A brief overview of talking through a crisis can help to both feel calm and be prepared.

Let’s start by recognizing an emotional crisis. We can define this as any situation that puts teens at risk of hurting themselves or others when that teen isn’t able to resolve the situation using the resources available. An emotional crisis can have many causes including increased stress, changes in the family situation, bullying at school, substance use, and medical illness. The first step is to be watchful for warning signs. Some questions to ask yourself are:

  • Is my teen suddenly unable to cope with the day to day task that she usually can handle?
  • Are my teens moods changing quickly (i.e., hyper, fidgety, or depressed)?
  • Is my teen more agitated (i.e., verbal threats, violence, property destruction)?
  • Is my teen hurting herself (i.e., cutting, alcohol or substance use)?
  • Is my teen isolating (i.e., no interest in fun activities, changing friendships, stopping schoolwork)?
  • Does my teen have unexplained physical symptoms (i.e., headaches, stomach aches, complaints)?

When these warning signs develop into a crisis, parents and friends often wish that they had a professional by their side to implement an “Effective De-escalation Technique”. However, the most effective de-escalation technique is communication and the best person is someone who cares. A teen in a crisis is most often looking for someone to empathize with their feelings. You can be most helpful when you do the following:

  • Remain calm, especially keep your voice calm
  • Keep the level of stimulation low
  • Announce any actions you take before taking them
  • Move slowly
  • Give physical space and make sure they can walk away if needed
  • Let them initiate eye contact
  • Listen to their story, listen more than you talk
  • Use short sentences when you do talk
  • Paraphrase what you have heard them say
  • Show that you understand their point of view
  • Offer opinions instead of giving directions
  • Ask how you can help
  • Express your support and concern
  • Avoid arguments, instead, find areas of agreement
  • Be patient
  • Make an agreement for a plan of action
  • Get more help if you are not being effective

So much of what we call Crisis Intervention is talking and being a supportive friend. Though developing communication skills can help somewhat, the most powerful ingredient is the relationship. If you believe that you may find yourself in an emotional crisis, or if you simply have the desire to be a helpful person, work on your genuine relationships with the teens in your life. A kind word to the right person at the right time has been known to save lives.

By, Duane Kemp