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Do You Have a Shifter or a Jumper?

Some kids shift into their stress responses gradually. We can see signs of upset growing gradually with scowling, whining, and cajoling until…boom! Out comes the stress! Other children seem perfectly fine, and then seemingly out of nowhere, the stress response is in full throttle.

If you have a shifter, it’s easier to attend to a child’s growing stress by easing up on demands and slowing down your interactions. Shifters give you enough time to open up space for understanding and articulating your child’s experience of what is going on and to think together about what everyone might need. This slowing down while staying engaged can help draw the child’s nervous system away from its sense of threat so it can return to safety or challenge, where we like it to be most of the time. 

If you have a jumper, there is no warning. Tension in this child’s body shot up to high and it wants to come out…NOW! Jumpers catch us off guard, and many parents live in a constant state of anxiety around these kids. No one can predict when, and even more nerve-wracking, where the child’s nervous system will blow.

Helping both shifters and jumpers starts with being open and accepting of the full range of nervous system responses because they are all intended to help the body. Violence tends to be a direct result of our society’s take on emotions: we think we should control them rather than process them. But just like parents who try to control their emotions until they eventually erupt and then feel like epic failures, the same thing happens to children. It's just that with jumpers, it happens in an instant.

Jumpers in particular need to know what they can do with their fight response and what they can do with their flight response. For their flight response, they need an exit plan. Often, children don’t realize they can just run away. They might like to know that if they ever feel unsafe or super upset, they can go to a designated room until someone they feel safe with can help. At school or daycare, they need to know they can run there without permission and whenever they need to.

For their fight response, they need to know where they can go and what they can do to blow off that steam. It is most effective if that strategy is relational, where you, the parent, are physically involved. Have a plan for some options of what to do together, like wrestling, pool noodle or light saber fighting, or throwing an exercise ball or stuffy at each other. If your child is small enough, have them jump into your arms from a high or bouncy spot.

If an umpire chest protector is in your budget, you can invite your child to take punches in those safety spots. Even jumpers can usually hold off for a moment while you don the necessary safety gear (and don’t forget the earplugs if you’re sensitive to sound). Holding a punching bag while your child goes at it can also feel quite satisfying. If you would rather not have the beating focus on you, join your child in doing strenuous together. Each can grab a throw pillow and take turns whacking at the couch, or you can run together in a race or game of tag. 

At first, children don’t play by any rules because they don’t have neuropathways for that. Don’t be caught off guard by a cheap shot; keep your defenses up and your reflexes sharp. Block any stray hits without comment. Once they understand that you are not trying to discourage their expression of stress, when they get that it is welcome and you are in it with them, they will likely limit their play to acceptable moves only.

For children who shut down rather than blow up, sitting quietly together until the thaw might be all that is needed. For any stress response, avoid talking and especially avoid asking questions. Gesture your communication instead. This video gives more ideas on how to heal children's stress.

Do you want more coaching on this? Book a session with us or register for Joy Class


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