Why does my child lash out? How can I help?

Do you have a child who has unpredictably hit, kicked or even bitten someone else? Are you wondering what on earth is causing this behaviour and what to do about it? Read on…

When you were a tiny little foetus, only around five weeks old, your central nervous system started reacting to external stimuli. When there was a sudden loud noise, you would instinctively shrink to avoid potential danger.

It may come as a surprise, but there is nothing “wrong” with your child. Your child simply lives in a state of fear, and cannot self-regulate in order to feel safe and trust others.

Fear Paralysis Reflex

This instinctive reaction is the Fear Paralysis Reflex (FPR), and is the first of our reflexes to appear. It should disappear in the third trimester, as it finishes doing its job and the Moro reflex takes over ready for birth.

However, excessive stress in pregnancy can cause the FPR to remain active in the system. The result is that we recoil, shrink, tense up and sometimes even feel slow and sluggish when we face a stressful situation, and this, of course, has an effect on emotional development and behaviour, and how we cope with the world around us.

Anxiety is a feeling of the world rushing past you, while you want to curl into a ball – just like the FPR.

Moro Reflex

A few weeks later, a very important reflex that you may have heard of, or even observed, starts to develop. You may know this better as “fight or flight”. This is the Moro reflex, and is responsible for a baby opening it’s entire body up to take a first breath at birth.

If the Moro reflex remains active in the system, which can happen if the FPR interferes with its integration, you’ll have a person who either expresses frustrations by lashing out, being excessively noisy and argumentative (fight) or being excessively demand-avoidant, potentially running away from any demands placed upon them (flight).

Babkin Reflex

The Babkin reflex connects the hand and mouth and is closely related to the FPR and Moro reflex. Retaining this reflex will cause a person to be ANGRY with enormous amounts of cortisol and adrenaline in the system. People with an active Babkin find it very difficult to trust anyone, and may suffer from extreme separation anxiety.

The Babkin tends to affect adoptees, children who have been in foster care, or those who were whipped into SCBU/NICU in the first hours of their lives.

Polyvagal Theory

You may have heard of fight/flight/freeze. These are our primitive survival states, and are what we revert to when we do not have strong enough higher brain connections to understand the difference between REAL danger and PERCEIVED danger, which is not in the least bit threatening. If we do not have strong enough brain connections to the neocortex, our system feels under constant threat, and the result is either that we lash out (verbally or physically), avoid a situation or go into complete lockdown.

The following video explains.

The good news…

The great news for anxiety sufferers is that by repeating foetal movements, it is possible to get the central nervous system to “reboot”. In fact, it is possible reboot and calm the central nervous system with as little as five minutes of gentle movement per day.

An assessment with a neuro-developmental therapist involves careful observation, and, if appropriate, testing for a number of reflexes to see where attention needs to be focussed first. In some cases, it is possible to make immediate gentle shifts – but often, if a child has an extreme Moro reflex, it is not possible to test at all – in which case, we try to show some gentle passive movements to help calm a child down.

The stronger the Moro, the more sensitive a child is likely to be, so it may be that a few seconds of movement is more than enough.

In cases of extreme anxiety, I tend to give some extremely gentle movements for a few weeks, and then suggest following up with the Safe and Sound Protocol – a five-day listening programme, based on forty years’ research by Dr Stephen Porges.

I am currently working with a couple of children who can turn from calm and happy to aggressive and noisy, within seconds. This happens because they have extremely sensitive nervous systems – NOT because they are violent, nasty children – and certainly not because their parents have done anything wrong.

When working with a very sensitive child, it is important to work around their demand avoidance. Once the Moro diminishes, there comes a time that clear boundaries can be enforced – but trying to do this during SSP or while working with Moro reflex integration can exacerbate behaviours.

The big problem with schools is that teachers and other professionals do not tend to be trauma and anxiety informed, and can mistake this behaviour as “poor parenting”. Poor parenting rarely causes a child to be aggressive! Aggression is to do with FEAR – it is not for the sake of it. So, to help an aggressive child, we need to make them feel SAFE in their surroundings. If we cannot achieve this, there is no hope.

Drug-free help for anxiety

I love my work for Move2Connect, because I like to see people discover that they have the power to transform themselves using very simple movements over a period of a few weeks at a time.

It is important to understand that this is not a talking therapy. This reaches the parts that talking therapies cannot reach.

I have a special interest in adult and adolescent mental health, and practice from my clinics in Horsham and Cranleigh.

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