Welcome to Developing Matters CIC articles for families and schools, and most importantly how we can best support our children and young people. The topics are helpful for you to navigate the busy world and understand your children and young people at a deeper level. Knowledge of how the brain works is very powerful and can be a strategy for dealing with worries, stresses, life events and transitions. Hopefully we can all learn how to live more mindfully in this busy world.

How can I help my child if they are in fight, flight, freeze mode?

Fight, flight, freeze mode pretty much acts as an alarm in our brain when we do not feel safe. When we are in danger or feel that we are being threatened we go into the fight, flight, freeze response. Fight, flight, freeze was really helpful millions of years ago when people had a lot of danger around them; such as other people or dangerous animals… humans had to be in survival mode a lot of the time to stay alive.

What does fight, flight, freeze look like?

Fight, flight, freeze in the modern-day world can be triggered for all sorts of reasons, and generally not because we are in extreme danger. However, it is a brain and body response and it feels very real when we are worried, scared, anxious or feel personally threatened. Here’s what it might look like in children and young people:



Fight tends to be an outward behaviour or feeling like someone wants to act this way such as shouting, screaming, hitting or throwing something. Fight can cause lots of different body changes such as clenched fists, tense shoulders or jaw, muscle cramps and/or increased heart rate. Children and young people may cry a lot or be inconsolable, or angry a lot of the time if they are stuck in fight mode, even if the threat isn’t happening at that moment in time.


Flight can cause an inward behaviour such as running away, hiding or locking themselves in their room or more subtly just walking away from a situation such as an argument or fight. Again this can be a feeling or thought that someone might have but and keep it inside. Flight can also be distraction tactics or even words such as distracting from a conversation or pretending they can’t hear you to avoid a situation.



Freeze can cause changes to the body as well such as increased heart rate, shaking or the eye to widen. Freeze can make you feel like you have forgotten everything like in a test situation, or when a teacher shouts a child’s name they may jump and freeze; worrying about what is expected of them. Freeze can also be zoning out, shutting down or ignoring people, after freeze usually follows the need to fight or flee.

The Amygdala

Our brain’s alarm system

The amygdala is responsible for our fight, flight, freeze mode, and this part of the brain is in every human, animal and mammal to try and keep safe from being attacked or eaten! Fight, flight, freeze is good to keep us safe and is mostly triggered when an event happens. However, sometimes we can be in constant fight, flight, freeze mode and be on high alert when we do not need to be. This can add to anxiety and worry and make us feel unsafe or upset, and this is the same for our children and young people.

The amygdala are two almond-shaped parts of the brain, one on the left side and one on the right side (shown in the diagram below). For such a big part of our reactions, it is a very small area of our brain. It is like a guard dog or alarm system; it tries to protect us and warn us about any danger we may face. The amygdala can be triggered by thoughts, emotions, memories, events or a mixture of all those things, and it reacts very quickly! It sends signals to different parts of the brain and influences the decisions we make.

When is our amygdala helpful?

Sometimes the amygdala is great as it protects us from danger. Some examples for both adults and young people are:

  • Moving out the road when a car is coming.
  • Being more alert when a stranger is approaching.
  • Removing self from an argument or fight.
  • Working out if a place is safe and looking around or listening.
  • When we have to make decisions we are unsure about.


It releases the stress response for us and works really well in a lot of day-to-day situations. Our brain tries to make sense of situations and also tries to work out if we may be in danger in the future as well as the present moment. When it works well for us it keeps us safe and happy and helps us to navigate worries or upsetting events or situations.

When is it not helpful?

The amygdala can react pretty quickly and sometimes it doesn’t give us a chance to work out if we are actually in danger or not, creating false alarms. It can make mistakes and make us feel like we are in danger, making us feel worried, stressed and anxious when we do not need to be. There are times when the amygdala doesn’t need to go off as much or worry as much as it does.

The amygdala can also be on high alert and over-reactive all of the time due to a number of things such as:

  • Experience of trauma.
  • A life-changing event.
  • Being in a difficult, unsafe or worrying environment.
  • Extreme fear of the unknown.
  • Having an overreactive response to things that others find low-level triggers.
  • Additional needs, sensory processing needs, autism, ADHD.
  • Anxiety disorders and/or depression.
  • Transition times of life.

Any worries or stress can cause someone to be on high alert all of the time and be very sensitive to events, their own triggers, experiences and sensory activities. When the fight, flight, freeze response is stuck in this mode everything can feel like a threat or worry, even if it isn’t.

This can also be the case for a young person going through an event such as an exam period, they may feel more pressured, stressed and tired which will make their amygdala ready to respond; such as shouting back at someone out of content (flight), or feeling like they don’t want to get out of bed and face the day (flight).

How can we help our brain's alarm system?

Depending on each trigger, situation or event we need to understand when we are in fight, flight, freeze.

  • If we have been in a normal state and then our fight, flight, freeze is triggered then we can hopefully know that the response happened, the threat or perceived threat has passed and think about how we can settle our mind, body and/or breathing back to a normal state.
  • Anxiety is a natural feeling and we will all feel anxious at some point in our life, however, if it doesn’t pass or we feel that there isn’t a reason for it then we need to help our alarm to settle.
  • If we are in constant fight, flight, freeze and overwhelmed by everything, triggered by everything or hypersensitive to things then we need to work out how to get into a normal and more relaxed state. This is where help may be needed!

What strategies can help the amygdala?

There are lots of ways we can help settle our amygdala; which in turn helps the rest of our brain to think about the choices we have in situations.

Knowledge is power! I teach young people all of the time about the fight, flight, freeze response. The best thing we can do is educate them about this response so they have a chance to understand why their brains work a certain way and to also recognise when they are in that response and what they can do. You can think of some verbal prompts for your child/young person, e.g. “Is your alarm going off?” or “How can we help your amygdala?”

Once we are aware of fight, flight, freeze we can begin to observe ourselves and our children in a more mindful way and find our individual strategies to help in times of need. We can stop and think about what we need to do and use other areas of our brain to work things out instead of letting the amygdala take over.

Here’s some pointers to understand more about fight, flight, freeze:

  • Learning, researching and understanding.
  • Educating yourself and others.
  • Reasoning with the fight, flight, freeze response.
  • Identifying the triggers.
  • Being aware and in the present moment.
  • Create a strategy list to help.


Creating a strategy list needs to be in 3 different sections. One for strategies that can help in times of need, one for recovery of when the situation has passed to settle the central nervous system and one for day-to-day activities that make you/your child feel happy. From my experience, people seem to try and use strategies in times of need, but they are also helpful to do during the day and also to settle down the amygdala as well. Here are some starting points for your list(s):

  • Mindful moments.
  • Mindful movement.
  • Physical activity.
  • Relaxation techniques.
  • Social support.
  • Sensory activities.
  • Having a distraction.
  • Talking to someone.


They all sound very simple but they all work! What you need to do is identify the specific activities and strategies for you and/or your child. My go-to is music, being outside, talking to someone and also 7/11 breathing. We are all individuals so our specific lists will be completely different. Here’s some additional information for you to think about:

Being mindful and aware:

When we are in fight, flight, freeze our minds are very busy and full of thoughts that might make it difficult to think straight. Coming out of the busy mind helps us to think more clearly and deal with the things that are worrying us. You can learn more about the busy mind in our next article.

Having a distraction:

This list could be very big and different for everyone. A distraction can be great to come out of fight, flight, freeze if appropriate at the time. So if it is to stop worrying thoughts then a distraction will work, but if someone is dealing with the event at that moment then distractions aren’t possible. A distraction from worrying can be music, being creative, being outside, a sport or activity, a hobby, laughter, watching a movie.

Learning and Educating:

The more we learn about the brain the more we can help ourselves and our young people when they need it. Educating our young people is also very important to how they understand themselves and the world around them. If it is not possible to verbally educate your child, then understanding it yourself;  observing, supporting your child and modelling and doing strategies together is still very important. At Developing Matters CIC we have some courses, manuals and resources suitable for parent, schools and young people for learning about topics such as fight, flight, freeze with lots of strategies and techniques as well.

Breathing techniques:

Our breathing changes when we are in fight, flight, freeze and sometimes does not go back to a normal or calm state. Breathing techniques give our bodies the time to settle the central nervous system and be in a calm state, helping the brain to function better and making the strategies and techniques we use work more efficiently. It is important to work on breathing techniques over a period of time for them to work as they need to. With the learning from our courses and within our manuals and resources on our website there is information about breathing techniques and visuals to help you to do these at home.

Parent course and strategies for you and your child/ren

The fight, flight, freeze & the busy mind mini-course Parent Course – Fight, Flight, Freeze and The Busy Mind – Developing Matter | Mindfulness In Schools (developingmatters.com) for parents is easy to read and follow and has been created from the Mindful & Wellbeing Course we offer to schools to work through, enabling them to support children’s mental health and wellbeing. We know it is important for parents to learn and have knowledge about the important and useful topics we teach to young people at Developing Matters CIC.

The mini-course for parents includes 3 breathing techniques and 2 mindful moments to try and is split into two learning themes with 14 topics and follow-up activities:

  • Fight, Flight, Freeze
  • The Busy Mind


Or if you want to work through the mini-manual for young people, this can be done at home or at school either with an adult or independently from the age of 10, with lots of information, technique’s and strategies Mini Course: Fight, Flight, Freeze & The Busy Mind – Developing Matter | Mindfulness In Schools (developingmatters.com)


 Developing Matters CIC information (August 2023)

I’m Clare Hales,  I’m married and I have a son aged 10 and a daughter aged 12. I’m currently working towards a PhD on my research project ‘mindfulness-based interventions for autistic young people’ at Edge Hill University. From this research I’m hoping that more schools will develop mindful and wellbeing interventions, classes and strategies throughout their schools to support anxieties and worries young people face.

My previous work includes as a special needs teacher and mindful and wellbeing practitioner for young people. For the last 6 years I have been working with young people for them to have an understanding of their brain, thoughts, feelings and behaviours and giving them the strategies to get through their stresses and worries and life transitions they face in this busy world.

I’m also working with schools on a train-the-trainer model so school staff can learn the intervention course themselves and hopefully then work with as many young people in their care as possible to support their mental health and wellbeing. If you are interested in any training or resources as a school or parent send us an email at developingmatters@gmail.com or visit our website www.developingmatters.com

*Research and sources of information can be found on our website under ‘evidence’.