Sensory Processing Disorder Flight Fight & Freeze 

Flight, flight and freeze are all stress responses for children. Flight, fight or freeze can all be an extremely scary reaction to stress that children can have. 

Most adults and children do not understand flight, fight or freeze responses and are confused why they are having these survival responses. 

It is important to explain to children why they are having these stress responses so they don't believe something is wrong with them.  

When you see that your child is feeling overwhelmed or dysregulated ask them to take a deep breath. Teach them some mindful activities that they are able to do when they are feeling sensory overload. 

There is a part of our brain called the amygdala. The amygdala is like an alarm and as soon as we feel stress, anxiety, worry, fear or danger our alarm goes off. This is the part of our brains that start the flight, fight and freeze. 

When you notice that your child is getting overwhelmed acknowledge what they are experiencing and show compassion and understanding. Children often don't understand big feelings and emotions. This can lead to a child feeling extremely overwhelmed, anxious and lead them to a meltdown. 

We all experience anxiety from time to time and it is a normal part of life, but it can become very overwhelming for some more than others. Anxiety can affect our bodies, feelings and thoughts. Anxiety can cause different reactions for everyone. When someone struggles with anxiety, they can learn strategies to manage the anxiety in our bodies, feelings, thoughts and our reactions too. 

There are several types of childhood anxieties. Separation Anxiety Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Selective Mutism, Specific Phobias, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Social Anxiety Disorder, Panic Attacks and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. 

Ask your child if they need a break to do some breathing exercises or to practice other coping skills they have learned. Ask your child which mindful breathing coping activity they prefer and sit down and do the chosen activity with your child together. 

Once you observe that your child is regulated and feeling calmer, redirect them back to the activity and let them know you are going to get through it together. Taking a break will help your child from getting dysregulated. 

There are many calm down strategies for kids to try. Providing them with a calm down kit or a quiet sensory area can be very beneficial for kids. Ask your child if they would like to try yoga. Yoga can also improve the proprioception and vestibular sensory systems.

Flight, fight and freeze responses are very difficult for a child to experience. Be supportive. Tell them you love them, support them and are there for them. Ask your child how you can help them. Offer them a hug and reassure them that they are safe. 

Consult with your child's doctor or therapist if you are concerned for your child. Keep your child's environment as calm as possible while they are experiencing anxiety and flight, fight or freeze reactions. 

Practice mindful activities and breathing techniques regularly even when your child is not needing them in that moment. Children who have Sensory Processing Disorder should have sensory breaks throughout the day to keep them regulated.
They need a sensory diet regularly, even when they are not displaying the need for it.
We should not wait until they are already dysregulated to accommodate their sensory needs.

When a child who has Sensory Processing Disorder is overwhelmed by sensory input their reactions may be Fight, Flight or Freeze!

Flight - panic, running away isolation or withdrawn

Fight - anger, irritability, tantrums and rage

Freeze - where a child is frustrated and overwhelmed that the child can not speak or move

What triggers a fight, flight or freeze response?
- sensory overload
- transitions from one place to another
- feeling lonely or rejected by peers
- feeling unsafe
- being hungry or thirsty
- transitioning from one activity to the next activity
- feeling they could be in trouble
- when their routine changes unexpectedly
- changes they weren't expecting (unpredictability)


- not paying attention
- running away
- wanting to escape
- fidgeting
- stimming
- tense 
- anxiety 
- fidgeting
- feeling trapped 
- scared, worried and overwhelmed 
- moving away from everything
- anxious and panicking
- unfocused
- wandering
- hiding
- ignoring the situation around them
- restless
- avoiding 


- aggressive
- demanding 
- controlling
- noncompliant 
- hitting and punching
- biting
- crying 
- hands in fists
- lying
- blaming
- argumentative
- pushing away everyone
- inflexible
- clenched jaw or grinding teeth
- acting silly 
- being defiant
- hyperactive
- bothered by everything 
- throwing things
- possibly threatening
- cursing 
- angry and furious
- offended


- depressed
- bored
- feeling helpless
- pale skin
- heart pounding
- restricted breathing
- decreased heart rate 
- holding breath
- feeling numb
- depressed
- feeling shame 
- feeling stuck
- blank stare 
- refusing to answer anyone 
- unable to move
- zoned out
- collapses 
- verbally unresponsive
- wanting to hide
- shutting down

DISCLAIMER: I am not an Occupational Therapist. I am an adult who has Sensory Processing Disorder, a sensory parent and a Grandma. The information on this website is not medical advice and does not replace the information that your child's therapists gives you. These are just ideas and information that I have learned myself over the years of being a parent and an adult living with SPD. If you are concerned for your child, please always seek medical attention through a family doctor, pediatrician or therapist. This website is for suggestions and informational purposes only. Each child is different and what works for one child may not for another because all children have different needs. Please always consult with a professional.

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