The Safe and Sound Protocol (SSP) is a portal to the Social Engagement System—a playful mixture of activation and calming that operates out of unique nerve influence— and it can have a powerful impact on how your child interacts with you and the world. The resulting behaviors reflect an increased sense of safety in the world, but they are fragile and can be disrupted if not recognized and responded to in a positive manner. Essentially, the SSP is opening the system for greater engagement. What comes after the SSP can cement and extend the gains. The repeated and consistent responses from the people around your child can enhance the new sense of safety and reinforce the new behavior.
The following guide can help you and the other people in your child’s life know what to look for.
Look: Your child may now be making more eye contact with you, family, friends, and teachers.
Eye contact is a sign of feeling safe and receptive to social behavior. Eye contact should not be forced or bribed, but when you see it, respond with a smile and encouragement. When children attempt eye contact that is not reciprocated, they may stop trying or feel like the other person does not want to engage. Reciprocal eye contact and smiles will help the child identify other safe people that are part of a safe environment where the child can relax.
Listen: Your child may now start understanding speech better.
You may not have to repeat yourself when you ask a question or ask your child to complete a task. Your child may stop complaining about loud noises or stop covering their ears when loud noises occur. By completing the SSP, your child’s ear muscles are now better able to ignore loud noises, and allow them to focus on speech instead.
Regulate: Your child may now have better emotional control and expression.
Temper tantrums and outbursts are typically a sign of dysregulation or uncontrollable feelings. Temper tantrums can occur for a lot of reasons, some of which are addressed by the SSP. For example, if a child has a temper tantrum because they want to leave the park NOW, they may feel that their parent is not listening because the parent wants to stay. These feelings may be calmer now that the child can make eye contact, listen to the parent, and feel that they are part of a reciprocal conversation about when it is time to leave the park. When your child does experience a tantrum, try to keep a calm demeanor. After using the SSP your child will be more responsive to social cues and have a better understanding of how to control their temper just by watching you!
Play: Your child may now have better play behaviors with other children
Play involves reciprocal interactions and communication between the players and requires eye contact and listening skills. For now, take a more active role in playdates or sibling play so you can support the interaction and talk to your child afterward about what you noticed.
Love: Your child may now be more emotionally expressive
Your child may now be more capable of sharing and showing love to other people This may include readily offering more smiles and hugs. Do your best to reciprocate these behaviors when they occur! Be aware of your child’s personal space; unwanted hugs (or hugs from unfamiliar people) can make a child feel defensive instead of relaxed.
Maintain a safe and pleasant environment for your child. Things that parents find comforting may not be the same things the child finds comforting, so talk to your child about what helps them feel relaxed. We suggest:
- soothing environments
- vocal music
- gentle lighting
- soft surroundings and fabrics
- pleasant fragrances
- avoiding loud or abrupt noises.
The SSP is only one way to help your child improve looking, listening, and regulation. You can continue to help your child by:
- playing woodwind instruments (exercises breathing control and ear muscles)
- singing alone or in a choir (exercises breathing control and ear muscles)
- yoga (exercises breathing, posture and self-control)
- meditation (exercises breathing, posture and self-control)
Work with Your Child’s Therapist
The SSP is designed to work in tandem with treatment, not to replace it. By providing a means for children to feel calm and be socially more engaging, it will allow the therapist/clinician to better engage your child in intervention and will help your child to respond better.