When You Are Triggered By Your Child
Are you a parent triggered by your child?
No one can push your buttons the way your child does. But for some parents, interactions with their child can feel more extreme because their child not only pushes their buttons, but triggers uncontrollable reactions.
When a parent feels triggered it can come out as anger. It may feel like you have a shorter fuse and that you explode more. Sometimes it comes out as avoidance. Feeling like you can’t stand to be in the same physical space as your child or interact with them. And sometimes it comes out as giving in or giving up. Feeling like you can’t possibly win. Feeling so exhausted you question if you can do anything right so you simply chose to do nothing.
No matter how you react, the end result is the same. You feel like you are failing as a parent. Like parenting is incredibly hard and frustrating. And often times it leads you to feel like you don’t want to be a parent to your child.
And then you have the guilt for having such thoughts. And you feel alone because no one else seems to have these struggles like you.
I know that feeling because it is a feeling I used to get a lot when my eldest was young. For me, my child triggered my anxiety. Whenever they began to spiral I could feel my anxiety rising. And as a result I would try to control the environment to keep my child from becoming triggered. Because it was the only way I thought I could keep myself from becoming triggered. Because when I became triggered I became angry. And when I was angry I was not the parent I wanted to be.
I knew I was not helping my child and that I was hurting our relationship. But I couldn’t figure out how to not get triggered by my child. And for me, I felt confused and upset after I was triggered. Because before I had my eldest I was laid back and handled pressure well. I couldn’t figure out how I had gotten to this point of dreading my child’s reactions or how to break the cycle.
So what did I do? Well it took some time to recognize that my child was actually a trigger for me. That it was more than just getting on my nerves or pushing my buttons. They were causing a very intense, uncontrollable reaction in me. And that because of that reaction and how much I dreaded it, I was doing a lot to try to avoid or minimize my child’s triggers.
Once I realized I was being triggered I needed to reflect on how I wanted to live and parent. I took a hard look at how I was parenting. And I realized that I was putting a lot of effort in, but not getting the results I wanted. In short, I was doing a lot of accommodations, but still being triggered a lot of the time.
That caused me to realize that if I wanted something to be different I was going to have to do something different. Because what I was doing was not working for my child or for me.
Being triggered by your child does not make you a bad parent. But it does make parenting harder. A lot harder. So if your child is triggering you, you are not alone. And while it can be a good idea to work with a therapist or counselor to discover why you become triggered, this article is about the things you can do right now to break free from being triggered by your child.
These things all take time, so give yourself some grace and understanding. Behaviors don’t change overnight. Just keep showing up and doing the work. That is how you make changes.
Breaking Free of Being Triggered By Your Child
1. Understand your body’s reaction – This is not just in your head
Your body is having a biological reaction to your child’s behaviors. When your child has a big reaction, or you have an intense memory of how your child reacted the last time, your fear center becomes triggered. This is a normal reaction anytime we experience someone’s anger or when we feel threatened.
When our fear is triggered, we react in a very biological way. Our survival instincts kick in and that means our thinking brain shuts off. So we have a harder time regulating ourselves. Meaning we often escalate right along with our child who is upset.
So how do we interrupt this biological reaction? We need to remember to practice coping techniques. If you are becoming triggered you need to take care of yourself first. Regaining your calm is necessary to be able to effectively calm down your child. Try taking deep breaths, removing yourself temporarily from the room if it is safe for your child, or naming your feelings.
By practicing coping techniques you can regain control over your body’s reaction and bring your thinking brain back online. Once you are able to think again it becomes easier to problem solve solutions to help your child as well.
2. Understand it may not be your child who is causing you to be triggered, it may be you
When your child hits certain milestones or ages, it is natural for you to remember your childhood at that age. Depending on your experience, your family interactions or how you felt at that time it may cause old feelings and trauma to resurface.
And what a lot of people don’t know is that trauma can be caused by small events. And it varies from individual to individual. Trauma can be caused by invalidations or criticisms that get repeated over and over, often without the parent being aware that any harm is being done to their child. In short, trauma is based on your individual response to an event that you found overwhelming and that you could not fully process. So it is not uncommon for our parenting to bring up trauma that we did not know existed.
That is why when our child behaves a certain way or reminds you of when you were young, your childhood feelings reemerge. And the tricky thing about trauma is it blends time together. What happened in the past and how we felt gets mixed with what is happening now and how we feel now. Making it hard to realize our emotions and triggers are coming from the past.
So how do we move past a trauma we didn’t even realize we had? This is where mindfulness, yoga or Qigong can help. Each of these tools helps you to breathe and focus on the present moment. And when we can breathe and bring awareness to how our body feels in this moment we can begin to separate out the past from the present. Yoga and Qigong can be especially helpful if your body needs movement in order to focus on the present.
By practicing a form of mindfulness you are creating space to notice and question your feelings. What are you feeling? Why might you be feeling this? And when you can answer these questions you can then make an intentional decision about how you are going to proceed. And that ability to be intentional has the power to change your interactions with your child and their interactions with you.
3. Instead of avoiding being triggered, work on interrupting your triggers
It is easy to get into the habit of trying to avoid your child during certain time periods or events. Or to bend over backwards with accommodations. And it is easy to say you are doing it to keep the peace and make things easier for everyone. But it’s time to ask yourself if it really is easier.
Chances are your avoidance is leading to more behavior issues because kids tend to escalate behaviors if they feel they are being ignored. Or you are actually spending a lot of your time and energy on making accommodations.
So what can you do? Practice the STOP mantra. When your child is escalating and you feel like you are going to escalate right along with them 1. Stop 2. Take 3 deep breaths 3. Observe what you are feeling and 4. Proceed with intent.
The importance of breaking the avoidance habit is because avoidance is not a long term solution. Emotions that are not dealt with do not go away on their own. They usually resurface later with more intensity. The key to moving past your emotions is noticing what you are feeling. And moving past your emotions is critical to forming new behaviors for you and your child.
4. Choose to practice empathy and compassion for both your child and yourself
When you become triggered as a parent, parenting gets 10x harder. So acknowledge your struggle. Tell yourself that this is really hard right now. And tell yourself you are doing the best you can right now. Practicing this kind of self-compassion can help you shed any guilt or shame you are piling on top of yourself. It also lets you experience a little kindness when you need it most.
But don’t forget about your child. It may be hard to do as your child is triggering you, but remember they are a child. They are not trying to make you upset. They are trying to communicate they are struggling and that they need help. It’s just neither of you are at your best right now. Remind yourself of these things and you will find you are able to be more empathetic to your child. And empathy leads to connection, understanding and patience. All of which help resolve behavior challenges faster.
5. Work on repairing your relationship after you have been triggered
No parent is perfect. All parents yell. All parents have said something to their child they later regret. What happens during an escalation doesn’t matter nearly as much as what happens after the event.
Repairing is the act of acknowledging your actions and making amends for them. In order to do this, you need to acknowledge your part in the escalation. This means you let your child know how you were feeling, why you reacted the way you did and how you could have done better.
Repairing is critical. Not only does it teach your child valuable relationship skills, but it helps you put your emotions and reactions into context so you can recognize and learn from them. It helps to create awareness and accountability, which can help you change your future responses. Repairing also helps protect your child from trauma because it gives them a chance to process their feelings and emotions about an event.
Parenting is never easy. Especially if your child triggers uncontrollable emotions in you. But becoming triggered is something you can change.
If you are triggered by your child and need help or support, I invite you to schedule a free 30 minute chat to talk about how parent coaching can help support you and your child.