Let’s talk button pushing. It’s a topic that I talk about so much. We all have things that trigger us and this is one of the things that comes up in so many different ways for the parents I work with inside The Connective Parenting Hub.
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We all know that children are able to push our buttons. It is not necessarily intentional – they’re not always trying to wind us up.
More often than not, it’s their way of communicating. They are doing something they have learned gets a connection with us. They are doing something that tells us that they are struggling or finding a particular situation really difficult. But so often the feeling we have that we’re being triggered is the thing that overrides our response to the child.
If we know that something winds us up, it can be easier to handle it.
For example, you might know that table manners is one of those things that gets you really frustrated. Maybe you know if your child is eating with their mouth open or talking with their mouth full, that you get really frustrated with it, so you can go in to meal times aware that it might be an issue and give yourself tools that you can use to keep yourself calm when that’s happening, so that you don’t end up escalating a situation.
But what happens when we may not know in advance that something is going to trigger us?
We are all human. There will be days when we struggle to stay calm and relaxed in the moment – perhaps because we’re tired, stressed or frustrated – and so we are naturally much more easily triggered. That affects our response in the moment and how we connect, and what we do with the child in terms of choosing between staying calm, getting angry, walking away or taking some deep breaths…
When we are triggered ourselves, it’s not easy to stop ourselves and calm down.
We, ourselves, have automatic responses that are happening, and so we have to learn ways that we can try to manage those as much as is possible.
Different things will trigger us in different ways. One day you might be able to stay really calm during a situation, but another day you might be much more tired and frustrated and your triggered response doesn’t help in the situation.
What we need to do is try to think about how we respond in the moment so that we can show the child we can see what’s going on for them.
I should say here – I am not judging anybody for being triggered. I get triggered at times. I can’t stay calm all the time and I don’t always react in the way that I know that I should. I am human too. So I ask you here to make sure you have compassion for yourself – we’re never going to be perfect all the time.
When we’re triggered, our response often becomes more judgmental, more punitive, more shouty, more accusatory. Often these aren’t intentional and they’re coming from a place of frustration and annoyance.
We need to try not to do that in the moment, because when we do, we’re not helping the situation. We’re not helping the child, we’re not helping ourselves, and we’re not helping our connection with the child.
If we can, in the moment, STOP. Take a breath, regulate ourselves and think “what does my child need from me right now”.
When we take a breath, we are raising our presence by showing them emotionally we are connected with them – that we can see them and we understand them.
And oh boy do I know how hard this is sometimes.
If we can stop and take a breath and ask ourselves “what is causing this behavior, what do they need?” – it helps change the way we respond to the situation.
If your child is doing something that they know is going to wind you up, ask yourself – what is it they are trying to show you? What is it they are trying to express? What are they trying to avoid?
Taking that breath gives you time to regulate yourself when you are triggered and approach the situation differently. It gives you that time to check your response and de-escalate the situation, and ultimately creates a better connection with the child so that in the future, perhaps there will be a stronger understanding and bond there that allows your child to explain how they’re feeling, instead of trying to “push buttons”.
I’m not saying don’t have a rant about it. It’s healthy and necesary to have a rant about it, you need to get it off your chest. I encourage the parents I work with to come in to my Connective Parenting Hub and get it off their chests. It is their safe space filled with other people who “get it”. The important thing is not to do this in front of the child. Take that step back and ask yourself what it is they’re trying to communicate. Build that stronger presence with them, so that over time they realise they don’t need to do those things.
Kids are good at finding buttons to press. They always have been and they always will be. But if we come from a place of wanting to help, over time they won’t need to press those buttons in order to communicate.