5 Ways to Stay Calm When Your Child Pushes Your Buttons
Have you ever been curious as to why certain behaviors or attitudes in your teen drive you crazy and push your buttons?
Do you sometimes find yourself walking away from a negative interaction with your teen feeling ashamed or rationalizing your behavior?
In the heat of the moment, we may find ourselves blaming our kids, convincing ourselves that it’s their fault we reacted the way we did – “If only they would listen and weren’t so disrespectful, sassy, or defiant.”
What if I were to tell you that your reactions towards your teen have less to do with them and their behavior and a lot more to do with you?
It’s natural, normal, and acceptable to have feelings. It’s how you react that may be in question. We all have triggers.
Triggers are like fire alarms; it feels as if someone has flipped a switch inside of you.
You may experience intense emotions, feel out of control, or walk away realizing that you blew things out of proportion.Understanding what triggers you can help you to respond in calmer waysClick To Tweet
Understanding what triggers you, can help you to respond in calmer ways, parent more effectively, and cultivate a closer and healthier relationship with your teen.
Equipped with a new awareness of your own emotions and reactions will allow you to become a more thoughtful and conscious parent. As if by osmosis, your teen will learn healthier ways to process their emotions and become more conscious of how they respond in different interactions.
Here are 5 ways to respond when your teen is driving you crazy or pushing your buttons:
Recognize when you’re triggered.
When your teen triggers strong reactions in you, become curious. Ask yourself why these behaviors trigger you so much? What does it trigger from your past?
When my oldest child entered her adolescent years, she began to express her anger (a lot). At the time all I wanted to do was shut her up. Honestly, I thought she was being a “bad” kid and, admittedly, that makes me sad.
I understood that the way I was feeling and reacting was not good for either one of us, so I got some help from a therapist. Through this process I identified various internalized childhood messages that created strong reactions when my daughter expressed her anger.
I began to sort out my beliefs about anger, beliefs that I had internalized based on how anger was handled in my family when I was growing up.
Here are a few:
“Anger is bad and if you’re angry you are bad.” “If you’re angry you are defiant and you need to be disciplined.” “You are good and loved if you are agreeable.” “Anger deserves serious punishment.”
I saw my daughter’s anger as an act of defiance rather than an emotion that she needed to express, talk about, and learn to process responsibly. I also wanted her to be agreeable like I was as a child and when she wasn’t, I took it personally.
My reactions towards her anger were less about her behavior and more about my beliefs in regards to anger.
Begin to identify your triggers – notice when you’re having strong emotions and what you’re experiencing in your body – when your heart is racing, your shoulders are tense, or your stomach is in knots. Ask yourself: are my feelings rational or irrational?
Recognize the connection between your thoughts and feelings.
Together, your thoughts and feelings create your reaction.
Can you think of any emotions you might have been feeling when you were triggered by someone?
You may have felt inadequate, fearful, helpless, guilty, powerless, or something else. When our teen’s behavior triggers us (an eye roll, disrespect, not listening, breaking the rules, or whatever), our emotional brain takes over in less than a split second. We might yell, punish them with the silent treatment, shutdown, or threaten punitive measures.
It’s helpful to begin to make the connections between our feelings, thoughts and reactions so we can respond in healthier ways.
When you notice you’re triggered – write down your feelings and thoughts. See if you can make some connections to some of the messages you received as a child. What behaviors or emotions might your child be displaying that are going against your internal messages?
Recognize when you’re fortune-telling.
Fortune-telling is another trigger for us as parents. Fortune-telling is when your thoughts leave the present moment interaction and jump into your child’s future. When you fortune-tell, you imagine the worst case scenario playing out. “He is going to become just like my crazy uncle Stanley,” or, “She is going to be lazy for the rest of her life and be miserable.” This fortune telling causes us to catastrophize. We blow the behavior in that moment out of proportion.
When you find yourself fortune-telling, bring your thoughts back to the present moment. See whatever is happening as a single incident. Hold a positive vision for your child’s future. Where they’re at in that moment, doesn’t mean that their behavior is a life sentence. When you notice yourself entering into these futuristic thoughts, remind yourself to be in the moment with whatever is happening. See it as a solitary incident rather than attaching meaning to it.
Don’t try to control your child.
We have a tendency, as I did with my daughter, to expect our children to behave the way we want them to. It’s okay to have healthy expectations, but it’s another thing to try to control or force your child to act in a certain way. They are their own separate person.
When your teen is expressing negative emotions, respect their feelings, pause, breathe, and stay calm. You may have to walk away and tell them you will talk later when you are less reactive. When you can model staying calm and don’t take your child’s behavior personally, your child will also be more likely to stay calm and talk rationally.
Work on your “unfinished business.”
Becoming conscious of my triggers and understanding why I had so much reactivity to my daughter’s angry feelings was healing not only for me but also for her. This new awareness improved my life and relationships.
I have learned to see anger from a lense that is quite different than I did as a child. As a result, I’m able to handle and help my children to process their anger in healthier and more productive ways.
Making sense of what triggers you will help you to become a calmer parent and formulate healthier messages and relationships.
Here is an example of what this exercise looked like for me:
My childhood message – “Don’t express anger. Keep mom happy. Be agreeable.”
New belief/message – “Anger is not a bad emotion. It’s an emotion that provides information about what is happening inside of me that needs attention. Others are allowed to have their feelings and I can have mine. Anger does not mean you are bad. Anger means you are alive and you can use anger responsibly to have healthier relationships.”
Ways to work on your “unfinished business” – journal, participate in a personal growth group, listen to mindfulness meditations, pray, or talk to a trusted friend. Seek out a coach or counselor. Pursue different activities or read books that will grow you ability to stay calm with your children. Talk to yourself like you would a compassionate friend.
Understanding your triggers will help you to parent more responsibly and in a calmer manner. Rather than allowing your emotions to control you, and reacting in negative ways, you will be able to parent more effectively and build a better relationship with your teen and others. It starts with you and it starts with me. When we work on our own reactions, emotions and behavior, we give ourselves and our children a wonderful gift that will last a lifetime.