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10 parenting triggers and how to heal them

What no one tells you is it’s perfectly normal to be triggered by your child’s behaviour or emotions. Triggers are complex because the cause and reaction will vary widely from person to person – you may flip your lid at the mess in the playroom, whereas someone else won’t even bat an eyelid.

A trigger can be an event or circumstances, even people or attitudes, that produce an intense emotional response such as anger, crying or anxiety. When it comes to your children though, you may not have expected to be triggered by the things that they do. While it’s perfectly normal, it helps to understand what is happening in those moments, so you can navigate them with compassion and clarity.

Here are 10 examples of parenting triggers and what is (potentially) happening for you emotionally:

1. Whinging

The relentless whinging and whining can be like nails scraping on a chalkboard, especially when it feels like it’s over nothing. In those moments for your children they’re probably struggling to communicate their needs to you. For you, it’s frustrating or it can really test your patience. It’s helpful to take a pause and reflect on what feeling does their neediness bring up in you? And where in your childhood or life was whinging either not acceptable or ignored?

2. Crying

This may seem strange but many mothers are triggered by their crying babies. Crying can induce a sense of helplessness, especially when it is non-stop creating an incessant need for something to be done or to be placated in some way. If crying is your trigger, it may be that your pre-verbal memories of how you were mothered that is being brought to the surface. The good news is you can self-heal – when we mother our children, it’s important we re-mother ourselves alongside, meeting our own unmet needs in a healthy way.

3. Tantrums

When our children have BIG emotions, it’s intense and raw and it can leave you feeling angry, confused, overwhelmed, even exhausted. In response to a tantrum you will be feeling how you felt when you had tantrums as a child and you can possibly react how your parents or caregivers reacted to your BIG emotions. Understand that your children have a right to feel what they feel, you cannot control that – you have a right to your feelings too and what you can learn is to control your emotions in response to theirs.

4 and 5. Shouting/Fighting

Shouting and fighting can feel like threatening behaviour and it can leave you feeling frightened, anxious or angry. You response may be to shut it down as quickly as you can – and of course, that’s a good idea as you don’t want injuries. However, it’s important to process the feelings that an event like this can bring up for you, reflect on what memories were triggered from your childhood or event in your life, how it left you feeling and to remind yourself that this situation is in the present and not the past. Instead of meeting anger with anger, compassionately understand your child’s point of view and remind them that even though they are upset, they do not act that way.

6. Not listening

Most of us grew up with parents or carers who would say things like “children should be seen and not heard” – we now know it’s so damaging to not be seen and to not have a voice. These painful feelings are triggered when our children (or any person) ignore us. When we don’t feel listened to, we struggle to express ourselves and our emotions, and have difficulty believing we can ask for and have our needs met. The path to healing is through listening to yourself, listening to your wants and needs, validating yourself and emotions, and actively putting your needs first.

7. Lying

Lying is frustrating for many of us, whether it’s “small” white lies or big fat lies, it doesn’t really matter because it creates dishonesty, which is destructive to any relationship. When you had parents that lied or denied your feelings, you can grow up doubting yourself and have difficulty trusting others. When your kids lie it brings up the same emotions, and you may react in anger, which doesn’t make it safe for them to be honest. Be the model by being open and honest, even when it’s uncomfortable, listen without judgement and respond without blame or criticism.

8. Anger

Anger as an emotion is usually warranted and can be extremely effective. However, what we are accustomed to seeing and experiencing is aggression and rage, which can be threatening and frightening. When you’re child is in their anger, it can be unsettling because it is so raw and can be uncontrollable. Be curious about what it brings up for you – often it can trigger our own repressed anger and we will respond to that as we were responded to when we were children. Reflect on how anger was dealt with in your family, and you will be on your way to healing old wounds. Remember anger isn’t bad, we were just taught that it was.

9. Clinging/separation anxiety

We long for them to stop being so needy don’t we, in fact we have a culture of maturing our kids – you see it all over the internet, videos of children doing tasks independently and remarkably for their age group. While it’s great to raise autonomous individuals, to foster true independence they must first have dependence and we do that by offering more connection than they are seeking. First we must ask ourselves why are we so uncomfortable with our children’s need for closeness and dependency? Therefore, what is it within us that makes us reject our own neediness? Or perhaps it’s our own fear of abandonment?

10. Affection

This one is massive and may seem strange to be on this list, however, it has its place – being able to receive acts of love, when we didn’t receive it as a child is extremely difficult. Our children really will hold a mirror to the most painful aspects of our childhood, it may be that we were never shown affection, or had emotionally overbearing parents/carers, or suffered from neglect or abuse. The remarkable thing about motherhood is that its an opportunity to re-mother, re-parent, re-nurture and love ourselves – start there and you will become a healthy model of love for yourself and your children.


The next time you are in conflict with your child/ren take a pause and notice whether you are compassionately responding to their needs in the present OR harshly reacting to the unhealed wounds of your past.

And of course, it could be more simple than that – perhaps you need to HALT: check if you’re hungry, angry, lonely or tired; these things will always make you overreact too.

Leave a comment below – Have your child/ren illuminated your childhood wounds?

Photo by James X on Unsplash

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5 lessons from therapy that helped me be a better mum

When it comes to being a mum we are all doing the best that we can, with no training, no manuals, and with only our experience of being mothered (or cared for) to go by. Naturally, no matter how good we’re doing, we want to do and be better mums, and this is where therapy can help.

Therapy is based on the understanding that we’ve all been parented, and that it is through this relationship that we learn and grow. It is also through this relationship where we can experience early ruptures that will have ripple effects throughout our lives, including our mothering.

Becoming a mum was a baptism of fire for me, I distinctly remember thinking, “what the F is this?!” many, many times a day. One of the greatest discoveries of my life, was my four-year art therapy training and by its mandatory association, personal psychotherapy – it taught me the essential child development knowledge that was missing from anything I had read about being a mum. Mostly though, I learnt the self-compassion that was missing not just from my mothering, but from my life too.

Psychotherapy gave me a whole host of things, including emotional regulation, understanding of attachment and the confidence to mother in ways that I hadn’t been aware of.

Here, are my five most important lessons from therapy that have helped me to be a better mum:

It’s okay to hate being a mum and to hate your baby

Yep, I said it! And the first time I heard it, I was overcome with relief and understanding, like a veil had been lifted. It’s psychologically important for mums to be able to connect with the disagreeable aspects of not only herself but also her child, and therefore, mothering. Because it is in the denial of these aspects that causes the most psychological disturbance. If mum feels that she cannot hate it, she will turn that hate inwards – she will hate herself, feel that she is wrong or bad. However, when you come into healthy contact with your hate, you realise that much of life is based on duality: that I can hate something and love it at the same time. That to hate and to love makes us human, not a bad human, just human.

The clinging is necessary (and the tantrums)

Totally necessary for secure child development, even though for you it may feel like cruel and unusual punishment. Your child has big needs and big feelings, and they need the loving guidance of you and that can feel like a tall ask 24-hours a day. But our children don’t need us to be perfect or to be at their beck-and-call, they need us to be able to regulate their emotions and needs – which doesn’t mean perfectly, constantly, denying them or being ambivalent. It means finding ways to healthily attune to those needs and to be consistently responsive to those needs. We do that by being consistently responsive and healthily attuned to our own needs and feelings. When we do that we give ourselves more capacity to be there for our child’s needs.

Not to overly worry because repair is also necessary

We can become so consumed with getting it “right”, that we deny ourselves the grace of getting it wrong and therefore learning. It’s important to mess up for our children for two reasons – firstly, it teaches them that mistakes, and wrongs are a natural part of life, that it’s no big deal or a reason to beat yourself up. Secondly, it gives you an opportunity to repair and to model how to be sorry – our children need to know that adults can apologise when they’re wrong. It’s also a much healthier way to live and mother, with the conscious awareness that I may f*ck up, and when I’m consciously aware of this possibility I’m not so hard on myself when I do and I’m also not so hard on others when they do because they will.

To be okay with “good enough”

Thank God for Winnicott! Our children don’t need perfect mothers, they need mothers who are sensitive and responsive to their needs – and this is the important part: most of the time. Winnicott was a child psychotherapist, who coined the term ‘good enough mother’ and who believed that responding to an infant in this way allowed them to become appropriately dependent and to transition to a more autonomous position. Within this it allows both mother and child to come to terms with and tolerate the frustrations that comes from growing and developing together in a (hopefully) secure relationship. What I love about it is, it’s realistic – that both parties can have frustrations, tantrums, can get it wrong AND form a bond that is entrenched with love, tolerance and understanding.

The attachment bond can feel overwhelming

It’s meant to be intense, it’s hard-wired into our DNA, as mothers we are biologically primed for the development of a secure attachment. What has got in the way is societies lack of understanding about this, and so we have family systems that don’t support it either. Demands on women to get back to work or even ‘normality’ are in actuality absurd and get in the way. If a mum feels overwhelmed in her attachment bond it’s because her environment isn’t supporting her, the messages she is getting are conflicting with her innate instinct. She’s not wrong, the world around her is – and while she might not be able to do anything about the world, there is something in knowing that what you deeply feel to be right, is not wrong.

That I’m pretty normal

There is relief in knowing that the things that you feel and the things that you think are “normal”. You’re not some weird and horrible person who should be banished into exile for thinking that you would much rather have your nails pulled out by pliers than be with your baby for every hour that God sends. No, just normal and that is satisfying.

Photo by Max van den Oetelaar on Unsplash

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Here’s what Rihanna and other new-mum’s need to know

5 things I learnt second-time around

Only Rihanna can give us pregnancy style in the way that she does – seeing her bulging belly proudly on display is a beautiful thing. I love that she isn’t afraid to push us to the edge of uncomfortable and yeah-why-not-I-guess vibes.

However, in the back of my mind I can’t help but wonder how many women look at that and think “ohhh a baby-bump and a little mini-me would be so cute!”

A baby bump might be fashionable but motherhood is real… real hard, and real motherhood doesn’t look quite so appealing on those IG squares, which is why we don’t see it nearly as much. They’re not so cute, when you haven’t slept for days on end or when they think they’re fresh enough to back-talk at 10.

We glamourise and exalt the pregnant woman and couldn’t quite give a toss about her or her child beyond that. You only have to look at the extent of post-partum support to see that as a society we are seriously lacking in this department.

We can look at the pictures of bumps and mini-me’s and think how perfect it all looks but ask any mum and they will tell you that it’s far from perfect.

The average new-mum struggles during the first year after birth, it’s estimated between 10-20% experience postpartum depression, most go undiagnosed and many more probably don’t even know they can and should seek help.

We’re on the verge of my second son, Noah’s first birthday, and here’s what I learnt this time around and wish I had known first time:

Let yourself be taken care of – period. That’s it. We see weakness in this, but in cultures and societies where community is still a thing, a new mother/family is supported and taken care of. There is an innate understanding that the transition a woman has made into motherhood has been physically, emotionally and mentally draining – and as such she needs to be replenished and nurtured. So many people came to help us, which we didn’t have first-time around, it was truly lovely and soul-affirming. Let go of needing to do it all or worrying about what others will think, and allow yourself to be looked after. You will thank yourself for it.

Take mental photographs – not everything is for the Gram! There were (and still are) moments that I just want to remember that a photograph can’t capture – like how small he felt in my arms, like how tiny his hand felt in mine, like how his hair felt against my cheek. It might seem futile – I know because I wish I could remember how these things felt with my now 10-year-old but I don’t, so I’m making a point of capturing that information this time. Take a pause, close your eyes and focus on how you feel in the moment that you want to feel forever – that’s your mental picture.

Don’t wish it away – there is always the next milestone or the idea that it will be easier when… they start crawling, walking, talking, doing it for themselves. When you spend your time thinking I can’t wait until they do X – you miss what they’re doing now. You’ll end up missing the previous stages because you know you can’t get them back. The period they are little is so small, don’t hurry them to be grown or independent. Everyone wants to speed up post-partum and get back to normal but there is no going back, life has dramatically changed forever. Let yourself just go with the flow – however challenging it may be, because every milestone/stage brings a new challenge, it doesn’t necessarily get easier, it just gets different.

Practice HALT – if the crying or attachment is getting to you, then HALT, figure out if you’re Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired. Perhaps it’s all of them. Go lie down, you will feel better. Go eat, go out, go figure out why you’re feeling what you feel. Your needs are important – so be clear on what you need and express it and get them met in a healthy way. Get some me-time and don’t feel guilty about it –  it’s a basic human need.

You don’t have to know – or be perfect! The hubby is always asking me why Noah is crying and my answer has been the same for the past year: I don’t know! Sometimes I do know but those cries where he is throwing himself back and is uncontrollable, often I don’t have the foggiest. 10 years ago that would have thrown me in loops, I would have felt like I had to know and have to fix it. But I don’t know and that’s okay, I don’t have to – in those moments my only requirement is to be there and soothe him even if he doesn’t want to be soothed because that’s the job: be there, when they fall, when they hurt, when they laugh, when they cry. Our babies don’t come with manuals, they don’t have to be figured out like some Tamagotchi – they are here to be with and grow with, and learn and discover with, that’s all.

And lastly,

There is no shame with suffering from postpartum depression, if you do, speak to someone, contact your GP or services such as, The Association for Post Natal Illness

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Will Smith is an example of why reacting is so harmful

There have been innumerable responses to the slap heard (and seen) around the world and then some, that I know it’s not necessary for me to weigh in and add to the drama.

Yet I can’t help but think about what was happening in those moments, which are not rare by any means, as people lash out all the time – not so publicly, for millions to see but it happens every day, on streets and in homes across the globe.

What it shows is that emotional reactions can happen to the most famous, wealthy, enlightened and powerful people because when it all boils down to it, we are all humans navigating this human experience as best we can. We all fall prey to our most basic impulses. No one is better than another, no matter their celebrity or how many followers they have.

Words are indeed powerful and they can incite in us all kinds of feelings – laughter, anger, even shame.

Our perception of how someone else is feeling can indeed be powerful too, if it triggers in us a powerlessness in the moment (or historically), that can only be managed by an overt overreaction of one’s actual power through an aggressive or violent act.

What I’m talking about is reacting to an emotional trigger that has repercussions that lasts far longer than the actual event.

We’ve all been there – regretting something long after it has passed, replaying it, feeling the shame of it; all because we reacted.

Reactions usually come from historic memories and rarely come from what was said in the moment. Where you are responding to something that happened years ago with the full force of what you wish you had done back then.

However, whenever we’re triggered there is always a moment – what I call an empowered pause, that is very rarely taken.

A pause or more simply a deep breath, where we allow the rational or adult brain to kick in, where instead of reacting, from our mammalian brain/amygdala, which is past memory; you are now responding with the full faculty of higher level or rational thinking.

Just a pause.

It’s enough, to bring you into awareness of what is really happening for you in that moment, to ask yourself: what am I reacting to – this moment or something similar? Is it what was said or how it was said? Is it who was saying it or do they remind me of someone else? Am I offended? Am I or someone I love hurt – physically/emotionally?

When you come into awareness of what you’re feeling, then you can respond, being really clear what triggered you, for example: when you said x, I felt x

Anger as an emotional reaction is okay because it lets us know when we are hurt, when a boundary has been crossed; however there is a difference between behaviour that can be considered aggression or empowered anger.

What we saw in this situation was aggression. What empowered anger looks like, is telling someone they have hurt you and/or ensuring that the same thing doesn’t happen to anyone else. There’s a big difference.

The repercussions of this are mostly unknown, however, I’m sure the feelings of regret, guilt and shame that both parties feel, will last for a long time, which is exactly what happens when we react to our triggers.

What I will say though about what we have all seen is: shamed people, shame people!

It doesn’t make it right, but it does bring our attention to something much deeper: that when we are dealing with the shadow aspects of ourselves, culture or society, there is still much healing work to be done.

Photo by Rajan Alwan on Unsplash