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:
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?
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.
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.
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.
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?
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?