How to respond to your child rather than just react.
Have you ever noticed those moments in parenting when you just react before you even get a chance to think? These are the moments when your buttons just got pushed. Do you know what these buttons are? Do you know why these even exist?
We all have them. There are just some things that really get to us. I know I have experienced these with my kids. There are certain behaviors and responses that my kids have, that I have to work really hard not to react to. I don't mean that I don't respond to these, but I don't react. So what's the difference you ask? A response is thought out, it has intention. A reaction is an automatic reflex that just seems to happen.
Sometimes these buttons (or triggers) are the result of feelings or experiences from childhood. They may be patters in parenting that we picked up from our parents that we aren't even fully aware of.
Whatever the origin of these triggers, we all have these them. Whether it is a tone your child uses or a specific behavior, sometimes we find ourselves reacting in ways we wish we hadn't. These are the moments when we as parents tend to lose control. Maybe we respond with a harsh tone, punishment, or some other automatic response that we wish we hadn't.
You may be wondering why this even matters. We all have buttons that can get pushed so why does it matter? Well, if you are reacting to everything our child does it is hard to really guide and aren't them. This is because we are coming from a place of high emotion which can cause us to struggle with really thinking through a situation and respond accordingly. These pushed buttons are also what tend to play a role in our less favorable parenting strategies like yelling and nagging. When we just react, instead of responding to our child, we can accidentally make a situation worse or we might miss what our child is telling us (every behavior that a child exhibits is driven by a need ) So what do we do?
1) Learn your triggers: The first and most important step is to know what your triggers are. What are these behaviors that your child exhibits that causes you to automatically react. Make a list of these so that you can clearly see what these are.
2) Practice slowing down: In order to give ourselves enough time to slow that automatic reaction and come up with a more intentional response we need to slow down. There are a few ways to do this:
a)Take a breath: Taking a deep breath gives you just a few seconds that can help you regroup. In addition it helps slow you nervous system allowing you to slow down just enough
b)The rubber band trick: I stumbled across this not that long ago. The idea is to have several rubber bands on one wrist and as you get frustrated (or in this case feel triggered to automatically respond) switch wrists. This is great to keep track of and reduce yelling at your kids but it also a good way to slow down and remind ourselves to respond differently.
c) Take a time out: If your buttons were pushed and you are feeling the frustration increasing, it may be helpful to remove yourself from the situation if possible. Giving yourself some space can help you regroup enough to manage the situation with more intention.
3)Take care of yourself: This is crucial. When we are tired, hungry, or stressed, we are less likely to be able to control our automatic responses. We are easily triggered in these moments because our reserve energy(and patience) may be running out. Making sure that we are eating well, exercising, taking time to nurture ourselves are all ways in which we can make sure we are in a better place to manage the more challenging moments.
4) Explore our own issues: If you have identified your triggers and still struggle, you may need to take a deeper look at what's going on. All of these triggers stem from somewhere. If you are getting triggered by your child's behaviors regularly, and having a hard time slowing down and managing your responses, it may be helpful to work with a therapist to identify where these stem from and work through them. We all have our own history that can play a role in our present and sometimes this comes up in our parenting.
Claudia Glassman is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Registered Play Therapist, and Parenting Coach who offers one on one coaching services. Claudia is passionate about helping parents find joy and gain confidence in their parenting abilities. Her vision is to share her knowledge and bring awareness to the importance of the relationship that we have with our children.