Why Kids Push Our Buttons & How to Change That

Kids are amazing...but not always, right!? The comic, Jim Gaffigan, has some hilarious bits about being a parent.

It can actually feel terrible to have our buttons pushed by our kids. We can end saying and doing things we never intended to including: screaming, rashly reacting, walking out dramatically, crying, etc. Kids seem to have a knack for needing us in the places we are least equipped to give. This is no surprise. Kids are really hard (especially sensitive and strong willed ones!) and adults often get overwhelmed by their behavior. When this happens they react in ways to shut down the behavior in an effort to stop the overwhelming. While this helps the parent rebalance (an important element) it also shuts down important and developmentally appropriate needs that are being communicated in really difficult ways. Then when that child grows up and has children of their own the pattern often repeats.

Two quick suggestions for thought: 

1. Often parents who are being triggered are experiencing the past in the present. For example, if you grew up feeling bullied or dismissed by your parents when you experience your kid doing something similar you become vulnerable to feeling the pain of the past in the present of your child's behavior and then reacting to them out of that. For a quick exercise on taming your triggers see this earlier post: http://analogcounseling.com/therapy-blog/emotions-revealed-taming-your-triggers-ii

2. The child psychologist, Dr. Richard Geist, suggests that parents utilize empathy to move from being the target of their child's feelings/behavior to being the subject of them. In other words, experience the tantrum (or whatever) not as an assault but instead see it from within their shoes. Kids are struggling to manage big feelings with small tools. They require us to act as additional tools for them in order to learn to tame their feelings (as opposed to get rid of their feelings). Flipping the situation from, "My child is being willful and defiant" to "My child is really struggling to handle this adult sized situation" makes a difference in our ability to stay calm and helpful to our kiddos. Some examples of what we might say to ourselves in certain situations are: What does it feel like to not be able to sleep when you're supposed to? What is it like to want to stay home when you have to go to preschool? What is it like when you really want your parent but they have to go to work? What is it like when a friend makes you feel left out?