angry father yelling and pointing their finger at a child sitting down
angry father yelling and pointing their finger at a child sitting down

Why you are triggered by your child’s behaviour

There are certain behaviours, words, sounds or situations that can trigger a negative feeling or a trauma from the past.

Need to know: Uncovering your triggers

There are certain behaviours, words, sounds, or situations that can trigger a negative feeling or a trauma from the past. This activates the fight-or-flight response, making us lose our temper and respond to our children in a way that makes matters worse.

In some cases, parents of children with diagnosed Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), or Autism, can find that they themselves have sensory sensitivities, which can influence how quickly they become overwhelmed and how they respond to their child’s behaviour.

Why it’s important

To take control of your own emotions and become a more effective parent, it’s important to look deeper into why you are being triggered. There are many possible reasons for this. Ask yourself:

  • Am I taking the behaviour personally?
  • Am I questioning my parenting choices?
  • Am I hungry or tired (or affected by another unmet need)?
  • Have I lost control of the situation?
  • Do I believe my child is being intentionally disrespectful?
  • Am I already feeling stressed or upset for another reason?
  • Does my child’s behaviour trigger shame or guilt?
  • Does my child’s behaviour trigger memories of a previous trauma?
  • Does my child’s behaviour trigger my anxiety?
  • Do I have different expectations about how my child should behave?
  • Am I frustrated because I don’t understand an unmet need my child might have?
  • Do I have underlying sensory processing issues?

Tips and strategies

1. Know your triggers. Once you recognise which behaviour triggers you and why, you can be more mindful by preparing for or removing yourself from, certain situations so you can deal with them calmly.

2. Rule out sensory issues. If you believe that you are getting overwhelmed by sounds, touch, or other sensory input, it is worth speaking to a health professional to investigate further. Simple solutions like using noise-cancelling earbuds, for example, can make a huge difference in reducing auditory stimuli and overwhelm.

3. Check in with yourself. Are you tired or hungry? Is work making you stressed or are other relationships making you anxious? We are all better parents when we are feeling our best, so try to address your own needs as urgently as you would your child’s.

4. Avoid power struggles. Disrespect can often send you down the path of an unnecessary power struggle. Resist the urge to react and instead use curiosity as your first approach – ask your child about what has happened to make them feel a certain way.

5. Words can be just that. Children can use hurtful language to inflict pain, especially if they believe you are the cause of their pain. Responding to hurtful words with loving ones can be a good way to disarm them. Try: “You can be angry at me, but I know you don’t mean what you say. You just want to hurt me because you are hurting. I want you to know that I will always love you.”

6. Model the behaviour you want to see. Once you’ve had a chance to calm down, explain your feelings and apologise to your child for losing your patience. This teaches your child to put names to feelings and that it’s important to be honest about our feelings and repair a relationship when we have done something wrong.


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