It’s hard to learn how to stop getting angry at my child when my child triggers me. As dads, we’ve all been there. Your child triggers you and you react in regrettable ways. Your toddler throws a tantrum. Your reaction is too loud, which only escalates the tantrum. You are running late, and your child refuses to hurry. You react by calling him a passive-aggressive turtle. He doesn’t know what passive-aggressive means, but he knows you just named-called. Your teenager has once again chosen to play video games instead of doing her homework. Your response is to throw her gaming console in the recycling bin (which may or may not be a solid idea).
When we are triggered by our children, we so easily react in ways that push them away, in ways we later regret. But why? In part, there is a neurological reason. When you are triggered, your brain releases chemicals that send you into a fight-or-flight response while greatly limiting the logical part of your brain. While we should love our lightning-fast reaction times, the amygdala is often so efficient that our reaction times hurt our relationships. So, the next time you are triggered, here are 4 things you can do to help you stop reacting and start responding.
After you are triggered, pausing for a few minutes is never a bad thing. Belisa Vranich, psychologist and author of the book Breathe, suggests you take a deep breath, expanding your belly. Repeat four times if possible. This simple exercise calms your nervous system.
If you are like me, when your kids trigger you, you don’t want to hear anything more. It may be all you want to hear, but it may not be all you need to hear. When our kids trigger us by doing something they don’t normally do, stopping, looking, and listening are huge. Listening for a few minutes may give us the information we need in order to choose a better response. It also gives us more time for those deep breaths.
3. Don’t talk.
Saying you’re sorry is great; not needing to say sorry is better. So, the next time you are triggered, simply don’t talk. Early on in our marriage, my wife said, “When you are triggered you find your words, and I lose mine.” Being able to quickly and creatively craft hurtful sentences is one gift I wish I could return. If you are like me, the best thing you can do is not talk when you are triggered. Simply say nothing for a moment. Take a breath and say, “I’m going to need some time to think about this.”Calm, clear conversations versus frustrated reactions help kids to focus on their behavior versus ours.
If I’m not careful during my “cool off” period, I can become even more frustrated. I think things like “I can’t believe she won’t listen to me!” or “If I had done that, my dad would have gone nuts.” Yes, our kids need to respect our authority. But it’s easier for them to respect our authority when we act respectably. Calm, caring, clear conversations versus frustrated reactions help kids to focus on their behavior versus ours.
Pausing to breathe, to listen, and not immediately reacting with harsh or frustrated reactions gives you the space to consider the dad you want to be and the dad your kid needs you to be. It turns out they are the same guy.
The better we get at controlling ourselves when we are triggered, the better dads we become, and ultimately the better parents our kids will become.
Sound off: What is the best way you have found to avoid bad reactions when your kids trigger you?
Huddle Up Question
Huddle up with your kids and ask, “What’s the best thing I can do when I discover you have made a bad choice?”