Parenting Triggers as Learning Opportunities

Have you ever gone from feeling fine, going with the flow, to yelling in what seems like two seconds?

Suddenly, you’re yelling at the child in your life and later you can’t even remember what happened to set you off? Or maybe you do remember and you’re surprised that the child’s action pushed your buttons?

You’ve just experienced a trigger. Triggers are words, phrases, or actions that cause us to react and feel strong emotions which are usually connected to other experiences from our past.

I’m an expert on triggers.

Because I’ve experienced more than my share of them.

And, I’ve spent a lot of time unraveling the threads that connect to my past experiences.

Triggers are often a sign of unintegrated emotional experiences that are a result of emotional control we may have experienced as children.

Often when we are triggered by something a child says or does, it brings up emotions that are related to an incident earlier in our lives where we experienced pain.

On our parenting journey, these triggers can be insight into our experiences of powerlessness as a child that are now impacting how we interact with the children in our lives.

If these reactions remain unexamined, we miss an opportunity to move through the emotions still following, maybe even haunting us, from our past.

As I began to try and learn a new way of parenting, essentially unlearning adultism, my triggers became an opportunity to examine my past experiences and move beyond them.

I distinctly remember a time when I was happy and singing a song as I was walking to the car with the first child in my life. She said, “Mom, your singing is annoying me. Stop singing.” In the past we have encouraged her to be open with her feelings and we try hard to honor those feelings.

I instantly felt anger toward her for telling me to stop singing. Clearly, she had touched some nerve in me. I did not react in the moment, except to shut down.

As we were driving, I had some time to find more of a centered place and I began to realize that my father would often yell at us if we were too loud and having fun.

Her words brought me back to being an 8 year-old little girl who could not openly express her emotions, even joy and happiness, if it was expressed too loudly. A sense of powerless and anger had come over me just by having her ask me to stop singing.

More recently, I have had the opportunity to experience my triggers while taking her to the dentist. In this case, I wasn’t triggered by her actions, but by the actions of the dentist and hygienist.

During the visit, I observed several interactions between the staff and other children that felt disrespectful to the autonomy of the children and their right to control their own bodies. I was also struggling with the way the hygienist spoke to her.

During the visit I didn’t come right out and challenge the staff, but instead focused on her comfort. I would ask him questions about he was feeling rather than direct comments at the staff.

I didn’t realize how deeply I had been triggered until I got home and suddenly felt completely exhausted by the visit. I reflected on my own experiences as a child who had numerous cavities and hated going to the dentist.

I didn’t have a choice about getting my cavities filled and I didn’t feel I could complain to my parents. But, I know now that those experiences were traumatic to some degree because I was not able to control what was being done to my body.

I cannot even begin to count the number of times I have been triggered since becoming a parent. When I am triggered by something a child does or says, I have essentially two choices.

I can react to the trigger, and the child, with anger and recreate for them the sense of powerlessness and loss of control I experienced as a child or I can step back and use whatever tools I have to ensure that my issues stay my issues.

I also need to remain mindful of my own past experiences and not let those taint the present moment for the children in my life. My experiences are not theirs. How I react to the ways others treat children, may not be how they perceive the interaction.

Being aware of those moments when I am triggered can allow me to step back and ask what they thought of their experiences. I can choose to see the world through their eyes and their lives, as opposed to imposing my view of their world on them.

Thank you for reading this lengthy post. As you can tell, I have a lot to say about triggers. I’d love to know what resonated with you or what questions you have. Feel free to leave a comment and I’ll reply ASAP.

And if you’re interested in my free e-book and audio recording on Eliminating Conflict with Children, click here to have it emailed to you.

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