Kids push our buttons all the time, and I’m not talking about the “easy button.” It happens- it’s one of their jobs and some of them are extremely good at it. The most important thing to keep in mind is our response, not what the child is doing. This is important because it can be a teaching moment. We want to model the appropriate way to deal with a situation where our buttons are being pushed; we do not want to model yelling, screaming, threatening, and getting into power struggles as the appropriate course of action in these situations. The problem is, sometimes this can be extremely hard! When we have other events going on in our lives outside of this situation, whether it is stress from our job or just the general stress of life, we can struggle to maintain our cool. Sometimes, we overreact and overflow- and that’s ok, we’re human. However, if we let our buttons get pushed as a standard modus operandi of reacting, then that is where issues can arise that need to be dealt with first before we deal with the child’s behavior. Here are 5 steps you can take to hack your buttons from being pushed.
- Self Care – First and foremost we need to take of ourselves before we are able to take care of someone else. As a therapist treating children and teens in counseling and school settings, I have to practice self care as well. Because if I do not have myself in check, then I’m less able to help my clients through intense and highly emotional situations. My colleague at The Sibley Group, Molly Mattison, lays out 5 steps toward better self care that parents can take, which she often suggests in her parent counseling sessions with her clients. Find her blog post here.
- Practicing Relaxation Strategies such as Mindfulness and Deep Breathing – Daniel Siegal, MD notes that “intense emotions can lead you to have knee-jerk reactions instead of thoughtful responses. When emotional reactions replace mindfulness, you’re on the low road and it is very unlikely that you will be able to maintain nurturing communication and connection with your child” (p.174). Relaxation strategies can help you slow down your interactions with your child and also lower the overall stress within the family. Another colleague of mine at The Sibley Group, Amanda Good, wrote a blog post explaining 5 easy mindfulness practices that she uses in her cognitive behavioral treatment with teens. Find her blog post here.
- Identify Your Buttons – Create a small list of 3 to 5 buttons or triggers that your child seems to push regularly. Reflect on why these situations bother you so much and where they come from. Are there patterns that emerge? Are you mirroring your child’s behavior? What kind of change are you trying impress upon your child and is your reaction accomplishing this?
- Cognitive Reframing – By practicing relaxation strategies, mindfulness, and knowing what your buttons are, you will be more conscious and thoughtful in how you handle button-pushing situations. The goal is to replace negative thoughts that can lead to knee-jerk reactions with thoughtful constructive responses. Once you have your list of triggers, write down what thoughts immediately come to mind when you are triggered, and identify what you automatically think during these situations. After you have identified your automatic thoughts, the next task is to change them. Instead of having negative thoughts about what your child is doing, think about what it is you are trying to accomplish in these moments and what will be the most constructive way to foster that change.
- Behavior – Alan Kazdin, Ph.D. says, “button pushing behavior depends on the parent’s reaction, which is the reinforcer for it.” He suggests— If you can, try to be slightly amused about the situation rather than avoid or react in an angry manner, both of which reinforce the negative behavior. It sounds cliché, but be the change you want to see in your child. Model the behavior you want your child to exhibit.
So the next time you feel your buttons getting pushed by your child’s negative behavior, think on these 5 steps for handling emotionally triggering situations with your child in a constructive way. Ask yourself if you’ve offered yourself enough self care to be ready to cope with the situation well. Try to add a bit more relaxation into your daily life so that your responses are slowed down in response to your child’s behavioral reactions. Know your buttons, replace your negative thoughts about your child’s behavior, and try to look for the amusing aspects of the situation rather than reacting or avoiding the situation. And remember, practice doesn’t make perfect, practice makes better.
Kazdin, A. E. (2008). The Kazdin method for parenting the defiant child; with no pills, no therapy, no contest of wills. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.
Siegal, D. J. & Hartzell, M. (2014). Parenting from the inside out; how a deeper self-understanding can help you raise children who thrive. New York, NY: Penguin Group.