How to Stop Reacting in the Heat of the Moment

Mom's On The Phone!

We all know what it’s like to get our buttons pushed. It feels like an attack and a flooding of emotion. We tend to retaliate automatically—it’s that fight, flight or freeze reaction. Typically, we lay blame on our children for doing the pushing or ourselves for being inadequate. But seldom do we do anything to change this often damaging dynamic because it feels beyond control.

You’ve tried everything, right? Everything to get your children to change. But those buttons are our responsibility, not our children’s. They wouldn’t be pushing them if there were no button to push. Some parents, for instance, have an immediate reaction to being called “stupid”. Others do not. Why? Because it has to do with your individual past. Yes, your child needs to be accountable for her behavior, but if your button is pushed, you will react, teaching her the power of what did the pushing—calling you “stupid”, talking back, resisting, not listening, whatever triggers you. And so it continues.

Getting a button pushed is painful. Your child’s behavior triggers an old wound and you “go on automatic”. You don’t stop and think about what you want to say or do—you simply say or do it and regret it later. Because your reactions feel uncontrollable. 

You can either punish your children for doing the pushing or step back, consider and defuse that button.

Why Your Button Gets Pushed

Your buttons were planted a very long time ago as your response to messages you learned about yourself from your parents (teachers, siblings). For instance, hearing, “Why can’t you ever do anything right?” prompts a young child with an immature brain to decide, I can’t ever get anything right, I’m a screw-up. I’m never good enough. “Stop getting so upset. You’re too sensitive” leads a child to believe that being emotional is a bad thing. These ideas get planted as beliefs in the subconscious (your buttons) and, unless examined and understood for what they are, will drive us all the way through life. These beliefs cause us to develop protective mechanisms i.e. proving one’s worth by over-achieving or insuring emotions get buried.

So if you are triggered when your child calls you “stupid”, your subconscious belief (I can’t ever get anything right) gets tapped, and you react as if you were that hurt child again. Your reactions are anywhere from ineffective to damaging as were your parents’ reactions to you. 

Defusing the Button

It is your thoughts, ideas, judgements—the assumptions you make, the fears you have—that generate everything else. When your thoughts are inflammatory, your emotions and reactions follow suit. If you don’t like your reactions, the culprit is the assumptions about your child and/or yourself. Neither you nor your child is to blame. What you think is fully in your control.

If you think, my child is rude and inconsiderate and thinks only of himself, you will logically feel angry, resentful, or guilty for having failed at raising him properly. After all you can’t be a good parent if you have a rude, inconsiderate child. Assumptions happen in a nano second. You don’t even realize what you are thinking because you are so quick to react. But it’s the thinking that you have control over. And that can change everything. If you can stop and think about your thinking.

Upset MomIn the heat of the moment, do nothing. Pay attention to what happens to you—does your stomach clench, do your hands sweat, does your throat tighten?—and acknowledge this is not the time to take action. Stop and wait. You can better teach when you are all calm. Then, take the time to do the work.

Start with what you know. What was your reaction? How were you feeling? Then ask, If I felt that way, what must have I been thinking? Write as many thoughts/assumptions as you can.

Example: My child is rude and inconsiderate

Now that your prefrontal cortex is back online, you can reframe that assumption from a judgement to a factual observation: He wanted to watch a show when I wanted him to get to bed. He was angry that he couldn’t get what he wanted and called me stupid to get his point across. He reacted impulsively just the way I did

With this more accurate acknowledgment of the situation, you will find some compassion and thus respond to him very differently. You will be more effective in letting him know you didn’t like his language when you acknowledge that he didn’t like being told what to do and not getting what he wanted.

Taking Responsibility

No one can “make” you mad. You feel mad because you choose certain ideas, fears, beliefs, and your ideas provoke your emotions. One person may feel angry toward someone, whereas another in the same situation may feel empathy—different perceptions lead to different responses. 

We can’t change our feelings, but we can reframe the thoughts and assumptions we make that cause those feelings. 

Your ideas about yourself are not the truth, simply your own perceptions based on your subconscious beliefs (your buttons) taken in long ago. Your children don’t push your buttons because they want to—until they learn from your reactions how powerful certain behaviors can be in getting our attention. Your buttons get pushed when your children behave in ways that tap into old sore spots. Let your child be your teacher. Take the opportunity to recognize the sore spot and then do the work of reframing and defusing.

In the defusing process, assumptions are reframed, expectations are adjusted, old patterns and beliefs from childhood are observed objectively, and you can move into the driver’s seat rather than being driven by old beliefs. 

Learning to Ride a Bike

Family dynamics and behavior patterns change. The goal of effective parenting is connection. Teaching happens best through connection, relationship develops best through connection. When our buttons get pushed and we react automatically, we break connection. When we can defuse our buttons so that we have more control over our thoughts and thus our emotions and behavior, we can make the connection our children are asking for in the pushing.


Related Articles:

When Your Kids Push Your Buttons

What Do You Do When Your Child “Talks Back”?