The following was contributed by Cindy R. Richman, M.A., L.P.C.
Notice the “when,” not “if.”
Because you are human (and a parent), you will be triggered. It matters not how hard and how long you have worked on remaining calm. That you love your child deeply will not stop the trigger. The day of the week, the time of the month and the situation of your soul will not stop it either. All of us get triggered, even the saints that walk among us. Everyone.
“Triggered” is that deep, dark feeling of anger that rises up when you don’t want it to. It brings out the ugly in you, and makes you a monster parent. It causes you to think about and/or do the very thing you are whole-heartedly against like yelling, cussing, and shaming. It will happen, because you are human. Because you are human, you already know what I mean. You’ve been there, and you’ve done that. AND, you know that when you follow through (in a negative way) on the triggered emotion, you can’t take it back. Ever.
While you can’t stop a trigger from happening, you can learn what to do when it happens. Here are a few steps that may help you recover from what might otherwise take you down the dark road of ugly words, and hurtful sentiments.
1. Walk Away.
Everyone needs a potty break at some point in their day, and when you are triggered, it is time for a break. If you have a spouse, tag out and let them handle it. If you can, tell your child you will be back. If you are so triggered that you can’t speak, walk away until you can.
2. Deep Breathe.
On your break, take a deep breath. No, take many deep breaths. Slooooooow, deep breaths will help you calm what is happening in your body.
3. Slow it Down.
When you are triggered everything moves fast, and that includes your blood, your thoughts, and your mouth. Slow it down while you are taking deep breaths. Remind yourself to slow down. You are modeling for your child too, so don’t forget this important step!
4. Ground Yourself
Look around the room so you are not focused solely on your anger. Focus on a lamp, a tree outside the window, or a pile of papers. The goal is to distract yourself from the trigger so you can get your brain back. Anything to slow you down will help.
Memorize a scripture or a phrase. Identify something that you can easily remember that will help you stop the trigger from taking over. This also grounds you in the middle of your trigger.
6. Name the Feeling.
While you are taking a deep breath and slowing it down, be aware of what you are feeling. Identify where you are feeling that feeling in your body. Is it in your fists? Perhaps your stomach or your head? Know where you are feeling it and name the feeling. “I am angry.” “I am hurt.” “I am frustrated.” “My child is triggering my past.” It is easier to figure out how to handle your circumstances when you know exactly WHAT you are really feeling.
7. DO NOT TAKE THEIR BEHAVIOR PERSONALLY.
Do not TAKE THEIR BEHAVIOR PERSONALLY. Do NOT take their behavior personally. Do not take their BEHAVIOR personally!!! Ok, you probably will, but when you do, recognize that you have, and remind yourself that unless you really did something that needs forgiveness, this is about a child learning, and not about you. It might be because their brain is struggling. It might be because their trauma is triggered. It might be a lot of things, but very often, it is not about you.
8. Figure Out What Your Child Needs
Once you have slowed it down and can think again with your rational mind instead of with fight-flight-freeze, figure out what your child needs. You know what you are feeling, you’ve calmed, now come back with a plan. To come back calmly, you need to know what they are needing so you can help them calm down. Answering these questions might help:
a. The behavior I am seeing is:__________
b. My child is feeling: ____________
c. The reason they might feel this is:____________
d. The part of their/our story that might have triggered this is:_________
e. The response they need from me is:___________
f. Parenting techniques I could use are:____________
If you can’t walk away: Follow steps 2-5. Do that over and over until you can be rational again and come up with a plan.
IF YOU CAN’T CALM DOWN, phone a friend. Take a walk around the block.
IF YOU CAN’T CALM DOWN and are worried that you will be abusive to your child, call someone that can help you by taking over parenting for a while so you can leave. If you struggle with this on a regular basis, have someone “on call” that can come over. It is easier to ask for help than to mend what happens when you blow it.
IF NOTHING ELSE HAS WORKED, CALL
The National Parent Helpline at 1-855-427-2736 Mon-Fri 10:00 AM PST to 7:00 PM PST OR
Boys Town Crisis and Suicide Hotline: 800-448-3000 or 800-448-1833 (TDD) 24/7
|Yelling doesn’t help.
||Calm words calm
|Hurtful words break connection.
||Silence can be healing.
|Abuse never goes away
||A delay in response just delays and calms.
||A gentle answer turns away anger.
After it’s over!!! Process what happened. Learn from it. Identify how your own past and your own story gets triggered, so that you are better able to stay regulated with your child.
Click here to download a quick reference
What are your go-to calming techniques when you’re triggered?