As parents we know our children inside out and back to front.

Or do we??

Quite often we know what triggers their behaviour – good or ‘bad’/ undesirable. What if though, we chose to take another look at what we deem ‘bad’ behaviour. Delve deep, record triggers and see through what is being spoken to what is being said. What if we looked inside ourselves to our own trigger responses? What would we really see?

Quite often if we can separate ourselves from the moment, we would be sure to find a couple of facets to their personality and feelings (and our own!), that may surprise us…

  • Embarrassment
  • Feelings of being misunderstood
  • Fear
  • Self-consciousness
  • Sadness
  • Frustration

As adults we have fine tuned our response mechanism over a life time. We have learned to articulate our thoughts and feelings and foster open two-way communication. This comes from watching our peers and families do the same. Do we get it right all the time – NO! Can it get us further frustrated, upset or flustered – ABSOLUTELY! However, we adapt our responses until we feel heard and validated. In our ever evolving world, children are forced to become adaptable before mastering the skill set to begin with. We speak with them as if they are our generational equal, little adults. But, that they are not.

In the heat of a moment, children can find it challenging to articulate what they are genuinely feeling.

So, now begs the question… How do we recognise the difference between ‘undesirable’ behaviour and an anxiety reaction?

Trigger Vs. Response

Does your child’s response to the trigger seem reasonable or unreasonable?

How many times have they been triggered today? This week, even?

If your child’s response is quite severe to a trigger that seems mild, it can be wise to step back and reflect on the day, rather than persisting with the conversation or point. After all, there is no point in stoking a fire you are trying to diminish. In the same manner we need to fill our love cup, our anxiety cup also has a threshold where too much is too much.

Consider removing your child from the trigger point – finding somewhere safe and soothing for them. Give them some time to find their regulation base-line and start the conversation from a point of concern. Once they have regulated their emotions and feel safe, you can get the answers you need to resolve the issue at hand and provide the tools for clear, articulate communication. This may not happen overnight, after all we are breaking habits built over years, but the ultimate result is a WIN WIN!

Preparation and Consistency are Key

Does your child have expectations of their day?

There will be days when we know what will trigger our child’s behaviour, however sometimes we just don’t know. If your child has expectations of what is coming, they are prepared and can imagine how the scenario is going to play out within their realm of expectation. This is a self-soothing mechanism for those with Anxiety. In manner of staying prepared for anything, it may help to broaden your child’s realm of expectation. Have a conversation with them over what could be different and how do they think it will make them feel if there is a change. This conversation could help you both in the moment with managing any unexpected changes as they arise.

Do they continue certain behaviours until they are satisfied?

When I look at this question, I always think to the old car trip question ‘Are we there yet?’. The most beautiful thing about children – even those who suffer anxiety – they have better abilities than us at living in the moment. However, in moments where there world is a little too much for them, they can stick like a scratched CD repeating the same behaviours on a loop until their track is skipped.

Take a child who didn’t get a perfect grade for an assignment they put their all into. They had double and triple checked it. They could be consoled immediately when their first reaction is to be upset. They may continue to stay upset for a period of time to come, triggered by other school work. Then comes the second assignment and the tears are consistently flowing or the child is getting highly frustrated or angry now with every small mistake or area not going to plan. Through the secondary and tertiary triggers, parents and teachers may become frustrated as the child can’t immediately articulate why they respond as they do. Through stepping back and reflecting, it becomes easier to see the pattern of behaviour being an anxiety reaction as opposed to ‘being overly sensitive’.

Through seeing these consistencies in our children’s responses, we can then look to our response to their behaviour with consistency. As our own response to their behaviours become more consistent, our children can feel safe in their expectations being met, therefore diminishing the undesirable behaviours of their own responses.

Every family dynamic is different, even between siblings, however with clear two-way communication and a little trial and error, we can soon identify the root cause of undesirable behaviour and foster healthier connections within the family unit.