Ask the Experts: How Do I Set Aside My Own Personal Triggers While Parenting?

How to keep the past at bay while parenting your tween or teen, from learning self-forgiveness to trusting the system

Q: I’m new to parenting a teen, but I’ve noticed my triggers often make parenting a teen hard. When my child gets detention for not following the dress code, my history of having to follow rules for how girls dress adds more fire to the flame. What’s the easiest way to set aside your own personal triggers with teenagers? 

A: When someone tells you something degrading about your kid, it’s really hard to quiet the inner voice that says, “I’m not a great parent.” I guess we have two superhard tasks: 1) stop our supercritical inner thoughts and 2) trust the system.

Take this example: My daughter set the microwave on fire in an after-school program. I was horrified that my otherwise perfect child had done this, yet I was angry at her detention, which I felt was harsh. I also secretly hoped the punishment worked. So I know exactly what you’re feeling, but you have to trust the system to discipline your child because you’re not always there.

Sometimes in the heat of the moment, we say things to our kids we later regret. Then we need to model self-forgiveness and allow our kids to forgive us. Say and believe “Tomorrow’s another day; let’s just try again.” We worry that our kids will not let a negative comment go, but I was really mad at my mom for things she regretted saying to me and I forgave her long ago.

How can we stop ourselves as we are being triggered? I tell parents, “When you’ve said the same thing three times, it’s probably time to stop.” I’ve told my kids to remind me of this when I’m mad. They’ve said, “Mom, you’ve said the same thing three times — stop!” or “I think we need to take a break for 30 minutes!”

I also think we need to rethink texting and social media blurts about our kids (and our kids about us). It’s OK to type “Today is totally frustrating!” But if we write about other people, everything gets complicated and exponentially worse if they see our words from other sources.

If nothing seems to be working, it’s OK to see a counselor. It doesn’t need to be 10 years of weeping on a couch. It can be three or six sessions where a professional can help you think through your triggers and come up with solutions.

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