It’s a fact that our own triggers are..well, triggered, when we see the same in our own children. Or perhaps it’s more accurate to say when we think we see the same in our own children, because that’s the nature of triggers – they jump out and overpower us at the slightest hint of something similar in our kids. Over-identification with our child’s issues can cause us to react with great anxiety.
This article I read this week is all about how anxiety gets passed down through the generations, as a state in itself, and it’s useful to be aware of predispositions like anxiety or depression and have some personal strategies worked out to handle them so that they don’t affect your children too much. It’s a positive article because it shows that it’s not inevitable that our children will suffer the same as us, and the difference lies in the way we handle it. In other words we have some power and control over the outcome, even when it’s a diagnosable condition we’re talking about.
I think the same is true – only more so – of specific anxieties about certain things, the kind of worries we all have in life, the normal range. If you can change the path of a diagnosed condition, you can certainly change the impact of those day-to-day worries on your children.
That’s why I think it’s useful to know what our particular triggers are, so that we recognise them as they come up and we can learn to manage them. When it comes to our kids, one of our biggest triggers will be behaviour or circumstances which remind us of our own negative experiences in childhood.
If we were bullied at school, for example, we will be especially alert to signs that our own child is experiencing bullying, and any hint of it will trigger our own feelings from childhood. If our triggers are rooted in distressing childhood experiences, it doesn’t take much does it? We can instantly become five years old again and the intensity of feelings from that age will overwhelm us.
Any report from our child of a normal playground spat may set us off; the relative seriousness of the event is irrelevant to the level of fear provoked in us. The problem is that feelings are so contagious we will be passing that fear on to our child just at the time when what she really needs is some confidence and resilience.
We can inadvertently create in our child the very anxieties we most want to protect them against. We are the least help to our child when we want to be the most, because those strong feelings get in the way of our usual good sense. I always think this is very unfair.
So here are some tips for managing your triggers:
- Know them, be familiar with the things you experienced in childhood, make friends with them so they don’t jump out and bite you when you’re least expecting it.
- Always take a deep breath when your child reports an upsetting experience which is one of your triggers. Just inhale and exhale, and make that your habitual first response.
- Thank your instant fear reaction for alerting you, and let it go.
- Remember that your child is not you, he has his own script.
- Remember that although your child may be in a similar situation to one you experienced, he may see it differently and react differently to how you did when you were a child.
- Trust in your child’s resilience and resourcefulness.
- Be a witness, don’t jump to fix it. He may be already fixing it himself, if only in his own head.
- Be serious and empathetic but don’t descend into sympathy and pity. The more over-concerned attention you give to something, the more the child starts to enjoy his role as victim.
- Remember that your child’s first words will likely be an exaggeration anyway, because they’re full of feelings. Acknowledge a few times and you may get a more accurate balanced picture.
I think that managing our own triggers is one of the most challenging aspects of parenting because it’s so easy to project our own experiences onto our child, it’s almost an automatic response. Being mindful of that really helps you to take a step back, and in doing so you not only become a better help to your child, but it also works wonders in helping to heal your own past.