figuring out triggers, theirs and mine


The other day when preparing to let a teen go someplace, I laughingly said, “You’ll behave, right?” totally expecting a quick reassurance.

“Nope!” was the quick reply. Laughing too, but the tone was sassy.

Since a friend was there, I let the kid save face and laughed along, thinking we’d talk later about that tone.

Later, thinking through my irritation, I realized that I really had wanted verbal confirmation.  Instead, the snide sass triggered anxiety in me, more than I even knew I had over the outing.

OK, so that bit was my junk, but why had my kid responded that way?  Just to irritate me?  That has sometimes been my knee-jerk assumption.

But I realized after thinking, that wasn’t it at all.  It was probably because my question had triggered frustration in my teen– the  ‘why doesn’t she trust me?’ variety.

Thus, the sass.

So instead of a lecture, the way I decided to address the little snafu was with an apology.  I told the kid I’d asked the question just wanting to hear a reassurance, but realized afterward that the question had felt insulting, and I was sorry.

If I’d gone into that talk, all guns firing, lecturing about rudeness, we’d have had WW3 in an instant. Instead at my apology, my teen’s face went completely contrite, and he/she instantly apologized as well.  Just because I’d actually managed to ‘read’ the situation correctly, and then apologized for my part in it. The interaction ended with a warmth and connection and a lightness that was truly wonderful.

Sometimes I make such wrong assumptions in the midst of conflict.  But, wow, it is worth it to puzzle through challenging moments and figure out what might be distressing both me AND the other person.

If you want to read more about triggers and how to recognize them in yourself and others, I highly recommend two very insightful books: How We Love by Milan & Kay Yerkovich, and Parenting From the Inside Out by Daniel Seigel.  My daughter Erika has a great series of mothering posts going right now talking about some of her revelations from the Seigel book.  And seriously, I’ve found both books incredibly helpful as I work hard to connect with loved ones, especially the ones who (like me) sometimes tend to bristle at small offenses.

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  1. Wonderful account of an important victory!

  2. Thank you for those encouraging words. I am just entering the years of teen parenting, for the first time. I feel the flare often. Usually I am not able to self analyze quick enough. I find myself reacting – irrationally. How does all this push my buttons so. And in the grand scheme of things we are not talking big rebellions, or huge problems of any kind. My sweet compliant child has merely decided that she has questions, but does not have the tact to ask any way but that way that raises my hackles. This is such a great reminder that I am not the only one with a perspective. I wish I could transplant your parenting wisdom to my brain by digital download. Maybe someday.

  3. Thank you SO much for sharing your anecdotes about parenting teens. They always cause me to reflect on my own relationships with my teens and preteens.

  4. Great insights, Mary. I’m finally reading Parenting from the Inside Out and loving it.

    • I saw that Milan Yerkovich (author of ‘How We Love”) is speaking at the Redmond adoption conference that you’re speaking at in February–am so tempted to see if I can go. I’d love to hear him speak! Both you and him, actually!

  5. I love this…it’s so easy to always come down on my kids because I am the authority and I am in charge and will be respected, so help me! But it’s a two-way street and so much more effective to find a way to communicate respectfully and not set off an argument. Thanks. 🙂 I have some work to do on this one.