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What triggers you as a parent

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Your child’s tantrums or meltdowns can make you angry or upset. But it’s harder to think clearly when you’re having big emotions. That’s why it’s essential to learn your parenting triggers and use self-calming skills to help you parent more effectively during heated moments.

Watch or listen to this seven-minute episode of “What Now? A Parent’s Guide,” where psychologist Dr. Andrew Kahn teaches you how to look inward and notice signs you’ve been triggered. You’ll also learn common ways kids trigger their parents and quick mindfulness strategies to help you calm down.


  • (0:39) Why you need to know your parenting triggers 

  • (1:40) How to identify your parenting triggers

  • (4:31) What to do after you identify what triggers you 

  • (5:47) What you can practice ahead of time 

Episode transcript

From the Understood Podcast Network, this is "What Now? A Parent's Guide to Tantrums and Meltdowns."

I'm Dr. Andrew Kahn. I'm a licensed psychologist who has been working with kids, teens, and adults for more than 20 years. I'm also the father of a teenager, so I have a lot of personal and professional experience when it comes to parenting. I'll be your host.

In the previous episode, I explained how to identify your child's triggers. But it's also really important to think about your own triggers as a parent. I'm going to teach you how and why to do this. 

Let's begin.

(0:39) Why you need to know your parenting triggers

Let's talk about why you need to know your parenting triggers.

As parents, we're understandably concerned when our kids show disruptive or tantrum-like behavior. When our kids show big emotions and behaviors, we can get worked up as well. 

But as parents, the more upset we look or sound, the more we may ramp up our kids' behavior. Trust me, I've done it too and I'm sure I'll do it again.

That's why it's essential to learn how to parent when you're having big emotions. Learning ways to keep your cool and think effectively during outbursts can go a long way in helping your child.

One of the questions I've learned to ask myself over the years is "What did my kid do that triggered me?"

The first step in understanding your triggers is to notice when you're triggered. And that's what the whole next section is going to focus on. But before we dig into the "how," I want to make sure you understand the "why."

Remember: Identifying your triggers can help you keep your cool and make better decisions in the moment.

(1:40) How to identify your parenting triggers

Let's talk about how to learn your parenting triggers.

A few episodes ago, I talked about how the most important thing you can do to calm your child's behavior is for you to project calm, which means looking calm even when you're not feeling calm.

Back in Episode 2, I also talked about the importance of checking in with yourself — to ask yourself:

  • "Am I feeling stressed?"

  • "Am I thinking clearly right now?"

We're going to dive deeper into how to check in with yourself to help you notice when you've been triggered.

Here are some common signs that you're triggered:

  • Increased heart rate

  • Tight muscles

  • Raising your voice or talking more quickly 

  • Feeling the heat rising in your face or your body

  • And last but not least: Struggling to consider options and make decisions in the moment

Now, let's talk about common ways kids trigger their parents:

  • When kids show disrespect or bring on those "how dare you" moments

  • When kids refuse to do what you ask them to do

  • When your child negotiates and tries to get around the things you're requesting

  • When your kids blame you and make you responsible for their behavior

  • When your kids ignore you

  • And lastly, sensory overload — when your child is too loud, screechy, and they overwhelm your brain and senses

Let's shift gears for a minute and take a look at our own actions — and how we as parents can make things worse. As I've gotten more aware of how my emotions affect my parenting, now I ask myself, "Was there something I did to make the situation worse?"

So, a very common example here is raising your voice. If things are getting heated to the point where a parent starts yelling, a common reaction is for kids to yell even louder — or do something else to escalate the situation.

Another common way parents make things worse is by making assumptions and operating on autopilot rather than taking a step back and trying to understand what might be new or different in this particular situation.

Recently, my daughter came home from school and let me know she had missed a key paperwork deadline after receiving frequent reminders to drop off her forms. The forms were literally in her bag every day for weeks. This pattern of ignoring our advice was a major frustration trigger for me as a parent. 

My brain was instantly cast into the "here we go again" mode, and I launched into a long and rambling lecture on responsibility. My wife arrived home towards the end of this lecture, probably about 15 minutes in, and was the "non-triggered" parent. She was able to think and problem-solve more effectively than I was.

My triggered parent brain was ineffective in this situation, and I desperately needed to use some calming strategies to bring myself back into functioning. Improving my own awareness of my triggers and the skills to manage them — this remains a daily challenge in my life, and I'm guessing in yours as well.

(4:31) What to do after you identify what triggers you

What to do after you identify what triggers you?

Now that you know what your trigger is, this is an important opportunity to change your behavior.

You're not going to instantly become the perfect parent. But here are some quick things you can do to help you in the moment:

  • You can take a few slow deep breaths.

  • You can repeat a mantra (in your head) to set your intention for a calm interaction and work to project calm. And if you need more guidance on how to use this kind of mantra, go back and listen to Episode 2.

  • Another option is to take a mutual time-out, which I talked about in Episode 3. Tell your child that you're taking five minutes to calm yourself down and that you'll set a timer and then return. Not only are you taking the time to avoid falling into the same old reaction traps, but you're modeling for your child how to take a "self time-out" and to avoid doing or saying something that may make things worse.

It's important to plan ahead: If you're aware that you're entering into a situation that has previously triggered you, doing some breathing and self-calming techniques in advance can help you feel and be more effective. 

Remember: The purpose of identifying your triggers is to help you think and make better decisions in the moment. 

(5:47) What you can practice ahead of time

So, what can you practice ahead of time?

Before we go, let's talk about how to put this learning into your life. 

Practice doing a self check-in three times this week.

  • Set a calendar alert on your phone or put it on your wall calendar.

  • When you're doing this quick check-in with yourself, notice how your body is feeling by scanning your muscles, face, your heart rate, or other sensations. 

  • Notice if any thoughts are racing through your mind. Now, don't worry about fighting or addressing those thoughts.

Practice doing these kinds of check-ins when you're relatively calm, and this can help you use this skill when you're feeling stressed.

OK, that's it for this episode. 

I hope you'll join me for the next episode on how to use guided meditation to help you in heated moments.

If there's one thing you take away from this episode: Remember, parenting with big emotions is hard, but learning to identify and manage your own triggers can help you think and make better decisions in the moment. 

You've been listening to "What Now? A Parent's Guide to Tantrums and Meltdowns," from the Understood Podcast Network. 

If you want to learn more about the topics we covered today, check out the show notes for this episode. We include more resources, as well as links to anything we've mentioned in the episode.

Understood is a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping people who learn and think differently discover their potential and thrive. Learn more at

What Now? A Parent’s Guide to Tantrums and Meltdowns is produced by Julie Rawe and Cody Nelson, who also edited the show. Briana Berry is our production director. Our theme music was written by Justin D. Wright, who also mixes the show.

For the Understood Podcast Network, Laura Key is our editorial director, Scott Cocchiere is our creative director, and Seth Melnick is our executive producer. 


  • Andrew Kahn, PsyD

    is a licensed psychologist who focuses on ADHD, learning differences, anxiety, autism spectrum disorder, behavior challenges, executive function, and emotional regulation.

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