Having a mother in law who also happens to be a marriage and family therapist often comes in handy. My girls will often book time with Grandma when they need to deal with an issue. She helps them come up with some practical tools to use for handling their difficult situations and I figure we owe her thousands of dollars for free therapy.
One of the things lately she has helped them with is identifying their triggers. What are those things that can lead them to spiral emotionally?
With three teenage girls, it’s important for our sanity to come up with some tools and boundaries around the sibling rivalry. It’s important for all of us to recognize the triggers that make us get angry and take a bad situation and make it worse.
There are several things that we can look at.
What is happening in your body when you are getting angry? Such as a stomachache, tightening of our grip, red face, rapid breathing etc.
What is happening in your thoughts? What are some things you are feeling. You may feel like you are inferior, threatened, or a loss of control, unhappy, or things are unfair etc.
What are the things you do or want to do when you become angry? Stomping, laying down on the ground kicking and screaming, hitting something or someone, and….biting.
What are some external things affecting you? Hormones, lack of sleep, stress, and poor diet etc. divorce, death, sickness.
I remember when Julia was little and she use to have these moments that she would become Matilda. Matilda is the name we called the alternate child that would appear every once in a while and throw some marvelous tantrums. For those who know Julia, I am sure it’s so hard to imagine gentle Julia doing this (wink wink), but as her parents we were at a loss to ways to manage the times Matilda came. And what we realized is that Julia didn’t like herself during these times either. So back in the day, my mother in law told us to help her recognize the triggers. What was going on when she would start to spiral? So Julia started to recognize those times that she was heading down the road to Matilda, and even as young as 3 or 4 years old, she started to put her self in a time out. She would go and be by herself until she calmed down. She still does this and it’s a handy little tool to help her manage her emotions. Once in a while she jokes and says, “I feel like Matilda is coming, I am going to go work out at the gym.”
Identifying triggers is one of those things you have to do when everyone is rational. Parents need to identify their own triggers too so that we can help our children discuss those things that happen during anger. Do you scream? Do they scream? Do you slam doors? Do they slam doors?
Then, when the triggers come, you can put a plan in place instead of a negative response. Possibly it’s to excuse yourself for a few minutes to gather the thoughts. Possibly you help your children find an activity that helps them settle down (run around the block, sit in the room with books, get them a punching bag in the garage to work out the aggressions, whatever keeps them from being destructive). My mother in law always said it’s not good to suppress anger, but it’s good to manage it. Anger is a normal emotion.
I feel fortunate that my kids can talk to Grandma and they have respected her enough to listen and identify triggers. I respect my kids when they verbalize their triggers and excuse themselves to manage behavior. Trust me, they don’t always succeed, and I don’t always succeed, but it has been a step in the right direction.
We are thankful for Grandma Sandra and her great wisdom.
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