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What To Do When You’re Triggered By Your Child’s Defiance

Whether you have a history of anxiety, trauma, or another mental health condition, you probably know that certain things tend to trigger your symptoms. Getting to the bottom of your triggers can make your condition easier to manage. But, that often takes time and can be easier said than done. That’s especially true when something in your own home tends to trigger you – like your child’s defiance.

No child is perfect all the time. Most parents expect children to push boundaries and test their limits, and sometimes that comes across as defiance. But, what can you do when that kind of behavior triggers a traumatic memory or makes your anxiety worse?

Remind Yourself Your Child Isn’t Triggering You on Purpose

Chances are, your child doesn’t know anything about the trauma or anxiety you deal with. Even if they do, it’s very unlikely that they will make a connection between misbehaving and triggering your thoughts. Reminding yourself of that can make it easier to deal with the situation calmly. Your child isn’t out to get you. They aren’t trying to make your life harder or fuel a mental health condition you’re trying to work on.

Rather, they’re testing their limits and trying to have a better understanding of boundaries. They are learning. You and your child are on the same team, and recognizing that will make it easier to respond to their defiance calmly, rather than acting out as the result of being triggered.

Respond Rationally

Speaking of responding to your child’s defiance, it can take a lot of strength to do so calmly and rationally.

If your trauma response is triggered, for example, your natural reaction might be “fight or flight.” You might be tempted to yell at them as a defense mechanism, or even try to avoid them by sending them to their room or walking away. Unfortunately, neither one of those options will do much to resolve anything.

You know your child better than anyone. Even if they trigger you, it’s important to remember that you’re in a safe space, and you’re actually more in control than you realize. Speak to them with an authoritative but calm tone, and try to work through the issue at hand rather than running away from it or losing your cool. It’s not uncommon for children to be defiant to get attention or because there’s something deeper going on. Talking to them calmly about the situation can help you better understand the underlying cause of it.

Take a Break

While you shouldn’t run from your child’s defiance just to escape it, it’s okay to take a break. Whether their actions make you anxious or trigger a traumatic memory, taking a step back to collect yourself is always a better idea than lashing out or retreating in fear.

When you take a few minutes to separate yourself from the situation, breathe, and calm down, you’re more likely to respond in a positive way. Tell your child you need to calm down, and you can discuss the issue soon to make things better.

Not only will taking a break give you a chance to collect your thoughts, but it will give your child the opportunity to calm down as well. When you both have that chance, you’re more likely to communicate effectively. You can (and should) be a model for your child when it comes to communication and repairing issues in your relationship. The calmer you are, the calmer they’re likely to be in return.


Dealing with a child’s defiance is never easy. But, it’s even harder when it serves as a trigger for you. While putting these suggestions into practice can help, the best thing you can do is take care of yourself and your mental well-being. Consider seeking help to work through your trauma or anxiety, and any triggers that come your way won’t be as damaging. I offer a complimentary phone consultation to all potential clients. To schedule yours in a matter of seconds, please check here.

To learn more about how online counseling can help you better cope, please click here.


Jennifer Perera is a mom of two boys, a spouse and a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. She has a private practice in Springfield, New Jersey and also sees clients throughout New Jersey via telehealth. Her passion is helping new moms and dads find their joy again in parenthood through individual and couples counseling. She also runs workshops for new parents, teaching them techniques and strategies to help them have a stronger relationship - built to thrive during the parenthood years. Jennifer specializes in working with parents during the prenatal and postpartum periods and those coping with grief or loss issues surrounding pregnancy.


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