Why do kids push our buttons? (Hint: we may be offering them too many to push)

Training myself to keep my emotions in check and discipline with connection and boundaries

We were leaving a holiday party play date on Sunday. I decided to take the gingerbread houses to the car ahead of the kids to limit the chaos of leaving. I gave both kids a warning, let them know I was packing the car and told them I would be back to get them. It was nearing nap time and the sugar from the gingerbread houses and extra cookies was just kicking in. Despite my best efforts, transition warnings and calm disposition, I could tell I would be wrestling two alligators to get in the car.

When I told Keener it was time to get out of the ball pit, he quickly said, “No!” and started throwing all of the balls (that we had just cleaned up). Stay calm, Jenny, stay calm. Keener, I know the ball pit is SO much fun. I wish we could stay longer. → Connect Unfortunately, it is time to go home. We just cleaned up all the balls and it is not OK to throw them out. He squealed with delight, like a pig rolling in mud. I am either going to take you out of the ball pit or you can climb out on your own, which is is going to be? → Boundary set.

And with that, I not so suavely picked him up and placed him on the floor. We need to get our shoes on. “No!”

In that moment, I didn’t draw a hard line in the sand. Our car was parked right outside. You know what, you can pick up your shoes and carry them to the car or you can wear them. It isn’t wet or too cold out so you choose. He picked them up and carried them out. 

Generally while I am getting Grace buckled in, Keener is getting in the car, exploring some part of his car seat, etc. This time, he hopped right past his car seat and into the driver’s seat, pushing all of the buttons he could find. Keener, I am almost finished getting Grace buckled in. When you hear the door close, I expect you to go back to your seat.

And with that, I closed Grace’s door. As I walked around to Keener’s side of the car, I knew there was about 0.01% chance he would be in his car seat by the time I got to his door. While generally compliant, I was up against some serious variables: hyper energy, lots of sugar, and afternoon tiredness. A triple threat indeed.

I took a deep breath contemplating my next move.

I’ve been reading No Drama Discipline by the same authors as The Whole Brain Child and The Yes, Brain and was thinking about how much easier it is to parent when you are reading parenting books and your children are asleep! In the moment when they aren’t listening, it feels almost impossible!

The book references connecting and setting boundaries as two of the most important parts of discipline. While my internal voice said, I SAID get in your seat! Here we just had this awesome play date and this is how your act? You are so ungrateful. I’m going to leave you at this house and Parker’s mom can figure out how to make you listen.

Instead, I used self control. I thought “connect + boundaries”: Keener, I know you are having so much fun playing in my seat. I also know you are tired and it’s harder to control your body when you are tired and have had lots of sugar! Here’s the thing, you are not listening and I am getting frustrated. I have asked you to get in your seat because it is time to leave. Are you going to get in it yourself or do you need me to help you? He said he needed help. OK. I just want to let you know that I may accidentally hurt you trying to get you back into your seat. I don’t want to hurt you but I need you in your seat.

And with that, I guided him over the center console into his car seat. “That didn’t hurt at all!” I’m so glad buddy! Now, I need you to apologize for not listening. I’m looking to hear, ‘I’m sorry mommy. Next time when you say to get in my seat, I will listen.’ He complied. Had he not, I wouldn’t have pushed it, as I can’t make him apologize. But instead, I would have said, I can tell you are not ready to apologize yet. I know when you are ready, you will say you’re sorry and we can make a plan for how you will listen next time.

Connect + Set Boundaries

No Drama Discipline gives an example that resonates SO well with me. They say, listen to the music that is going through your head when you are about to start disciplining your child. Is it the shark music from Jaws? Which I refer to as my “rage” feeling? Or can you scroll to the next song to find classical music? Parenting with the shark music/rage feeling often leads to poor decisions. This is when we say things we don’t mean or can’t even follow through on, i.e threats of taking away TV forever or leaving your child at their friend’s house. Or telling your child you will leave them at the restaurant, which I did last weekend…sigh.

How do you find the classical music?

  1. Take a deep breath
  2. Acknowledge the rage music is playing
  3. Think about what you need to say or do to connect with your child (i.e. how they are feeling) — even when they are misbehaving
    1. Consider physical touch. Offer a hug or a pat on the back
    2. Don’t ask questions. Instead, say what you notice and offer empathy
  4. After you have connected, think for a second about what the boundary is. Do you need them to stop something? Start something? Go somewhere? Set the boundary and offer a choice. The choice for me generally comes down to You can do it by yourself or I can help you do it. Of course for matters of safety, I will directly intervene I can’t let you be unsafe so I am going to help you control your body. But for everyday things such as getting out of the bath, I say almost every night Do you want to get out of the bath tub on your own or do you want me to help you?

In the heat of the moment, parenting is SO hard. Hindsight always being 20/20, it never seems that bad once the challenging moment has passed. In fact, I actually laughed out loud to myself in the car on Monday evening when I realized I had been driving in the dark without my headlights on. In his quest to push literally every button, that little punk turned off my automatic headlights! Kids are going to push your buttons, literally and figuratively in this sense. It is up to us not to give them as many buttons to push. Connecting and setting boundaries allows us to take some of those buttons away.

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*Links above are affiliate links to Amazon to books I have purchased and recommend.


  1. I definitely threatened to take away tv this morning bc the girls are waking up TOO early, but within 30 minutes the tv was on. UGH.

    • It’s so hard! It flies out of my mouth before I even realize I’m saying it! The more I can “prepare” for the misbehavior, the better chance I have at saying something remotely helpful

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