Noticing your warning signs before you lose it
Since listening/reading the book, “How to stop losing your sh*t with your kids,” I have become more aware of my triggers. These are the times where I am more apt to lose it on my kids. Spending time figuring out these triggers has been incredibly helpful and easier than I anticipated. The broad categories are here: (more in depth at the end if it is helpful to see mine).
- My phone
- Dinner prep
- The dog
- Bath time
- Being in a rush
- Repeating the same direction
- Kids being hyper/beyond silly
- Throwing things/flailing body/general loss of control
- Multiple triggers in a row
- Two or more of the above mentioned in a row
Some of these are easier to solve for than others. But one thing is true for all of them, I do not have to hinge my sanity on my kids’ behavior.
Step 1: Notice when you are triggered
The first step that has helped me the most is simply noticing the times that I am getting the most angry and losing it. That my blood is boiling, my tone is getting nasty, or just have that general feeling of “I’m beyond frustrated and don’t know what my next move is going to be.” Noticing is a powerful tool that I wasn’t taking advantage of nearly enough.
- chronic exhaustion
- multitasking while with your kids
- your smartphone
- major life changes
- chronic stress
Step 2: Begin to notice what is happening before those triggers
Paying attention to what I am doing, thinking, and feeling has helped me realize when I am more likely to lose it. These are the signals our body gives us prior to freaking out. When ignored, we are likely to lose it. When we learn to notice them, we give ourselves a fighting change that we may be able to keep it together.
Naumburg refers to these signals as tells: the thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and behaviors that show up when you are feeling triggered. Developing self awareness so that you can view these as helpful as opposed to annoying is the goal. “When you can notice your tells (such as holding your breath or giving your kids the finger when they’re note looking) and see them as helpful warning signs rather than irrelevant irritations, you’re giving yourself a chance to deal with them before you explode.”
Naumberg lists the following as common tells, however the most important thing is to recognize your own:
- anxious, obsessive or “stuck” thinking
- physical tension
- feeling irritable or easily annoyed
- micromanaging your children your children or spouse
- craving sugar, snacks, alcohol
- reaching for your smartphone or repeatedly checking social media
- stressing about getting things done NOW
- rushing unnecessarily
For me, that was the key. I thought my “losing it” moments were a lot more sporadic and hard to predict. But the more I have been paying attention to when I am starting to feel “edgy,” the more I am noticing patterns. This is not to say I always know exactly what to do next but noticing my tells has been a productive step in the right direction. They are the yellow lights that warn me, you’re about to turn red so slow down.
Our bodies are really good at telling us obvious things such as when we are tired or upset. Yawning and tears are hard to hide from ourselves and others. But those twitchy, edgy, escalating feelings are the ones that are so easy to ignore. They also happen to be the very ones we need to be noticing if we want to catch ourselves before losing it.
A example of not losing it, and then losing it
The other day, Keener ran ahead of Grace and me up the stairs before nap/quiet time. He ran straight into Grace’s room and locked her door. Thankfully, I noticed that I was feeling triggered by this hyper energy. Just noticing that I was about to freak out, without actually freaking out first, gave me 3 seconds to pause before reacting (and let me tell you, I felt like I should win an award!)
I knew he was waiting anxiously, filled with joy at the idea of me going to her room and unable to open the door. I could hear him squealing. I tried the handle once to confirm my suspicion and calmly said, “Keener, I expect you to open the door. It is not safe and Grace needs to take a nap.”
With that, I took Grace into Keener’s room and read her a book in there. Within about 10 seconds, Keener came running into the room. He was still incredibly hyper and unfortunately, his pants were covered with mud from playing outside at school.
I was SO proud of myself for not losing it about the locked door, I was caught off guard when another trigger smacked me in the face. MESS. Keener climbed on his bed with his muddy pants. There goes my trophy.
“Keener! Get off your bed! Do you see how muddy your pants are? Do you really want that on your bed?” To be honest, he could care less. Clearly, messes are not a trigger for him. I felt my body tensing and my voice raising. I also felt myself go to a dark place. The land of threats. I KNOW I want him to learn self control and I was not giving him the tools to do that. In that moment, my control freak wires were firing and I was losing it. “If you get on that bed one more time…” And of course, he did.
I not so swiftly escorted him off the bed and repeated my speech about dirty pants on a clean bed. Like he heard a word of it…
Step 3: Take time to reflect
Hindsight being 20/20, I now realize there were multiple triggers at play. Because he had locked the door, Grace was late for her nap which falls into the bucket of “being in a rush” so I was up against pretty much ALL of my triggers at that point – multi tasking (reading while yelling), hyper kid, being in a rush, messes, and multiple triggers in a row. What’s a girl to do!
While on the one hand it is somewhat painful to relive our “losing it” moments, it is also incredibly helpful. Don’t beat yourself up but instead take time to reflect. This is valuable data and will help you add to your list of triggers. Don’t be afraid to scratch below the surface; it’s tempting to write off our kids as the trigger but be willing to look for the details. We can only control ourselves, we cannot control our kids so blaming our kids as the trigger won’t get you very far.
Just as our kids learn from their mistakes, we also learn from ours. Evaluating what the triggers were, what I did wrong, and what I can do next time will help me next time. And I can guarantee you there will be a next time! When we do lose it, take the time to learn from it. You can’t get a re-do on that moment but you will help yourself (and your child) moving forward.
The good news? There are lots of strategies that I will share for helping cope with your triggers. But noticing your warning signs and your triggers is the first place to start. Having now spent some time noticing my warning signs and triggers, the most helpful strategy that has stuck with me the most is “notice, pause, and do literally anything else.” More to come on this!
My List of Identified Triggers (so far):
- My phone. I am more annoyed with my kids when I am trying to answer a quick text or ordering something from Amazon.
- Dinner prep. Again, this has to do with both multi tasking and time of day. When my kids are trying to get my attention while I am preparing dinner, I struggle exuding patience
- The dog. When he has needs that compete with mine which also compete with the kids, I feel my anger rising. Also, when he barks, the chaos it brings with it puts me on high ‘losing it’ alert
- Bath time. When water gets splashed out of the tub, my patience thins.
- Art. Making a mess of markers, crayons, stamps, etc. I love having them explore with art but marker on hands and clothes really bothers me. More that I realized!
- Dinner. The nights I am most frustrated are when my kids have a hard time saying seated at the table, spill their food all over themselves, or stand on their chairs thinking they are hilarious.
- Spitting. At first, I didn’t equate this with “messes” but upon reflection, it really has to do with germs, which fall in the same “mess” bucket in my mind. Keener and Grace both think it’s hysterical to spit and I have such little tolerance for this. I know the more I react, the more it is happening yet I am still really struggling to keep my cool.
- Being in a rush
- General not listening. While at first I felt like this encompassed many parts of the day, upon closer reflection it almost always comes down to when we have somewhere to be. If we are trying to get out the door, I am much more triggered/angry after the 10th time I have asked Keener to get his shoes on.
- Kids being hyper/beyond silly
- Spitting. again. They aren’t doing it to be mean or because they are angry. They really think it is beyond funny and it absolutely drives me insane
- Throwing things/flailing body/general loss of control. In these moments, Keener’s impulse control flies right out the door and I 100% hinge my sanity on his behavior. I know I shouldn’t!
- Multiple triggers in a row
- I feel like I should win a prize when I am able to notice a trigger and not lose it. But when a second one follows right after, let’s just say, I’m not there yet.