The Daily Groove


Pushing Buttons

When toddlers get ahold of computer keyboards, telephones, or any other gadgetry, they go wild pushing buttons! They're driven to discover the magical powers at their fingertips.

At any age, children are driven to push their parents' "buttons" too! Not because they're "naughty" but for two reasons:

  1. They need to know what's there — to map the emotional terrain and keep the map up to date.
  2. It's an efficient way to get their parents' heightened attention and feel more powerful.

When your child pushes your buttons, s/he's doing you a favor: revealing that you've given your power away to the triggering behavior or conditions.

When you de-activate your buttons — consciously choosing to stay Connected and Present, regardless of conditions and behavior — you reclaim your Authentic Power! You cease to be someone who can be controlled like a mindless machine.

And your child will lose interest in the buttons you've de-activated, especially if you're also helping him or her find better ways to feel powerful.

Feel Powerful

I love this piece about Pushing Buttons and I was intriged by your last sentence regarding helping children find better ways to feel powerful. I want this for both myself AND my children. Can you give some more suggestions of things we can say or do to help our children feel more powerful?!

Re: Feel Powerful

I love your "AND" because there's so much power potential in "AND-ing." One of the best and most ANDful ways for you and your child to feel more powerful is by going out of your way to enlist your child's help in ways that feel good for both of you. Children feel powerful when they realize they can contribute to the well-being of the family.

For example, when my kids were toddlers I'd say, "Let's do the dishes together... You pre-wash and I'll wash and rinse." I knew they weren't skilled enough to wash the dishes thoroughly, but by finding a way to include them in the process, they got to feel good about their emerging competence, and I got the dishes done — not as efficiently as doing them by myself, but more enjoyably overall.

To answer your question more generally... Children don't need a lot of help to feel powerful. They ARE powerful, so the main thing you can do is support them in being Who They Are. For example, younger children are natural explorers whose explorations facilitate the unfolding of their personal power, competence, and autonomy. So you can use your creativity to find more ways of allowing exploration instead of saying "Don't touch that!" all the time, or the opposite extreme of trying to force autonomy prematurely.

Ironically, when kids push their parents' buttons, those buttons are usually rooted in some kind of early childhood suppression — some variation of "It's not okay to be Who You Are." So noticing when your kids push your buttons, identifying the "shoulds" and "shouldn'ts" behind the buttons, and releasing them, clears the way for you AND your child to be as powerful as you truly are.

pushing buttons

i too am looking for specifics on how to de activate my buttons for example in an afternoon of food flinging and plant pot mud flinging twice and everything in car flinging out.. How do i respond? I asked her to help me tidy...
Miriam & Ellie & Maia

Respond vs. React

How do I respond

The metaphor of "buttons" relates to reactivity. When your button is pushed and you react without thinking, you are not responding, so technically you are not responsible. (In the legal system, extreme reactions are sometimes called "temporary insanity"!)

So before you can respond, you must become responsible ("response-able"). You must defuse the reaction and get conscious control of your mind and body before you say or do anything external. It's best to do this at the first sign of stress, because the longer you tolerate stress, the more reactive you become.

Here's one technique that might help...

When you notice an impulse to react a certain way, tell yourself, "I'm free to [react this way]... and I'm free NOT to [react this way]... It's MY choice." Take a deep breath and fully feel your freedom of choice. This defuses your reactivity because freedom and reactivity are opposites.

Now bring your attention to the thoughts that arose when your button was pushed. What was your interpretation of the button-pushing behavior? In the same way that you are free not to react, you are also free to choose a different interpretation. Instead of "My child is a disrespectful, filthy, out-of-control beast!" you could think, "What an enthusiastic 'flinger' s/he is! Maybe s/he's going to be an Olympic athlete someday!"

Either way, you can take action to change the behavior, but the latter interpretation will inspire you to work with your child's nature while the negative interpretation leads you to work against your child's nature.