It’s Anxiety Week - Save 20% on our Managing Postpartum Anxiety course with code anxiety20.
LEARN MORE
It’s Anxiety Week - Save 20% on our Managing Postpartum Anxiety course with code anxiety20.
LEARN MORE

February 20, 2024

September 2, 2020

Dealing With Your Child’s Triggering Behaviour: How Reparenting Can Help Us Regulate and Change the Way We Parent

E:
41
with
Dr. Becky Kennedy
Psychologist

What You'll Learn

  • How Our Childhood Shapes the Way We React to Our Kids
  • The Power of Noticing Our Reactions
  • How Greeting Our Reactions Creates Space to Change Them
  • How Reparenting Can Change the Way We Show Up As Parents
  • The Importance of Separating Behaviours from Emotions
  • Why Offering Connection Doesn’t Reinforce Unwanted Behaviour

We’ve all experienced those parenting moments where our children just get under our skin. All the scripts and best practices go out the window, and we find ourselves struggling to parent the way we want to. 

What most of us don’t realize is that our own childhood plays a role, both in how we show up as parents and in how our children learn to behave. But reparenting and diving into our memories and experiences can help us shift our reactions, regulate ourselves, and help our children navigate their emotions and behaviours. 

Today, I’m joined by clinical psychologist Dr. Becky Kennedy to discuss reparenting and how to address triggering behaviour.

I Wasn’t Prepared to Regulate Myself

When I decided to have children, I thought a lot about the mom I wanted to be. I knew that my children would have meltdowns and tantrums sometimes. I knew they wouldn’t always listen. I knew that I would have to help them manage their behaviour. 

But I wasn’t prepared for how much their behaviour would trigger me, or how much time I would need to spend regulating myself. 

All of my children are very different, and they each require different approaches and techniques. But they all challenge me and frustrate me sometimes—more than I would have ever imagined before I became a mom. 

Over time, I have learned how to tune into my own emotions and reactions, which has helped me show up for each of them in the way that they need (although it’s still a challenge)!

I was excited to chat with Dr. Becky about how to regulate ourselves and respond differently to our children’s triggering behaviour. 

How Our Childhood Shapes the Way We React to Our Kids

Dr. Becky believes that parenting is a journey of self-discovery—it can teach us about our own childhood, our own reactions, and our own tendencies. And, if we let it, it can help us learn and grow. 

Often we find ourselves getting triggered and reacting to our children in a way we don’t intend to, because we want to control their behaviour. But if we want to address triggering behaviour, we first need to figure out why we’re triggered in the first place. 

Dr. Becky said that those triggers often have their roots in our own childhood. In our early years, we are essentially building circuits for how the world works. When something happens in our environment, it gets stored next to other events, and over time our brain links those events together. 

For example, if when we were young our parents flew off the handle when they got frustrated, our brains learned that frustration and flying off the handle are linked. Over time, that pattern can become engrained. So, what happens when we become moms and find ourselves frustrated? Our body reacts the way it knows—by flying off the handle. 

If, on the other hand, our parents validated our feelings while holding a boundary, that’s what our brain is wired to do. 

That’s why Dr. Becky says that so much of parenting involves becoming an expert in our own childhood. It comes up so much more than we ever realize. 

So much of parenting involves becoming an expert in our own childhood.

Most of us don’t have strong memories of early childhood. But Dr. Becky pointed out that we can gather clues and learn what happened based on how our bodies react. We can discover what was and wasn’t dealt with well in our own family. 

When we look at our reactions with those eyes, trying to learn about ourselves and uncovering our childhood and our brain circuits, then we can have compassion for ourselves instead of thinking we’re failing when we respond or react to our child’s behaviour in a certain way. 

I have experienced firsthand what Dr. Becky talked about. One day I had family coming over, and about half an hour before they arrived, I suddenly became hypervigilant to the mess in the house. I felt an urge to start cleaning the baseboards—something I typically don’t care about or notice. 

I had to stop and wonder, “Why is this happening? What was passed down to me in my childhood about a clean house that’s causing me to react this way?” 

If we pay attention, our bodies give us clues about things we need to pay attention to. 

The Power of Noticing Our Reactions

Dr. Becky said that noticing our reactions is the first step to regulation. We often underestimate the power of noticing, but it’s a big part of mindfulness. 

Without noticing, our circuits drive us and we don’t have the space to step back and wonder why. If I hadn’t noticed my own unusual urge to clean, I might have just cleaned the baseboards without pausing to reflect on what was going on. 

But when we start to notice, it takes us out of the moment. It starts to change those circuits in our body just by putting some space around our actions. 

When we start to notice, it takes us out of the moment.

Dr. Becky said that we can put this into practice to start regaining some control over our reactions. For example, when we walk into a room and see a mess of paint everywhere, our initial reaction might be to say, “Ugh, clean up this mess!” 

But if we can just notice our body starting to react and wait, even just for five seconds, before our reaction, we can get curious about ourselves. We can step back and think, “Hmm…I wonder if my parents let me play with messy paint? Maybe my body is telling me they didn’t.” 

Keeping the mindfulness part of our brain online and taking notice of what our body is doing gives us the space to slow down our reactions and make conscious decisions based on our values. 

How Greeting Our Reactions Creates Space to Change Them

Dr. Becky also said that we can think of noticing our reactions and urges as forming a relationship with them. We are relational beings—that’s why our children need attachment. They can’t regulate without support. 

It’s the same way with our reactions. As soon as we take notice of them, we form a relationship with them. They aren’t alone anymore, and we can help them come out in a different way. Dr. Becky recommended greeting our behaviours when they pop up. For example, if you notice yourself starting to feel anxious, just take a moment to say, “Hi, anxiety. I feel you. I see you.” 

Those urges want to be acknowledged. When we greet them with acceptance instead of judgment, we create that space for curiosity…Why do I feel out of control? Why am I reacting so strongly to this? Why is this behaviour a trigger for me? 

We can give ourselves compassion, understand our reactions, and set reasonable, healthy boundaries for ourselves. From there, we can discover what from our own upbringing set the stage for those reactions.  

We can discover what from our own upbringing set the stage for those reactions.

Dr. Becky pointed out that when we feel like the scripts and best practices go out the window, it isn’t because we forgot—it’s because we don’t have access to them in that moment, and that’s because we didn’t have access to them in childhood. 

But that doesn’t mean we can’t change—we can rewire our circuits. One way to do that is through reparenting. 

How Reparenting Can Change the Way We Show Up As Parents

Dr. Becky broke down the concept of reparenting. When we are children, we learn the rules for engagement. We learn whether it is safe to feel a certain way. If our parents did not separate behaviours from feelings, we often learned to shut down our emotions. 

When we see our own parents’ negative reactions to our feelings, our body learns to protect itself by preempting those feelings and stopping them in their tracks. 

For example, if when you were a child you said, “ugh, broccoli again?” at the table, and your mother responded by saying, “Oh you ungrateful little girl,” your body wants to protect itself from that reaction. It stops you from saying, “ugh, broccoli.” You learned that expressing appreciation for the broccoli is a good thing, while rejecting it is bad. It’s an evolutionary trait to help you adapt. 

But then, when you become a mom and you have a child who says, “Ugh, I hate broccoli,” that part of your body leads out and says, “You ungrateful little boy!” 

We don’t even realize that our body has adapted in this way. But that’s why it’s so important to look at our internal relationships. We can’t change the external ones until we work on the internal ones. Dr. Becky said logic always comes second to regulation. 

In order to change the internal relationships, we need to reparent—to repair with the little kid inside who is afraid to say, “I don’t like broccoli.” 

If you can imagine yourself as a child and imagine a caregiver who responds with compassion instead of anger, we can repair and start to mend that internal relationship. Picture the caregiver saying, “well you know what you like, and you know that you don’t like broccoli, and that’s okay.” Once we work on our own regulation, we can begin to shift the way we respond to our children. 

Once we work on our own regulation, we can begin to shift the way we respond to our children.

Dr. Becky pointed out that often our children’s most triggering behaviours show us the part of ourselves that was mostly shut down in childhood. 

She said that we can try to shift the pattern to being inspired by our children and learning something from them. For example, if your child rejects food and that is a trigger for you, you were likely shut down from expressing your preferences. 

But you can commit to trying one day a week to strengthen that skill, using your child as inspiration. Maybe you respectfully point out that the barista made your order wrong instead of just accepting it. 

We can use our children’s behaviour as a way to learn and grow. 

The Importance of Separating Behaviours from Emotions

Dr. Becky also believes in separating the behaviour from the feeling underneath it. She said that under any difficult behaviour is an unregulated feeling. 

This is something I have had to learn with my own children. My middle son recently got very upset because his brother took the green bowl of oatmeal, which is his favourite colour. He responded by dumping the oatmeal out. 

Under any difficult behaviour is an unregulated feeling.

There was part of me that wanted to react with anger and punish him. But that would have completely overlooked the emotion behind the behaviour. Instead, I told him that I understood that he was frustrated, and that it was okay to feel that way, but that there were plenty of other ways to express frustration than dumping oatmeal. 

We worked through it, and he decided to wait until his brother was done to have the green bowl. Because I separated out that behaviour from the emotion, I was able to help him understand his feelings better. 

Dr. Becky said that there are certain behaviours that need to be limited, but that feelings never need to be limited. When we respond to the feelings, we help our children create time and space around their feelings. That’s when they learn how to regulate. 

If instead we harshly punish the behaviour, we end up pushing the feeling and behaviour together in our kids’ minds. They often end up struggling to differentiate. As Dr. Becky said, nobody ever says, “Oh I wasn’t allowed to dump oatmeal out as a kid—I was always sent to my room. But boy did I know it was okay to feel angry.” 

Instead, we end up thinking that both the feeling and behaviour are bad, and we never learn to regulate anger. After all, we can’t regulate a feeling we think we aren’t supposed to have. 

We can’t regulate a feeling we think we aren’t supposed to have.

Dr. Becky also pointed out that talking about feelings in advance helps prepare them to regulate. Asking them to reflect on times they felt frustrated and to talk about them outside of the moment can prepare them for next time and help them understand that their feelings are always okay. 

This is also why Dr. Becky doesn’t recommend “consequences.” There might be a boundary that needs to be held in the moment—by saying “I won’t let you dump oatmeal out.” But we don’t need to create a consequence or a punishment. It doesn’t help them regulate. We have to teach them regulation skills if we want them to change their behaviour. 

Why Offering Connection Doesn’t Reinforce Unwanted Behaviour

Parents are often hesitant to talk about feelings with children or offer connection in times of unwanted behaviour because they are afraid of reinforcing it. 

But Dr. Becky said that sometimes thinking about feelings and behaviour as if we were talking to our partner helps. If we lashed out at our partner because we had a bad day and they responded with empathy and kindness, would it reinforce our behaviour? Or would it make them feel like they saw the goodness in us? 

Offering connection doesn’t reinforce behaviour—it just offers support. 

Dr. Becky pointed out that this approach is far stronger than consequences, reward charts, or time-outs. Talking through emotions, working on regulation, and building skills that will last a lifetime helps our children navigate their feelings and form positive circuits in their bodies. 

Staying regulated while dealing with triggering behaviours can be hard. If you’re struggling with dysregulation, check out All The Rage: Raising kids with less yelling and more connection for the tools you need to stay calm in triggering moments.  

NEWSLETTER

Subscribe to our newsletter and stay updated.
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Tags:

Reparenting

Stage:

Motherhood

Share Now:

OUR GUEST

Dr. Becky Kennedy
Psychologist

Dr. Becky Kennedy is a clinical psychologist specializing in anxiety, resilience, and parenting. A graduate of Duke University and Columbia University, she maintains a private practice in midtown Manhattan, runs parenting groups and workshops, lectures on various mental health issues, and consults for organizations.

Dr. Becky specializes in thinking deeply about what’s happening for kids and translating these ideas into simple, actionable strategies.

Erica Djossa
Erica Djossa
PMH-C | Founder of Momwell
Erica is the founder of Momwell, providing educational resources and virtual therapy for moms. She is a mom of three boys and a registered psychotherapist. Erica’s work has been featured in the Toronto Star, Breakfast Television, Scary Mommy, Medium, Pop Sugar, and Romper. how they want it.

RESOURCES MENTIONED

Dr. Becky's Courses on building emotion regulation, managing tantrums, parenting tweens and teens, and managing the transition to a new baby.

RELATED ARTICLES
February 20, 2024
January 31, 2024
Postpartum Rage vs. Parental Anger: How Social Expectations Create Overwhelmed Moms
E:
210
with
Dr. Ashurina Ream
Founder and CEO of Psyched Mommy, licensed clinical psychologist
February 20, 2024
January 24, 2024
You’re Not an Angry Mom: Why We Experience Mom Rage (and What We Can Learn From It)
E:
209
with
Minna Dubin
Author of Mom Rage: The Everyday Crisis of Modern Motherhood
February 20, 2024
January 17, 2024
What Causes Mommy Brain? The Role of the Invisible Load on Forgetfulness and Brain Fog
E:
208
with
Dr. Jodi Pawluski
neuroscientist, psychotherapist and author
February 20, 2024
January 3, 2024
How Parents Can Avoid Information Overload: Maintaining Confidence in Our Decision-Making
E:
206
with
Cara Goodwin
Licensed Clinical Psychologist
February 20, 2024
November 29, 2023
Prioritizing the Invisible Load of Motherhood: Valuing Our Own Time and Letting Go of Mental Labor
E:
201
with
Whitney Casares
Founder and CEO of Modern Mommy Doc
February 20, 2024
November 15, 2023
Breaking Generational Trauma Cycles: Healing Our Past and Moving Forward in Motherhood
E:
199
with
Dr. Mariel Buqué
Psychologist and the author of the book Break the Cycle: A Guide to Healing Intergenerational Trauma
February 20, 2024
November 8, 2023
Is There Such a Thing as Healthy Perfectionism? Reframing the Concept of “Perfect” in Motherhood
E:
198
with
Katherine Morgan Schafler
Psychotherapist and author
February 20, 2024
October 11, 2023
Embracing the 7 Types of Rest: Why Moms Are Exhausted and What Actually Helps
E:
194
with
Dr. Saundra Dalton-Smith
Board-Certified internal medicine physician and award-winning author
February 20, 2024
October 4, 2023
Interpreting Newborn Hunger Cues and Sleepy Signs: How to Learn Your Baby’s Needs
E:
193
with
Sharon Mazel
Author of Bite-Sized Parenting: Your Baby’s First Year
February 20, 2024
September 20, 2023
Managing Mom Anxiety: Why Millennial Moms Are So Anxious and How to Overcome Our Fears
E:
191
with
Dr. Lauren Cook
Licensed Clinical Psychologist
February 20, 2024
September 13, 2023
Embracing Power as Moms: Reshaping Dynamics In and Out of the Home
E:
190
with
Claire Shipman
NYT Bestselling Author
February 20, 2024
September 6, 2023
How to Raise Confident Kids: Breaking Cycles of Negative Self-Esteem
E:
189
with
Dr. Vanessa Lapointe
Founder of The North Star Developmental Clinic
February 20, 2024
August 23, 2023
Understanding Sensory Self-Care: How Overstimulated Moms Can Regulate and Regain Calm
E:
187
with
Holly Peretz
Pediatric Occupational Therapist
February 20, 2024
August 16, 2023
Navigating Matrescence: The Roller Coaster of Becoming a Mom
E:
186
with
Dr. Catherine Birndorf
Co-Founder and Medical Director of The Motherhood Center of New York
February 20, 2024
August 2, 2023
Establishing Family Values: How to Identify What Matters and Avoid Comparison
E:
184
with
Mell & Joe Hashey
Founders of Strong Family Co.
February 20, 2024
July 26, 2023
The Journey of a Bereaved Parent: Stefania Thomson’s Story of Navigating Grief and Loss
E:
183
with
Stefania Thomson
Bereavement and Grief Advocate
February 20, 2024
June 21, 2023
Myths About Toddler Behavior: How to Reclaim the "Terrible Twos"
E:
178
with
Dr. Cathryn Tobin
Pediatrician
February 20, 2024
April 19, 2023
Overcoming Grief as Our Children Age: The Value of Acceptance and How to Be More Present
E:
169
with
Bryana Kappadakunnel
Marriage & Family Therapist
February 20, 2024
March 29, 2023
Birth Trauma Part 2: Facing Pregnancy After a Traumatic Birth
E:
166
with
Kayleigh Summers
Clinical Social Worker
February 20, 2024
March 22, 2023
Birth Trauma Part 1: How Birth Trauma Impacts Our Family Decision Making
E:
165
with
Kayleigh Summers
Clinical Social Worker
February 20, 2024
March 15, 2023
Real Self-Care for Moms: Why Mindset Matters More Than Massages
E:
164
with
Dr. Pooja Lakshmin
Psychiatrist
February 20, 2024
February 8, 2023
Overcoming Mom Guilt: Rewriting the Motherhood Contract and Charting Your Own Path
E:
159
with
Libby Ward
Founder of Diary of an Honest Mom
February 20, 2024
January 11, 2023
Understanding Baby Temperament: How to Tune Into Your Child’s Natural Personality
E:
155
with
Dr. Cara Goodwin
Clinical Psychologist
February 20, 2024
December 28, 2022
Coping During Postpartum with No Family Support: When Reality Clashes with Expectations
E:
153
with
Emmalee Bierly and Jennifer Chaiken
Founders of ShrinkChicks
February 20, 2024
November 23, 2022
The Mental Load of Motherhood: How to Address the Imbalance of Household Labour
E:
148
with
Gemma Hartley
Journalist and Author
February 20, 2024
November 16, 2022
Surviving the Baby Witching Hour: How to Cope With Colicky and Fussy Babies
E:
147
with
Dr. Whitney Casares
Pediatrician
February 20, 2024
November 2, 2022
How To Deal With Toxic Positivity As a Mom: What To Do When Someone Invalidates Your Feelings
E:
145
with
Whitney Goodman
Marriage and Family Therapist
February 20, 2024
October 19, 2022
Returning to Work After Maternity Leave: Navigating the Emotions, Difficulties, and Challenges
E:
143
with
Dr. Cassidy Freitas
Marriage and Family Therapist
February 20, 2024
October 12, 2022
How to Know if You Have Postpartum Anxiety: Red Flags to Watch for in Pregnancy, Birth, and After Baby
E:
142
with
Dr. Sarah Oreck
Reproductive Psychiatrist
February 20, 2024
October 5, 2022
Protecting Maternal Sleep: The Relationship Between Sleep Deprivation and Postpartum Depression
E:
141
with
Dr. Nicole Leistikow
Reproductive Psychiatrist and Psychotherapist
February 20, 2024
September 28, 2022
Establishing Age-Appropriate Boundaries With Kids: How to Set Limits That Kids Want to Follow
E:
140
with
Tia Slightham
@parentingcoach on TikTok and Founder of Parenting Solutions
February 20, 2024
September 21, 2022
Encouraging Independent Play: Why Unstructured Play Matters and How to Foster It
E:
139
with
Susie Allison
Founder of Busy Toddler
February 20, 2024
September 7, 2022
How To Help a Child Regulate Their Emotions: Why Remembering the Good Matters
E:
137
with
Dr. Becky Kennedy
Founder of Good Inside
February 20, 2024
August 31, 2022
Why Does a Messy House Give Me Anxiety? How to Stress Less About Cleaning and Keep Your House Functioning
E:
136
with
KC Davis
@domesticblisters on TikTok and Founder of Struggle Care
February 20, 2024
August 24, 2022
How to Support a Child Going Through Transitions: Strategies for Separation Anxiety, Back-to-School, and Beyond
E:
135
with
Jess VanderWier
Founder of Our Mama Village
February 20, 2024
August 17, 2022
How to Help a Child With School Anxiety: Easing Worries and Promoting Resilience
E:
134
with
Dr. Becky Kennedy
Founder of Good Inside
February 20, 2024
August 10, 2022
Is My Child Ready for Kindergarten? Kindergarten Readiness Is Different Than You Think
E:
133
with
Susie Allison
Founder of Busy Toddler
February 20, 2024
August 3, 2022
Overcoming Postpartum Depression and Anxiety: Why Support Matters and How to Find Resources to Help
E:
132
with
Dr. Wendy Davis
Executive Director of PSI
February 20, 2024
July 27, 2022
Overcoming Working Mom Guilt: Why Moms Should Never Be Ashamed to Be Ambitious
E:
131
with
Lara Bazelon
Law Professor and Author
February 20, 2024
May 25, 2022
Navigating Tantrums and Meltdowns: Understanding Sensory Reactions and Supporting Neurodivergent Children
E:
122
with
Laura Petix
Pediatric Occupational Therapist
February 20, 2024
April 6, 2022
How to Get Kids to Stop Whining: Strategies for Communicating With Young Children
E:
115
with
Joanna Faber and Julie King
Authors
February 20, 2024
March 23, 2022
How to Get Your Kids to Listen: Tips for Managing Defiance in Young Children
E:
113
with
Joanna Faber and Julie King
Authors
February 20, 2024
February 23, 2022
Navigating After School Restraint Collapse: What Causes the Meltdowns and How You Can Help
E:
109
with
Dr. Kristyn Sommer, Ph.D.
Child Development Researcher
February 20, 2024
February 16, 2022
What is Matrescence? The Transition into Motherhood (And Why Being a New Mom is Hard)
E:
108
with
Dr. Katayune Kaeni
Perinatal Psychologist
February 20, 2024
February 2, 2022
Discover Your Personal Core Values
E:
106
with
Dr. Cassidy Freitas
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist
February 20, 2024
January 26, 2022
When Mommy Rage Strikes: How to Prevent and Control the Anger
E:
105
with
Dr. Ashurina Ream
Founder of Psyched Mommy
February 20, 2024
January 5, 2022
Sleep Training Doesn't Have To Be Scary
E:
102
with
Dr. Aubrie DeBear
Founder of Baby Sleep Dr.
February 20, 2024
January 19, 2022
Carrying the Mental Load: How to Redistribute the Burden and Give Moms More Freedom
E:
104
with
Eve Rodsky
New York Times Bestselling Author
February 20, 2024
January 12, 2022
Baby Blues vs. Postpartum Depression: How to Spot the Signs So You Can Seek Support
E:
103
with
Dr. Kristina Deligiannidis
Reproductive Psychiatrist
February 20, 2024
December 29, 2021
Decluttering: The Secret of an Easy to Tidy Home
E:
101
with
Katy Wells
Declutter Expert
February 20, 2024
December 22, 2021
100th Episode: Erica’s Husband Tells All
E:
100
with
Frenel Djossa
February 20, 2024
December 15, 2021
The Pressure to Get It Right
E:
99
with
Dr. Jen Douglas
Psychologist
February 20, 2024
November 24, 2021
Overcoming Gender Disappointment
E:
96
with
Dr. Renée Miller
Clinical Psychologist
February 20, 2024
November 17, 2021
Adding a Sibling to Your Family
E:
95
with
Bryana Kappadakunnel
Family Therapist
February 20, 2024
November 10, 2021
Regulating Your Nervous System
E:
94
with
Dr. Quincee Gideon
Psychologist
February 20, 2024
October 13, 2021
Momming With ADHD
E:
90
with
Dr. Melissa Shepard
Psychiatrist and Psychotherapist
February 20, 2024
October 6, 2021
Supporting NICU Moms
E:
89
with
Kristin Reinhart
Registered Social Worker
February 20, 2024
September 22, 2021
Working As A Mother
E:
87
with
Dr. Courtney Tracy
Founder of The Truth Doctor
February 20, 2024
September 8, 2021
Caring for the Postpartum Brain
E:
85
with
Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor
Neuroanatomist
February 20, 2024
August 25, 2021
Helping Our Kids Cope With Change
E:
83
with
Dr. Ann-Louise Lockhart
Pediatric Psychologist
February 20, 2024
August 18, 2021
Is Breastfeeding Worth Our Mental Health?
E:
82
with
Johanna Phillips
Maternal Mental Health Specialist