Emotional triggers: How to choose a more helpful response

by | May 21, 2018 | Life, Mindset, Start Here

My 3 year old son has always been a pretty good sleeper. Sure, he’s woken up through the night but I consider that normal. He did also go through a period where he woke every hour and that was the beginning of co-sleeping for us. Much better.

Anyway, I was pretty sure that since he was still napping for 2-3 hours each day and going to bed without much fuss, that he would continue to nap for some time.

Hopefully until he went to school.

However, a few weeks ago, my dream of ongoing naps was shattered abruptly.

All of a sudden, he started refusing to nap.

Every. Day.

Some days he was tired, but he resisted and resisted until it was too late and I had to plan for early bedtime instead.

Each day we had the same conversations.

At breakfast: “I think it’s a good idea for you to have a nap today, ok?”

At lunchtime: “Remember you’ll be having a nap soon. Your body and brain need to rest so you have energy and so you feel good”.

At nap time: “Ok, it’s nap time”

“I don’t want a nap.”

“Come on, let’s go and lie down and read a story.”

“I won’t nap.”

It deteriorated pretty quickly from there.


I found myself getting angry. Commanding him to sleep. Threatening to not read a story that night at bedtime.

I started feeling anxious about the potential nap time struggle, earlier and earlier in the day.

Why wouldn’t he sleep all of a sudden?!

Just last week he was sleeping for up to 3 hours! He’s supposed to sleep. He needs to sleep. I need him to sleep…


There’s the truth.

I need him to sleep.


Suddenly, I realised that this was not at all about him and all about me.

I was scared about how I would cope without a break in the day. Those precious hours when I felt free to do what I needed to do without interruption. When I could think about one thing at a time. When I could work, get a head start on dinner preparations or make phone calls.

How would I cope without this time?

It actually surprised me that I was so resistant to this change, because I’m pretty child-led in the way that I parent. But this change threatened me more than most.

After almost 2 weeks, I accepted that I can’t force my son to nap, and that I was insisting on nap time for me, rather than him.

Now we’re practicing quiet time. I don’t get as much time to myself, but I do get some. Which is better than none.

As soon as I made the decision to accept the change and go with it, I felt infinitely happier and calmer. We had less conflict and connected better again. And, I found another way to organise myself.

Every few days, he needs a nap and I get approximately 90 glorious mins to myself.

I’ve also discovered that having him in bed earlier makes the nights so much longer and I can get more done, spend more time with my husband, and even get to bed at a slightly better time.

Silver lining!



Emotional triggers: It’s not about the kids

Parenting is hard. We all experience anger, frustration, resentment, fear and hurt at some point.

This post isn’t so much about parenting. Instead, it’s about what’s going on inside you.

Because sometimes your responses to situations are not at all about your kids and ALL about YOU. 


www.moretomum.com.au Emotional Triggers How to choose a more helpful response



What is an emotional trigger?

A emotional trigger is something that happens that leads to you feeling very angry or upset. In the context of motherhood, we often think it’s something our child has done or said. 

It’s worth mentioning here, that anger is often a mask for another emotion such as hurt, disappointment, worry, fear or sadness.

Emotional triggers cause automatic, unconscious reactions, which may not be helpful or appropriate. They may be confusing or catch you by surprise. You may not understand why you’re reacting that way to the situation you’re dealing with. Many of us have been taught to suppress our emotions from an early age but this doesn’t make them go away. They still affect us and can be triggered by an event later down the track. Even a seemingly unrelated event. 


What’s really going on

When you’re triggered by something that happens, it might appear that your response has been caused by the situation at hand, when in fact, there’s a deeper cause. For example, you might think you’re angry because your child did something, but in reality, you might really be angry because:

  • You don’t want to lose something (like my own time during naps)
  • You feel helpless or at a loss for what to do 
  • You’re running on empty or overstressed already
  • You’re scared about what might happen
  • You think people are judging you (like when your child is having a meltdown in the supermarket)
  • You’re taking what your child does or says personally (like when they ignore you or say something like “I don’t love you mummy”)
  • You or your child are not meeting your expectations (perhaps they’re not realistic)
  • You’ve created the situation yourself, for example, through inconsistency, by being too strict or too lax
  • You feel out of control
  • You’re worried you might fail
  • You feel misunderstood, rejected, unloved or unappreciated
  • Something is inconvenient or hard for you
  • You feel inadequate as a parent in that situation, like you can’t help or protect them
  • Your child reminds you of someone you have a difficult relationship with
  • The situation reminds you (consciously or subconsciously) of a negative experience from your past.


So many possibilities. Anything can be a trigger.

The important thing to note here, is that all these possibilities are about YOU. Not your child.

What holds emotional charge for one person, may not even ruffle one feather on another. It’s very personal and based on your life experiences and values.

Some triggers will cause a stronger reaction than others. For example, if you highly value being in control, feeling out of control will create a strong emotional reaction in you.  Or if you’ve had a particularly bad experience of feeling rejected, any rejection from your child could throw you into a spin.

What are your emotional triggers, lovely mum?

What makes you feel really angry or upset in your role as a mum?

Some of mine are:

  • My family members all talking at me at once
  • Constant whining
  • Any version of “I don’t like my mummy” (which has recently turned into the much more emotive “I don’t love you”)
  • Being constantly physically hurt, either accidentally or deliberately (this usually happens while rough-housing, in the midst of a tantrum, or just because my son is always climbing all over me and is pretty heavy now. It also happens while I’m sleeping and my son is restless next to me, or trying to get closer all the time)
  • Being constantly told what to do by my toddler.



www.moretomum.com.au Emotional Triggers How to choose a more helpful response



Recognise your emotional triggers and choose a different response

Once you recognise that your emotions have been triggered by something in you, rather than your child, you can choose a more helpful response and deal with the real cause of the emotion.

This is the process I used to help me realise and overcome my trigger around nap time. I knew there was something not right about the way I was reacting to the situation. Give the process a try to help you identify and overcome your own triggers.

As soon as you recognise that you are being emotionally triggered (i.e. you are very upset/angry):

1. Pause 


2. Focus your attention on your breathing 

Breathe slowly, with each exhale twice as long as the inhale (try inhaling for 2 seconds, holding for 1 second and exhaling for 4 seconds). Feel your abdomen rising and falling with each breath. This calms your nervous system down and resets your thinking.


3. Take a short break if you can and if your emotional reaction was strong


4. Ask yourself “Why am I feeling like this? What is it in ME that’s creating this response?”


5. Name it:

For example, “I’m feeling angry because I’m scared about how I will cope without any time to myself during the day”.

It’s helpful to say “I’m feeling” rather than “I am” because it separates you as a person, from your emotions. The emotions are not part of your identity and are easier to change if you see them that way. It’s just something you’re feeling.


6. Choose a more helpful response to your child / the situation.

For me this involved staying calm, acknowledging how he felt, and initiating quiet time instead. I then changed the way I thought about and organised my day.


This might feel difficult at times. Research has actually shown that when you are sleep deprived (ah, pretty much every day) it actually makes it much harder for you to accurately identify your own emotions.

It’s also hard to recognise what’s going on in the heat of the moment, especially when you are rushed or can’t take a break. If you do miss an opportunity, don’t worry, just work through steps 4 – 6 after the fact. In this case, choosing a more helpful response to your child may involve apologising or reconnecting.

If you keep working on it, you’ll find that the emotional triggers will come to mind more quickly, hopefully in the moment and you’ll be able to change your response, based on your clearer understanding of what’s going on within you.

Rest assured that every one of us will be triggered at some point in the future and respond to our children in a way that we aren’t so proud of. Don’t despair, lovely mum. We’re only human. Those moments are excellent opportunities to show your children how to apologise sincerely and take accountability for their actions. 


Take Action:

Ok, lovely, let’s practice this while it’s fresh in your mind. Have you got an example of something that triggered you lately? Work through these questions with that example in mind:

  1. What had happened?
  2. What were you feeling at the time?
  3. Why were you feeling that way? What could be the deeper reason?
  4. Name it: “I felt ______ because______”
  5. What would be a more helpful response to your child for next time?




  1. Bernadette Bayer

    I love this article Louise! Have just dropped nap times here too!!! Getting physically hurt makes me really snappy and I have to really stop and control my reaction! So many great points in this blog. I love the I’m feeling rather than I am, I’m definitely going to have to try that one.

    • MoretoMum

      Thank you so much for your comment Bernadette! It’s so lovely to know that we’re not alone in what we’re feeling. Let me know how you go with “I’m feeling”. xx

  2. Jessica

    Great article. I definitely need to practice stopping my instant reaction and breathing first. Thanks for the tips!

    • MoretoMum

      Hi Jessica, thanks so much for your feedback 🙂 I think most of us need to practice that one! You’ve got this!

  3. constance escalante

    This is really good and true! I get worn down when my child acts helpless and whines. Thanks for the tips:)

    • MoretoMum

      You’re so welcome Constance! It’s great that you’ve identified your triggers. That’s the first step to choosing the best response we can. x


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