4 Reasons Why Your Kids Push Your Buttons

Nov 27, 2023

Do you have a child that really pushes your buttons?  Let’s face it, most of our kids know what bothers you, your spouse, and their siblings.  They know if a comment, rolling their eyes, or just looking at their sister is going to evoke a reaction — and yes, sometimes they do it on purpose, but it’s typically not for the reasons you would think.

Kids can push buttons to evoke a reaction from someone else (usually you) because it’s stimulating for their brain.  Some kid’s brains are wired differently and don’t get enough dopamine or blood flow, so their brains are understimulated.  As a result, they will look to manipulate their environment to get the stimulation that they need — because they know that if they stare at their sister, their sister will get upset, which makes mom upset, and when mom gets upset then dad gets mad.  One look has three other people reacting and their brain gets all the stimulation it was looking for.

Kids can push buttons because they’re avoiding something that is making them anxious.  New or challenging situations can make kids anxious, and most kids aren’t self-aware enough to know why they’re feeling that way, nor do they have the communication skills to be able to express what’s going on with them.  All they know is the idea of that thing is making them anxious and they will do anything to avoid it, including getting you all worked up so you punish them and they get sent to their room instead of having to go to that art or gymnastics class that they swore they wanted to take until it was time to go.

Kids can push buttons because they want your intensity to match what they’re feeling, but they don’t know how to get your intensity in a positive way.  Again, depending on the age, many kids aren’t self-aware enough to know why they’re feeling a certain way and most kids don’t have the communication skills to be able to express what they’re feeling.  

So when they get anxious, nervous, worried, or frustrated, they don’t have the words to tell you that they’re having a hard time connecting with friends at school and are feeling left out.  They have all of these feelings inside, but either don’t understand them or don’t know what to do.  So they push your buttons so you get worked up, and they get intensity from you to match what they’re feeling inside — but not in a positive way.

Kids can push buttons to fill their internal need for control.  All humans have an innate drive for control in their lives because feeling in control is calming for the nervous system, and feeling out of control stresses the nervous system and puts your body in a fight or flight response.

Kids in general have so much less control in their lives than previous generations.  Back in the day, parents used to send kids out to play for hours at a time.  The kids had the freedom to make decisions as to what they were going to do, and they were in complete control of their time and what they did with it.  As a result, their control “bucket” was filled.

Kids don’t have the same freedoms these days, so their “control” bucket isn’t getting regularly replenished anymore.  As a result, they’re figuring out other ways to fill that bucket, including pushing your buttons.  They figure out if they roll their eyes or poke their sister, they are able to get you to respond, and they are in control of you and the situation.  

They are getting their control needs met and that bucket filled, just not in the way you want.

As a parent, know that your child is almost always pushing your buttons because they have an unmet need.  The key is to figure out what it is, and help fill it in a more positive way.

I’m going to be teaching more in-depth strategies and exact scripts on how to manage and what to do when your kids (and your relatives!) push your buttons inside the Confident Parenting Club this month.  Click here to learn more and get the tools you need to survive and thrive this holiday season!  

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