Show 153 – What are your triggers?

triggered motherWhat are your parenting triggers? What stresses you out?


Find out how to prevent triggers, what happens in our bodies and brains when we “react” to a hair trigger, and how we can become emotional regulators for our children.


Don’t you hate it when your child says “no” or “I hate you!” or bites, kicks, hits another child, especially a younger sibling?!


Gabor Maté, author of “When the Body says No” says “The research literature has identified three factors that universally lead to stress: uncertainty, the lack of information and the loss of control.” All stressors represent an actual or threatened loss that we perceive as necessary for survival. Hans Selye (1907-1982), the Austrian-Canadian endocrinologist who studied stress said that our most important stressors are emotional.

Is it any wonder then that when we experience what we perceive as aggression, ingratitude, defiance, or sassiness…not to mention the really gross things young children do like pick their noses or pick their brother’s nose…it knocks us off-centre. Right?

That definition of stress and triggers pretty much guarantees that parents will be triggered every day.


Today, Sarah MacLaughlin and I talk about how parents can better recognize, understand and manage their personal “triggers”. Sarah MacLaughlin is a licensed social worker, writer, speaker, and parent educator. She’s the author of the award-winning book What Not to Say: Tools for Talking with Young Children. With a background in early childhood education, Sarah has worked with children and families for over twenty years. Sarah promotes brain-based, attachment focused parenting approaches and is mom to a spirited five year-old boy who gives her plenty of opportunities to take her own advice. You can learn more about her work at


We start off talking about the behaviors that drive us nuts then thinking about some of the “whys” we can feel upset about them. Having a trigger or getting angry doesn’t make us a bad person. We need connection…connection to our needs so that we can make choices about how to best meet our needs without harming others and connection with others to grieve when things don’t go our way and regulate our emotions.

girl with attitude


Learn strategies for getting to a place where you can “respond” instead of “react”: interrupting hurtful behaviour, rehearsing scripts, slowing down, breathing, getting low, mindfulness, practice, understanding developmental norms, allowing natural consequences while keeping kids safe and feeling loved, directing our trigger response away from kids, and developing an inner-witness.


Triggers could be your invitation to pause, regulate, and learn what needs are calling for attention if you are brave and willing.


Let’s keep this conversation going. Tell us about your impressions of this show.

What did you like about this show? What questions do you have for our guest?


Family Matters shares conversations about family life every Sunday morning at 11am Eastern on CFRU 93.3 FM. Be sure to visit our FaceBook Page or comment below to keep the conversation going.


Broadcasted: Sunday March 16, 2014 1100-1200 Eastern Time on CFRU 93.3 FM, Guelph, Ontario, Canada


Listen to the full 1 hour Pod Cast  <<< click to listen now or save this MP3 to listen later


See below for shorter clips that address specific questions:


Q: How can I prevent triggers?

A: Special time so your child is not feeling so depleted, connection, playfulness, love and attention, reacting to a trigger to prevent shame <<< click on this link to listen, 7 1/2 minutes


Q: Am I rewarding “bad behaviour” when I stay calm and offer connection with my “defiant child”?

A: No, you are noticing that disconnection created the undesired behavior and you are offering the connection needed to what drove the behavior in the first place.

Our biggest parenting tool is connection and safety in the relationship. This safe relationship makes it natural for a young person to follow their elder’s guidance, which is where a parent’s power lies.

Labelling your children or their behaviour as aggressive, ungrateful, or defiance, sets yourself up to be triggered. Even labeling our children as “children” can do that.

Instead, learn how to accept how humans develop and what we need to learn to become emotionally competent.

Am I rewarding “bad behaviour”? <<< click on this link to listen, just under 6 minutes


Q: How do I pause? How much do I need to pause? Do I really need to be my child’s pre-frontal cortex?

Developing an inner-witness and taking a pause <<< click on this link to listen, 7 1/2 minutes


Safety. Compassion for all parts of ourselves. Presence. Positive self-talk. Triggers are worries about the past or the future. <<< click on this link to listen, 9 1/2 minutes


Progress not perfection. Empathy building without guilt-tripping your kids.  <<< click on this link to listen, just over 7 minutes


HALT and how our brains are wired <<< click on this link to listen, 5 1/2 minutes


Other references mentioned in the show:

Dr. Daniel Siegel

Hand-in-Hand Parenting

Mandt System for de-escalation conflict and violence



About Wendy McDonnell

2 Responses to “Show 153 – What are your triggers?”

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  1. Nicole Tate says:

    Hi Wendy,

    Thank you for this excellent article. I would like to read the book referenced above, and also know a little more about the research that identified the three universal triggers for stress mentioned in your opening. I was curious however that lack of ‘connectedness’ to other humans was not identified. I can see a correlation between uncertainty (for the child) and lack of connection (to the parent) in the parent child relationship, but I thought lack of social connection would figure independently. This seems also to be implied by the byline for his book on the link provided here: ‘can a person die from loneliness’.

    This link between stress and bodily illness is also fascinating to me as I have heard of a growing understanding of how stress suppresses the immune system, but this connection to overactive immune is very interesting. I certainly hope further research is done.

    The reference to early childhood development and programming (in the audio cloud) also makes me think of the work of Australian Robin Grille (I think you are probably aware of him). This video in particular I found extremely helpful in thinking about how to meet the emotions needs of my children in the early stages of life.

    Thanks again, and I look forward to reading more on your great site and FB page.

    Kind regards,

    Nicole Tate

  2. Thank you Nicole for your comment.
    I think the book your referring to at the beginning is
    Please let me know if you meant something else.
    Good eye for pointing out that “lack of ‘connectedness’” to self and others was not mentioned as a stressor.
    I agree with you. It certainly is.
    Mammals (which include humans) need closeness to live and to thrive. I didn’t include that information in this particular show because each show is somewhat unique depending on the topic.
    Thank you for posting the Robin Grille video. I love his perspective of holding and supporting the parents (ie., empathy, who is your parenting team?, healing) while we adjust to the new information from attachment research. Perhaps I’ll do a show with that as its focus. :)
    Thanks again for your sharing.
    Love, Wendy

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