Warning signs and triggers: Helping your teen to be aware

Parenting teens is no small feat, and it is natural to be mystified by your teen’s behavior sometimes. It may seem like anything and everything can set your teen off. Yet, the situations that seem to push your teen’s buttons, often called “triggers,” can have patterns. A “trigger” can be thought of as an event, a feeling or a situation that precedes an emotional response. Helping your teen become more aware of those triggers is central to stopping the out of control behavior. Here are some steps to guide your teen towards greater awareness:

Observe your teen’s behavior to notice patterns

We often discuss a trigger as a precursor to an angry outburst, but triggers can be precursors to many responses. Common situations and feelings that may “push your teen’s buttons” and trigger an outburst include being told “no,” bad news, being left out, being bullied, being criticized, not knowing what to do, being ignored and overstimulation. Of course, just as every teen is unique, your teen’s triggers will be unique as well.

The first step to helping your teen be aware of triggers is observing and being familiar with the situations that make your child restless, frustrated or upset. Pay attention and be aware of warning signs of triggers, and look for patterns and connections.

Think backwards

When your teen does have an outburst, consider what happened beforehand. For example, perhaps your teen may act angry and restless when it’s time for them to study for a test. This could indicate a trigger — maybe your child is struggling in the class and doubts his abilities as a student. The trigger could be a feeling of inferiority or worrying about getting a bad grade.

Consider your teen’s perspective

You may assume that you know what happened, but your child may have experienced the situation differently. Give your teen some space to cool off, and when things are calm again, ask your teen to explain what occurred. Truly listen. How your teen articulates what took place could reveal some important clues about triggers.

Start the conversation

Feelings and triggers are directly connected. The trigger itself is not the root of the problem; how your teen thinks and feels about that situation is. Choose a time when both you and your teen are calm and relaxed, not in the middle of an outburst, so you can both communicate authentically and clearly. Share with your teen what you have noticed about their triggers and related behaviors. For example, you might say, “I’ve noticed that when you’re studying for a test, you get upset and lose your temper.” Ask questions about how your teen felt before, during and after the situation. Allow your teen to share freely. This conversation opens the door to awareness about triggers.

Stay patient

Ultimately, make sure your teen knows that you are here to be a resource. You are your teen’s greatest advocate and central to their support system. As life changes, triggers can change too. Identifying and managing triggers is not easy, but helping your teen become aware of their own triggers can be a turning point for your family. With time, your teen can learn how to anticipate their triggers and develop a plan for a healthy response.

If your teen is struggling, consider Shelterwood. We combine clinical excellence with a faith-based approach for real restoration. Contact us to explore how Shelterwood can help your child.