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Button Pushing

mother with hand around teenage daughter who has braces

We all have buttons – those areas that when “pushed” by someone we’re communicating with cause us to react. As a parent, you may find that your teen pushes your buttons frequently, intentionally or unintentionally. When our button pushing occurs, we may react in ways that lead to unwanted conflict, damage our relationships, or make us too stressed out. Fortunately, you can learn strategies to help you cope effectively when your teen pushes your buttons.

What to Do When Your Teen Pushes Your Buttons

The table below displays common button-pushing behaviors, ways you may unintentionally fuel the fire or attack back, and what you can do to counteract the button-pushing behaviors.

Button-pushing behavior Pour Gas on It
(what to avoid)
Attack Back
(what to avoid)
(what to do)
Rage Fear/avoidance Yelling, punishing or swearing Stay calm and firm
Impulsiveness Ignoring the behavior Reactivity Hold your boundaries
Attention-seeking Anger/coddling Isolating/controlling Surprise attention
Manipulation Telling white lies Humiliating Stay kind and direct
Explosiveness Retaliation Stay calm and firm
Suicidality Coddling Ignoring Stay in the present
Self-harm Coddling Ignoring/criticizing Coping skills
Idealization Blind acceptance Avoidance Maintain personal boundaries
Crisis creation Displacement Using sarcasm/demeaning words Plan and prevent
Helplessness Criticism Helplessness Problem solve

How to Prevent Button-pushing

It may not be possible to prevent button-pushing entirely (after all, we all have them and we all occasionally push others’ buttons too) but there are some things you can do to reduce how often your buttons are pushed by your teen.

  • Remember that your buttons are often your most sensitive issues. Make a list of your buttons, then look at why you have those buttons. Chances are, you were hurt in the past. When communicating with your teen, try to stay in the present rather than remembering past hurts.
  • Talk about your buttons with your teen and learn what his/her buttons are. Knowing what each other’s sensitive issues are can help both of you avoid pushing buttons when conflict arises.
  • As a family, discuss a time that each of you was a victim, and a time when each of you was an offender. What other options could you have used at the time? Write those options down and refer to them the next time conflict occurs.
  • Make a list of healthy coping strategies to use when your buttons are pushed. Think of healthy things you can do to help you calm down after your buttons have been pushed. This may be going for a walk, reading a book you enjoy, writing in your journal, etc. The idea is not to avoid your feelings but to find healthy ways of coping with them.