Trigger points.

I’ve had a post bumping around in my head for a while now about trigger points: I’m talking about those metaphorical buttons that may or may not cause us to flip out when they’re pushed too hard. And by a while, I mean a year or two.

Someone told me a a couple of years ago that one of the best things I could do for my kids was help them recognize their own trigger points and help them figure out ways to avoid them when possible or recover from the ensuing meltdown when not.

That’s good advice. But upon further thought, I was struck by how many adults are helpless in the face of their triggers: they don’t know what they are, can’t avoid them, and struggle to bounce back when they’re pulled.

Some triggers are nearly universal: people get cranky when they’re tired, or hungry. Others are specific to the individual: solitude is a trigger for some people; crowds are a trigger for others. Some get anxious traveling; others adore it.

Personally, I’ve only been able to articulate in the last few years that clutter is a major trigger for me, and that having something unpleasant in the back of my mind (unexplained bank charges to look into; waiting for the doctor to call with test results) makes me snappish if I don’t watch it.

I’d love to tell you about how we’re working hard with one of our kids to identify very specific triggers and very actionable coping strategies, and how the mood in our house has improved dramatically as we’ve made progress in this area. That’s a little personal for today’s post, but trust me: being able to transform a vague sense of unease into a trigger diagnosis and strategies that let you avoid it or actually do something about it will change your life.

I’ve been thinking about this post forever, and I finally wrote it—over at Simple Homeschool. There’s nothing particularly homeschool-y about it—we all have trigger points—although take my word for it: it’s much easier to teach a kid fractions if they’re not in the middle of an Epic Blood Sugar Crisis.

I need a new perspective on life. or maybe just a nap. Yeah, probably just a nap.

From the post: 

The older I get, the more aware I am that effective homeschool time management must include effective energy management. 

Creating a schedule that really hums for our family requires more than just shifting blocks of time around in Google Calendar or the DayTimer. We also need to strategically take energy reserves, emotional needs, stress levels, and self-care into account.

The potential land mines that can blow up your homeschool day are many, for kids and for grown-ups.

Having an awareness of what punches your buttons—and scheduling accordingly—can mean the difference between a successful homeschool day (week/month/year) and one that goes up in smoke.

These are the land mines that blow up the most at my house. I’m sure you have your own list, and I’d love to hear about them in comments. Self-awareness makes all the difference, so let’s help open each other’s eyes….

Head over to Simple Homeschool to read the rest.

P.S. The homeschooling archives are right here. You can also access them via the Modern Mrs Darcy card catalog, filed under 370—Education.

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  1. Joyce says:

    Anne, thanks so much for this post. I’d love to hear more specifically about how you’ve been working with your child to identify “very specific triggers and very actionable coping strategies.” I need to work with one of my children on this, and I usually feel lost as how to deal with it. Any insight/suggestions from experience would be welcome. Is a future post in the works?

    • Ana says:

      I second this. I realize it may be too personal to delve into, but any insight (even in a more general way) on how to identify triggers (in yourself or a child) and what types of strategies actually work would be so so helpful. I suspect this is a major issue for my older son (as well as myself!)

  2. Tina B says:

    My best friend and I have a code phrase that says “I’ve become really hungry really fast and I need to eat within the next 10 minutes or I’m going to have a meltdown.” As soon as it’s spoken, whatever we were doing is placed on hold and we begin the immediate search for an appropriate snack or meal. This typically happens when we’re marathon mall-shopping or spending a day at a theme park; some sort of all day activity. It works so well and that phrase has “saved” the day or activity many times. It taught me to start thinking about other “triggers” in my life. I wish I would have done it sooner!

  3. Janice says:

    It occurs to me while reading this that EVERY homeschool day involves me going from normal, rational mom to I-have-absolutely-no-patience-and-am-bound-to-react-to-the-next-question-anyone-asks-with-the-maturity-of-a-tired-three-year-old mom for a couple minutes.

    I have no idea what is triggering it, but I am going to pay attention because it is the EXACT same feeling each time and that makes me think I should have figured out sooner that something was probably triggering it…. now to just figure out what it is, (And there’s a decent chance that the trigger is that I’ve just reached the end of my patience with the real three year old interrupting school again for the millionth time that hour….)

    Great post! Good stuff to think about. Thanks!

  4. Tracy S. says:

    This is was an issue last night/this morning for my daughter. We recently realized that her meltdowns were anxiety attacks brought on by factors such as crowds and having no control over her activities. I want her to learn how to take care of herself by recognizing her triggers, but also be able to acclimatize to things that might make her feel discomfort. It is a fine line to walk

    Last night we discussed how to navigate planned activities at her Christian school that are supposed to foster Christian community, but are very painful to the introverts. Student leaders pressure them to disclose personal stuff and to participate in humiliating youth group-style games. She told me, “ice-breaker games are a trigger”, so I sent her to school prepared to talk to a teacher about why she did not want to participate. I am waiting to hear how it went.

    • Tina B says:

      oh, I can totally relate. I HATE ice-breakers even more as an adult than I did as a child. I hope your daughter’s teacher listens to her and is compassionate with her.

  5. Jenn says:

    My triggers have changed as I grow older. My top trigger now is loud noises. As in the TV is up to loud and people are yelling over it. Instant SNAP! Figuring that out took me forever! Yes, I feel a little slow.

  6. Leanne says:

    This is a great way to frame the “emotional overload” issue. I can definitely relate for myself- getting better at identifying my own triggers (tiredness is a big one) has helped me take care of myself first, so that I can better care for my family.
    In the context of schooling… it makes me wonder how anyone functions in a public school when there are so many kids with competing needs, aside from their educational needs. And yet, many kids thrive in that environment. As a teacher, it makes me want to identify the kids who don’t thrive, to see if I can figure out what their triggers are. Could be a new educational theory.

  7. I almost didn’t read this because it seemed to be about homeschooling, but I am so glad that I did. I love your idea about energy reserves, learning to find triggers sooner and then deal with them, and actually scheduling these things into your day. As someone who works with women with ADHD, I can see much value in this. Definitely worth some thought. Thank you so much for sharing!

  8. Ally says:

    I like this topic and it’s something I definitely need to think about more… being aware of our external triggers are really important. Your post reminded me of this blog post, by Be More With Less about our internal triggers–so to speak–that I printed out yesterday and sat with. Worth the read:

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