What is a Behavior Trigger?

A trigger is a thought or a situation that leads to undesirable behavior choices. Most commonly, we find that triggers are caused by something in the surrounding environment or by another person’s actions. When we can figure out what thoughts and/or situations trigger our children to misbehave, we can look to find a solution!

Looking for the Reason…


In order to find out the reason for a negative behavior response (the trigger), the very first thing we have to be willing to do is to communicate with our kids. No worries if they don’t want to use their words to talk with you, there are many more options you can try to communicate.

It really should be no surprise that the most important person that you can talk to about your child’s behavior triggers is YOUR CHILD! After all, they know best how they are feeling and thinking.

Ask them what they were thinking and feeling at the time of their negative behavior choice(s). Never assume you know the answers to these questions! Everyone has their own perceptions and interpretations of the situation, and I want you to try hard to respect your kids’.

The other major part of communicating with them is for you to be willing to share your observations in a non-judgmental way. Say things like:

  • “I noticed when you had to go to bed before your brother that your face turned red. Tell me about that”
  • It seems like you felt angry when I asked you to put the dishes away. I noticed that your muscles got tight and the dishes were loud. Am I right?”

And then do it all over again in the near future! Talk with your kids about their thoughts, feelings, and actions over and over again. Doing it just once will not be enough to prompt change. Use the words: trigger, thoughts, feelings, and actions to explore your child’s experiences (use the steps listed above) 🙂

Repetition is key and with repeated exposure to the conversation of triggers and coping skills to address those triggers; your children will be much more able to independently identify their triggers, know what to do about them, and can even plan to avoid them.

This my friend, is brilliant!

The power of calmness

Assure that BOTH you and your child are calm when speaking about behaviors. Convey understanding of their feelings and ask them what they think will help them to manage their emotions. Communicating while calm always results in more successful plans.

Be a detective

Find out the “What”

What is it that may have caused your child to misbehave? Lack of sleep? Are they hungry? Is the environment stressful? Did someone say or do something that caused them to feel upset? Put your investigative hat on and ask questions!

Find out the “When”

Ask yourself, “What occurred just before and just after my child’s misbehavior?” Perhaps a thought or situation upset them. Also consider if they got what they wanted in response to their behavior choices. That alone will reinforce misbehavior to occur again.

Find out the “How”

Be present and increase your level of supervision so that you see and hear as much as possible. Being able to answer the “What” & “When” questions will be much easier if you are there! Collect data on what you observe and what works!

Find out the “Who”

Be open to ask for input and help. Ask teachers, daycare providers, your spouse, teachers, doctors, and anyone else who interacts with your child. The insight of others is very important in gathering information on your child’s behavior.


Always follow-up with your child so they know that you care about their choices and are holding them lovingly accountable for their actions. Check in to see how they are feeling and what they are thinking.

Participate in role plays that address their concerns. That way they will know how to respond in the future. The old saying, “Practice makes perfect” is totally true! Review of the choices that they made on that given day gives you a wonderful starting point.

All of these things will add up to some serious learning. Kids learn that they can count on you! They learn how to solve problems and how to use self-control. The results = increased confidence, empowerment for both of you, and a more peaceful home!

Why is it so important?

Identifying your child’s triggers is not an overnight deal. It takes time to become the detective that we spoke about. It takes time to communicate with our kids, and of course it takes time to regularly follow these steps.

You know what? That is all OK…

Parenting is a journey not a race. As our kids grow up we grow as parents (and as detectives). Be assured that you now have the ability to figure out what may have caused your child’s reaction or misbehavior.

This is SUPER important because reactions to strong emotions that result in harm or aggression can be changed! I encourage everyone who is reading this, to start figuring out what triggers their child and to make changes ASAP. This is because over time, kids normalize their behaviors if not corrected or taught differently. Again, it won’t be an overnight fix, but the longer we wait, the harder it will be to see change.

The results

When your child’s sees that there are things they can do to manage their triggers appropriately, they will experience increased self-control, increased self-esteem, increased confidence, and empowerment to want to continue managing their triggers.

You will feel proud of your child. You will experience increased peace in your home. You will feel empowered as a parent who started this whole process to help your child succeed.

It honestly doesn’t get any better than that!

Wanting more? Check out our behavior plans that can be your natural next step to respond to your child’s triggers. Use these plans and see positive behavior flourish within your kids!



In Empowerment,

Barb Roba, LMCH

Founder of Behavior Corner

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