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Letting Them Push Your Buttons

Sometime in the early 2000s, I went to a training led by Dr. Scott Sells. The seats were filled, stadium seat style, in this large classroom. Sells had been working as a therapist and parent coach for parents who had teenagers involved in extreme behaviors. He described the adolescents as having “taken over the house” and the parent had lost a sense of control. These kids were leaving to stay at friend’s houses for days at a time, using drugs, or maybe becoming violent and damaging property when they were told to stay home.

I always love studying what to do in extreme situations because that means the same basic principles can be applied in many situations. In other words, if you know how to tie a knot on a sailboat in extreme winds, you definitely know how to tie the knot on a mild day.

The first thing I remember Sells teaching was the WHY for setting limits and enforcing them. He said, “If you don’t have any control, you won’t have any warmth.” If your kid is destroying the walls, you aren’t going to be hugging and praising them and of course, that’s what all kids (and parents!) need.

Second, he looked at the buttons the kids pushed to get the parent to back down. It seemed all teens used the same strategies! They damaged things, they threatened to call CPS or runaway, they told the parent they hated them or wanted to live with someone else, they said the parent was making their mental health worse, and on and on it went. It was somewhat specific to each family but the same basic themes stayed. One girl told her mother the reason she could never get pregnant again was because of her personality being so terrible.

Then, parents then either backed down, got upset, or argued.

So he had them draw them out. Each and every button.

“She cries hysterically then I cave.”

“She threatens to call my mother then my mother tells me to be nicer.”

“He punches the cabinet doors.”

“He tells me his mental health issues are my fault.”

“He starts swearing.”

The key in identifying the buttons is that they are the things that upset you so much you become confused and you step out of your position. There are probably things that don’t push your buttons and things that do. Identify the sneaky ones.

Then, you don’t react when the button gets pushed. You are practiced and prepared because you already saw it coming. You simply restate your case and then go do something for yourself like watch a movie. NO ARGUING. “Johnny, I need your room to be cleaned by 9pm if you want to go out tomorrow.”

One blog I like to read, ChumpLady.com says they use, “charm, self-pity, and rage”.

I’m going to link the books below so you can check them out. Identifying what pushes your buttons works in lots of different situations. What do you tell yourself right when you talk yourself out of a workout? (Those are buttons, too). Anything that weakens your case is a button.

Check out Dr. Sells’ books below.

Treating the Tough Adolescent

Parenting Your Out-of-Control Teenager

Happy Sunday and don’t let them push your buttons!

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Free Clear Mind Therapy provides in-person therapy in Fishers & Indianapolis and online therapy across Indiana. Specializing in anxiety therapy for teens, adults, and kids.

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