How to Stay Grounded When Your Toddler Unknowingly Triggers You

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As a licensed marriage and family therapist and a new mama, I’ve had personal and professional experience working through the challenges that come with parenting a toddler. In my professional capacity, I often worked with parents who grew up in unhealthy households and are now trying to navigate the ups and downs of raising their own family. This is a huge challenge for those who have had strong negative experiences with their own parents, as it can create a lot of anxiety, worry, and fear around having their own child or children and raising them without allowing their past traumas to creep in.

Toddlers, as cute as they are, act very similarly to adults who have personality disordered traits – they can be self-centered, inflexible, quick to anger, and may have violent outbursts. Although this is developmentally normal for a little one, if your parent acted this way, it can feel a bit overwhelming, especially when your own toddler begins to remind you of scary or unpleasant childhood experiences. When feeling triggered as an adult, it is very easy to unconsciously slip back into the childhood defenses you used to survive your own household. This can include feeling intense emotional reactions, dissociating, fleeing, freezing, shutting down, and trying to appease. Even though these protected you when you were a little one, they aren’t especially useful when you are the one trying to parent. Focusing inward can help you better connect with yourself, understand why you feel triggered, and learn which exercises work best when it comes to grounding yourself. If this continues to be an issue for you, if you’re experiencing flashbacks that feel real, or if you’re dissociating, reach out to a counselor who can help you process your childhood so you can focus on enjoying your time with your child. Here are my tips for dealing with common triggers to help get you started.

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