Why Does My Child Seem Like They Enjoy Pressing My Buttons?

I hear from parents all of the time how it seems like their child knows how to press just the right buttons and when exactly to press them so that the they react. This then leads to a spiral of emotions from both parties that can exhaust just about any parent.

As humans, our brains are wired to seek reinforcement for our actions and behaviors. Through reinforcement certain behaviors and actions are felt as "rewards" in our brains, and make us want to engage in them more often.

Your children can at times "press your buttons" in an effort to gain two key rewards...your energy and attention. Good attention, bad attention, they are both registered as the same reward, thus reinforced in a child's young brain to repeat when to fulfill the need for interaction.

Your child's brain unconsciously thinks...

"My dad stops watching football and starts paying attention to me if I sing REALLY loudly!"

"If I start an argument about not wanting to do my homework, then my mom will go on about how I have to do it before I get her attention AND I don't have to do homework for 20-minutes while we argue!"

So how do I stop my child from seeking out bad attention?

If you minimize the energy you release during times when your child is misbehaving or trying to press your buttons, they will begin to see that they won't get the usual bells and whistles that they have received in the past that their brains have equated to as a reward. If you maximize the energy you release when your child does something positive--even something as little as placing their dish in the dishwasher after a meal--they will begin to see that they get way more of your energy and attention when they do something good! Slowly over time, the negative attention seeking behavior will abstain and positive attention seeking behavior will increase.

Remember, interacting with your child in a way that is new to them will take time to become routine for both you and them. In the beginning they will attempt their hardest to push your buttons in an effort to test you and your new way of interacting with them. As they learn that you are not going to give energy into yelling, arguing, battling back-and-forth regarding when to do their homework, they will move on to something that gives them energy and attention like the "I am SO PROUD of YOU for starting your homework AS SOON AS you finished your after school snack!"

Okay, but what's the consequence for misbehaving then?

In a different post, I discuss this idea of Time In. Time In is a pause/break where you sit quietly with your child--remaining present--while they settle down. During Time In you are not getting roped into the back-and-forth of arguing, but remaining neutral and quiet until they calm down. Once they calm down, Time In is complete and they may go about their business. After some time, you will circle back to have a conversation about the behavior, incident, etc. that occurred--having them identify their feelings, while you identify yours, and you both explore ways to move forward.

You don't have to be your child's energy slot machine!

To learn more parenting tips and tricks join the free bi-weekly Parent Support group starting Sunday August 18, 2019 from 12:00PM-1:00PM. Contact me at (609) 401-2983 or to sign up!

I also support parents through monthly individual parent consultation sessions when you seek play therapy or counseling services for your child. If you are interested services for your child or teen feel free to contact me--Anthony Dimitrion, LCSW--at (609) 401-2983 to learn more about how counseling can help!