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Mind Matters: How to Spot Mental Health Triggers in a Kid and Take Action

It can be a terrifying and lonely feeling when you can tell that something is going on with your kid, but you just don’t know what it is or to help.

As parents, it’s our job to take care of our children’s needs: physical, emotional, and mental. And a part of this responsibility means being willing and able to show up when our kids do face their own inevitable stressors and help them cope.

If you have no idea where to start in figuring out how to support your child and their mental health struggles right now, you are not alone or a bad parent. You’re just without a guide of your own — until now. Look to the information below as your starting point for navigating your child’s triggers and introducing conversations about mental health, and start showing up as the support system you already know that you are:

What is a trigger?

A trigger is a reminder of a past traumatic experience that sets off an intense or unexpected emotional response. Because they are based on our individual experiences, technically, anything can be a trigger.

You have triggers of your own, too, like overstimulation or hunger, that you might not even recognize. Here are a couple of triggers and how they work:

  • A child who’s been emotionally abused avoids loud noises or feels frightened around people who yell.

  • A student who was picked on in their old class might respond to their new classroom by picking on other students.

One child’s trigger will look completely different from the next, but once you can identify the child’s stimuli, aka, the event that sets off the emotional response, it becomes a lot easier to identify the core traumatic event.

How do I teach my kid to identify their own triggers?

This process has to start with you and your ability to be aware of your child’s mood and emotions. The first step to helping your child cope is by understanding your child’s triggers. In moments when you notice them feeling frustrated or upset, you can swoop in to help calm them down.

The next step is to talk about it with them. You can ask them questions about how they feel when they feel triggered and help them label the emotions that come up. Talking through their triggers with them makes it easier for your kid to recognize their own feelings in the future!

Finally, you need to plan ahead. If you begin to notice certain situations trigger a more intense reaction, plan accordingly so you can help your child manage their emotions in an appropriate setting. Like all things, practice makes perfect, so give you and your child a break as you figure out your process.

It’s always okay to ask for help.

You’re doing the best that you can, and seeking professional help isn’t a sign of admitting defeat. For useful mental health resources for families, check out what’s here.


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