In the best of circumstances, parents sincerely love their children, want them to be happy, and want to parent them in the most nurturing way. Most parents would also admit that the complexity of the parent-child relationship sometimes triggers a reaction rather than a response.

For example, a parent might admit, “I don’t want to yell at my kids. I know it scares them, and it doesn’t end well. But sometimes they push my buttons, and I can’t seem to stop myself.”

When emotional reactions take over, it is likely that a button—an old button—has been pushed. Intense emotions can lead you to react without the thoughtful responses that would be more constructive for everyone. It is hard to maintain the nurturing kind of communication that creates connection when your emotions have been hijacked.

The old buttons being pushed may well be leftover issues still unresolved from a parent’s own childhood. Unresolved issues create a vulnerability to react emotionally without thoughtful responses. Thoughtful responses involve tapping into the rational, reflective thought processes of the mind. When we are able to think, we have the ability to consider possibilities, and in doing so reflect on our choices of response and the consequences of our choices.

The next time you notice your buttons being pushed, take just a few minutes to reflect. “Why did I do that?” “What was my body feeling?” “What was I telling myself?” “Why did I think my reaction would be helpful to my child?” If you have a close and understanding friend who accepts you without judging, tell your friend your story. Try to gain an understanding of what pulls your triggers, and how do those triggers evoke specific emotional responses. If you need additional help in figuring out why your emotions get hijacked, develop a relationship with a professional who can help you.

When we learn to reflect and respond, we can be intentional in how we communicate with our children. We can choose behaviors, actions, and responses that support the healthy and loving relationship we want with our children.