How Punishment Creates Tantrums, Meltdowns and Strong Triggers in Kids


And how to overcome your own emotional reactions to your kids’ challenging behaviors!

Do you ever feel out of control as a mom? Like you’re going to explode or like you want to actually throw things? Do you ever feel like screaming when only a second ago you were calm? 

Do your kids fly off the handle or meltdown about things that seem trivial?

 This is part of being triggered. It’s what happens when your brain shuts down its “thinking” part and chemicals flood your lower brain – the part that keeps you alive (breathing, eating, surviving) but doesn’t support interactions with other people very well. 

You probably already know the problem with this. You say things that you don’t mean. You speak to people you love harshly. And your kids learn this behavior too.  

This shutdown can be triggered in all of us but some people are tripped more easily. Why is that? I count myself as someone who is easily triggered – especially by my kids. While my well of patience is naturally deep for other relationships, it is shallow when it comes to my kids. I became a parent coach because I wanted more information, more tools and more experience in growing my parent/child relationships – not because it was something that came so easily to me!  

What if I told you that part of the reason you fly off the handle so easily is because of the way you were punished as a child? Let me tell you a little story about my upbringing. 

I grew up in a home where spanking was taboo. That’s right, no one spanked me (well, once a neighbor did but that’s a story for another time). You might think that means that I grew up either very lucky or without any kind of proper discipline – depending on which side of the debate you land on right now! 

My parents were on the cutting edge in this way. They knew that hitting a child to teach them to obey felt wrong. But that doesn’t mean that I grew up with no punishment. In our house we had isolation (time out) and loss of autonomy (being grounded). My dad was also a yeller/lecturer (did you have one of those?). My parents wanted to raise me without physical punishment (which I applaud them for and am very grateful) but they still employed a ‘control over’ system of punishment.  

I’ll take a leap here and say that most of our parents probably disciplined us from this same paradigm of ‘control over’ instead of ‘partner with’. And these punishments helped shape our brain and our current chemical makeup. 

You were probably often shutdown and made to listen without anyone listening to you. You were probably shamed – even if it wasn’t on purpose. You may have been hit. You probably had a lot of feelings swirling around inside. All of these feelings were overwhelming, consuming and stuffed down (or exploded out – of which there were more punishments for that). These interactions ran through the neural connections in your brain and wired you more sensitively for fight or flight.  

When you fly off the handle – spank, isolate, threaten or yell – it is an indirect consequence of the treatment you received as a child. Your brain is wired to fight, flight or freeze first and then work out solutions later.

And when we punish (instead of guide) our kids, we are creating that same pathway in their brain. We are creating their triggers. We are impacting the way that they will relate to our grandchildren. That’s powerful stuff.

Punishment – control OVER – creates lifelong patterns of fight or flight that are hard to break. And our kids become harder to discipline as these patterns become firmly established in their brains

Guidance – partnering WITH – creates lifelong patterns that support interactions, mutual problem solving and consideration of another’s perspective. And a well of patience that they can reach into as parents themselves. 

If this is the first time you’ve ever considered ditching punishments – you probably have a lot of questions. What do we do instead? How does this actually work? Won’t my kids walk all over me? Will I live in chaos? What if I can’t stop yelling? What if they ignore me until I yell and threaten them?  

What if I fail? 

I’ll tell you that I fail. Everyday. (except for those really rare days when my desires and my kids’ desires all seem to line up and everything goes so smoothly that I wonder if I’ve fallen into the Twilight Zone) 

You’re going to fail but don’t give up. It is so critical that we teach our children respect, kindness and not to take things personally. And the only way we really teach anything is by embodying it.

Be respectful.

Be kind.

Don’t take their behavior personally.

Keep these phrases (especially that last one) as your mantra as you learn how to tame your triggers so that your kids can grow up feeling less triggered and more curious.

You can also sign up for my free 30 Days to Calm Parenting course – 1 email everyday that helps you focus on your connection with your child…and with yourself!

Get my 30 day calm parenting course for FREE!

Get my 30 day calm parenting course for FREE!


What do you think about removing punishments from your parenting toolbox? What kind of support does it take to become a parent who partners with instead of holding control over?

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