When Kids Push Our Buttons

I once heard parenting expert Shelly Lefkoe say that every time you interact with your child, whether it’s a positive or negative interaction, he comes away with certain conclusions about himself, you, and the world. These are commonly referred to in psychology as core beliefs.


Core beliefs are usually formed during childhood. Often, one or both parents hold beliefs that they pass down to their kids. Core beliefs can also be developed in response to the way we were treated as children, or as a reaction to a particular event.


Core beliefs are so ingrained in our thinking that most of us don’t even recognize them as beliefs at all – we just assume they reflect reality. These beliefs actually shape our view of ourselves and the world, and guide us to behave in ways that affirm them, even when they’re detrimental to our well-being and peace of mind.


For example, a person who believes he’s a failure will struggle to achieve success. Someone who believes the world is a dangerous place will find and focus on evidence to support this belief wherever she goes. A person who believes she’s not deserving of love will act in ways that “prove” her unworthiness.


Below is a list of some common negative core beliefs.

  • I’m powerless.
  • It’s always important to please others.
  • Taking care of my own needs is selfish.
  • I’m unlovable.
  • Mistakes are bad. If I make a mistake, I’ll be rejected.
  • The world is a dangerous place.
  • There’s never enough money.
  • I can’t handle difficult situations.
  • What others think of me is very important.
  • People won’t like me if they see who I really am.
  • My kids’ behavior is a reflection of me as a parent. If they look bad, I look bad.
  • I should always be pleasant or nice no matter how I feel.
  • If I stop worrying, something bad will happen.


Since beliefs like these are so deeply rooted in our psyches, it can be difficult to recognize them. But here’s a little secret: The core beliefs we acquire in childhood become the very buttons that our kids push.


This light-bulb moment brought to you by Less Drama More Mama™.


This is actually great news because a) it makes it easier to identify the mistaken beliefs we hold, and b) we can start letting go of them in favor of more accurate, positive ones.


Let me give you a personal example:


When I was in elementary school, my mom smoked cigarettes. Anytime I thought I smelled smoke around her, I complained that it was gross, asked her why she did it, and begged her to stop. I even hung “no smoking” signs around the house and once hid her cigarettes so she couldn’t find them.


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Eventually, my mother insisted that she had quit smoking.  And maybe she did.  Maybe she just experienced a minor setback due to stress the time I discovered her quickly extinguishing a cigarette as soon as I walked into the room. I accused her of lying to me and she tried to explain.


Her circumstances and intentions didn’t matter much to me at the time.  What mattered was that the experience left me feeling betrayed and distrustful. In fact, this kind of interaction became a pattern between us.


1) I’d have an intuitive feeling that she was hiding something from me.

2) I’d confront her.

3) She’d get defensive or deny it.

4) I’d second-guess myself and my “gut” feeling.

5) If my suspicions were later confirmed, I’d lose trust in her and feel deceived.


The core beliefs I developed were that “it’s risky to trust people” and “I can’t rely on other people to be truthful.”


Hypothetically, because of these core beliefs, if my daughter Dalia (age 5) exaggerates a story, I may perceive it as a lie, get angry, and take it personally. If her sister Marissa (age 9) neglects to mention a low test score, I may accuse her of keeping secrets from me, and reprimand her.


Then my girls wouldn’t feel emotionally safe around me, and they’d hide things from me to avoid my harsh reaction. In this case, viewing the world through a lens of mistrust and suspicion would not only reinforce my belief, it would create new experiences to affirm it.


Instead, if I recognize that the feeling I get in those situations is essentially the same fear I had as a child, I can a) see that my mom’s real intention was to protect me, b) recognize that Dalia likes to tell entertaining stories, c) accept that Marissa can be forgetful and d) understand that I have a choice about how I perceive every situation and how I respond.


The next time your child pushes your buttons or you feel triggered, see if you can trace the same feelings you experience back to a situation in your childhood. (This is not about blaming your parents. They did the best that they could under their particular circumstances.)


Can you identify any core beliefs? Once you discover one, challenge yourself to find instances where this belief didn’t hold true for you. This helps you collect evidence to develop a new, beneficial belief, and deactivates your button so you don’t get triggered as often.


If you find yourself struggling when your buttons get pushed and want to find out more about my private coaching, schedule a FREE 20-minute consultation with me over the phone. Set it up here.


Or leave a comment below and get support from other readers. It’s a no judgment zone.

Showing 12 comments
  • Cassie

    Pam, your blog post made me ponder over the way I’ve reacted towards some of my child’s outbursts. It is interesting to note that my behaviour was probably stemmed from my own core beliefs. I am learning to dial back more often and stop myself from overreacting for no reason at all.

    • Pam Howard


      It sounds like you’re starting to become more aware of your reactions and that’s the first step to changing them. Keep it up and let me know if you need any support!

  • Adrienn

    Love your story! Your list of common negative core believes is remarkable. Totally agree.

    • Pam Howard

      Thanks, Adrienn! I probably could’ve made the list a lot longer, too, but you get the general idea… Thanks for leaving a comment!

  • Kristy

    Pam, you’ve powerfully explained how our core beliefs impact the way we parent. Thanks for bringing this to our attention.

    • Pam Howard

      You’re welcome, Kristy. I hope it helps more people understand how the past truly impacts the present.

  • Jen Hemphill

    Beautifully laid out! Love how you suggest going back to your childhood, you definitely can learn so much from that reflection in itself! Thanks for sharing your insight on this topic.

    • Pam Howard

      Thanks for reading, Jen! It’s not always easy to make connections to (or even remember) our childhoods, but it’s so important — especially when we want to deactivate our emotional triggers!

  • Kelly - Project Me

    Core beliefs are what cause so many adults to have problems, so it’s super important to be aware of this with our kids. Pam you have written this so beautifully! I will share on Project Me 🙂

  • Deb

    Makes so much sense. I love the way you laid out the examples to make it so clear!

    • Pam Howard

      Thanks, Deb. I’m glad you thought so, ’cause this stuff can get confusing sometimes!

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