What to Do When Your Child Pushes the “Big Red Button”

Katieann Browning

Recently, my 6-year-old daughter has gotten into a very bad habit—lying. Let me just tell you, lying is my big red button.

What is a “big red button”? A “big red button” is any anxiety-producing behavior that your kids do. For me, lying is a cheap ticket on the Anxiety Express to Angerville. It takes ALL my strength to keep myself under control in the presence of lying.

When this behavior started making its appearance in my daughter’s life, I reached into my toolbelt and started pulling out the tools I had used in the past when I ran into the same thing with her older sisters. Quality time? Check. Physical touch? Check. Hassle time? Check. Explaining what lying does? Check. None of them seemed to work. Like, not even close.

I found myself struggling with feeling helpless while also under pressure to have this issue figured out and fixed. Why aren’t my tools working? Why isn’t she getting this? What am I going to do? Does this make me a fraud because I teach Loving our Kids on Purpose and yet I can’t seem to get through to my kid? Ahhh! I just want her to stop lying!

And then . . . she did it again.

Everything in me felt like it must be me. I must be failing her. I must not be loving her enough. So, I did the only thing I could think of in that moment. I asked her to come and sit with me on the couch. I didn’t glare at her or lecture her. We just sat there quietly, looking at each other.

Eventually, she asked, “How long are we going to sit, Mommy?”

“I don’t know,” I shrugged.

After about five minutes (basically an eternity for a six-year-old), she said, “Mommy, I’m sorry I lied to you.”

“You are?”

“Yeah. Can I go play now?”

“Oh, my sweet baby, I would love for you to play, but I think we need to figure this out first.”

She knew exactly what I meant. So, we sat there some more. Finally, I asked, “Can you tell me why you lied to me?”

“Well, I really wanted that toy and I knew you wouldn’t let me have it,” she said.

“Why did you think I wouldn’t let you have it?”

“You never let me have what I want.”

“Okay . . . I’m not sure that’s true. Why do you think I don’t let you have what you want?”

Anguish filled my daughter’s face. Tears and snot began to flow as she sobbed, “BECAUSE YOU LOVE RYLEE AND LAYLA MORE THAN ME!”

Aha! We had found the problem!

Once we uncovered what was really going on inside her, we first walked out some forgiveness with each other (because let’s be honest, I needed to forgive her as well as asking for forgiveness from her). After that, we were able to address the lying. We talked about her responsibility to rebuild trust with my heart, and she was more than willing to do that once she believed that I was truly for her.

The great news is that she has done much better since we had this conversation. She still has her moments. In fact, she had one just the other day, but we were able to quickly address it, forgive and move on.

Prioritizing the Heart over Behavior

It’s so easy to see “big red button” behaviors as character flaws when they’re really connection flaws. Little kids usually aren’t even sure why they are doing what they are doing (like many adults, come to think of it). They need our help in finding what is going on with them.

Unfortunately, there is no magic formula for trying to help our kids find the real problem driving their behavior. As parents, we carry this enormous weight and expectation to always have the answers and know exactly what to do to lead our kids out of their problems. But there are no step-by-step instructions. If there were, then I wouldn’t be writing this blog!

But I can tell you this: There is hope.

Every time we prioritize their hearts over their behavior and dig into relationship with them, we invite hope to come into a situation that feels hopeless. We invite unconditional love to direct our conversation and demonstrate that we are a safe place for their hearts to be known. From there, we can empower and lead them to the root of what is driving the “big red button” behavior.

Uncovering this root doesn’t mean that the problem is fixed, but it does mean that we finally know what it is! Whenever the behavior pops up again, we can start to discipline their hearts directly, speaking to their beliefs and attitudes, instead of just disciplining behavior.

So, next time your “big red button” gets pushed, take off the expectations to have all the answers and instead make knowing their hearts your goal. Don’t compromise heart-to-heart connection over perfection. The scarier the behavior, the more aggressive we can move with the heart of Heaven, allowing perfect love to drive out fear—not only in our kids, but in us as well.

P.S. Tickets are still available for next week’s LOP Summit in Minneapolis! Join Katieann Browning, Sheri Silk, Brittney Serpell, Bob Hasson, and me for 3 days of teaching, empowerment, and transformation in our relationships, families, and organizations! Get you ticket here

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