4 Ways To Tell If It's Disobedience or Triggered Behavior

Written by The Archibald Project about The Honestly Adoption Podcast

Written by The Archibald Project about The Honestly Adoption Podcast

“It's easy for parents who are caring for children with a trauma history to mistake triggered behavior for disobedience. But, when you understand the origin of behavior, your entire perspective changes.” - “Is It Disobedience or Triggered Behavior?”- From The Honestly Adoption Podcast

Mike and Kristen Berry of The Honestly Adoption podcast recently did a podcast series called' ‘Is It Disobedience or Something Else?’ As someone who is caring for children who have experienced trauma, these podcasts were SO helpful. Learning about triggers, what causes them and how they can be prevented can make a world of a difference in how your day goes. This is a recap of this podcast, but we’d love for you to also check out the podcast!

As you’ll learn from Mike and Kristin Berry, it is absolutely vital that you, the caregiver, are regulated and calm when trying to de-escalate your child’s behavior. Where a lot of things can go wrong is when we start to trigger each other. If a child yells something like, “You NEVER feed me!!”, this could be triggering for me because I know that’s not true, but me telling the child “That’s not true”, isn’t going to help the situation but rather help the child go from 0 to 60. Let’s take a look at what we can do to figure out if our child is reacting out of disobedience or if they have been triggered by past trauma.

4 Ways To Tell If It’s Disobedience or a Triggered Behavior:

  • Stop and investigate. We need to investigate where the behavior is coming from. Get to the core of why your child is angry. Sometime’s when you are in the middle of the situation, it helps to step back and lean on your community or close friends to speak into what they might see happening. When you are in the middle of it every day, sometimes it can be hard to pin point a trigger. Kristen speaks about how her mom helped point out something she was missing when one of her sons became triggered.

  • Validate the emotion. “It’s okay to feel angry. It’s okay to be angry. Other people feel angry about this too.” Help validate that it’s normal to feel angry and that they are not alone or wrong for feeling this. It’s important to validate feelings BEFORE addressing what the problem actually is.

  • Wait. Wait until the child is calm before you talk to them about their explosion. They must be regulated before you try to talk to them about it. Once they are calm, trying saying something like, “It’s sounds like you were scared when that thing happened today (state what might have triggered their behavior)?”. “Do you think your brothers and sisters were scared when you started throwing furniture at the dinner table?”. It is key to wait until they are completely calm before having this conversation!

  • Prevention. There is a moment leading up to the behavior where the trigger happens. Mike and Kristen talk about how they have a code word with their kids, “When our kids feel like they are about to be triggered they say a code word and we drop everything we are doing and take them out of the situation, get them one on one and talk to them.” Our kids are learning to recognize the point where a trigger was pulled, this doesn’t always work, but when it does, it can help prevent the all out meltdowns.


Learning how to decipher whether a behavior is disobedience or a trigger will help you and your child connect and grow in a healthy relationship. If you enjoyed this podcast, make sure you check out the rest of Mike and Kristen Berry’s podcast series titled, Is It Disobedience or Something Else? Let us know what you think of it!

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