Your Child’s Behavior Is Not An Attack On You (But It Sure Does Feel Like It)!

Author of 5 books, podcaster, parent trainer, husband and father.

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It's really hard to not take your child's meltdowns, outbursts, or aggression personally. In the heat of the moment how do you differentiate between trauma and a personal attack on you?

For years I misunderstood my child’s behavior. The aggression, words, and defiance were all an attack on me! Or so I thought. I’d shake my fists at the heavens and beg for a better behaved child, or at least a “fix-it” solution. I even tried to parent the way I was parented, growing up. I’d set up the boundaries, I’d reinforce the rules, and if said boundaries or rules were crossed, BAM… consequences enforced. If you acted like a little jerk to me in front of my friends, or at church, GROUNDED! If you acted out, stole something, hid food under your bed, BUSTED! And to be quite honest, for years I felt as though we were running in a hamster wheel. Not only did I see zero traction, but I didn’t like the way my disciplinarian style was making me (or my child) feel. Bottom line: it wasn’t working.

I’d love to tell you that I read The Connected Child, or had an “Ah-Ha!” moment in a parent class, soon after, and presto! My entire tune changed! But that’s not what happened….not even close!

Nope, I kept running in the wheel. I’d react harshly to what I considered “a bad kid with bad behavior,” over and over, day after day. Often times, it was my reaction that perpetuated his “bad behavior.” Sure, he did behave in a way you would call bad, but what I failed to see for a very long time, was this truth…

It was not bad behavior, it was an outcry.

It was a fight for survival. It was a “I’ll reject you before you can reject me,” move. In his traumatized mind he was locked in a vicious battle. There was a voice constantly telling him that we would not be there forever (he had bounced through several foster homes before ours), not feed him properly (he was starving as an infant before entering foster care), and not keep him safe (he witnessed domestic violence as a newborn). He couldn’t even recall where most of these thoughts were coming from. But that’s the nature of trauma. It imbeds itself in our children’s brains, infiltrating all logic and reasoning, and in-turn, masking the truth.

Trauma imbeds itself in our children’s brains, infiltrating all logic and reasoning, and masking the truth.

Listen, I know where you’re at. Your child’s behavior feels personal. It sure does feel like an attack. And the behavior is bad, in the sense that it’s not what you desire, it’s not rosey, and it’s traumatizing the rest of your family. As hard as it is to believe, in the midst of those battles, he or she may not be saying to themselves, “Gosh, I hate my mom, I hate my dad, and I just want to be bad! I want our whole life to be miserable.”

What he or she may be saying is, “I’m afraid and I don’t know why. I feel anxious about something and I can’t articulate it properly. I fear that you’ll leave me like my birth mom or dad did.”

I know what you’re thinking- “Yeah right. It sure as hell IS bad behavior, and it sure as hell IS an attack on me.”

I know what it feels like to wrestle with these thoughts. Trust me, I know. But I also believe that it’s not intentional. The reason it feels like a personal attack is this: You’re a familiar target. And in her mind, she’s going to push you away before you have the chance to push her away. That’s why attachment and healthy bonding take years to build. It’s not an overnight thing. It’s not even a 6 month or year thing. With some of my children it took years. Yes, year(s), to build. Frankly, it’s still something we’re working on.

I know your wounds and I know how hard this is. But let me encourage you with these two principles that have been ultra-helpful for us when our child’s emotions have boiled over…

  1. Maintain control of your reaction. This is really, really hard to do especially when their rage, attachment, agitation, or aggression is at an all-time high. We often counsel parents who are dealing with a child who has severe outbursts, or even odd social behavior, to remain calm and firm. Don’t react to the words, or actions, of your child. Stay calm and firm. Respond this way and you’ll maintain a level of peace in tense situations.
  2. Stay consistent. Consistency is a game-changer. The way you build healthy attachment and bonding is by consistently fighting with them (not against them), loving them unconditionally, and continuing to stand by them over and over again. As Dr. Karyn Purvis puts it, “It’s not you against your child. It’s you and your child against their traumatic past.” Those words are gold. When you consistently love them and stay with them, you’ll see change. Not overnight, but certainly over time.

This is not an easy road, and it certainly is not easy to remember these principles when you’re locked in an 8-hour tantrum or days of aggression or attacks. It’s so hard to not believe it’s personal to you. But, I promise you, it’s not. You are the one person who has the great opportunity to remain a permanent and loving fixture in their chaotic and disbelieving world.

Have you struggled to not take your child’s outbursts or tantrums personally? Share your story with us in the comment section below.

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Mike and Kristin Berry are the Co-Founders of The Honestly Adoption Company and have been parents for nearly two decades. They are the authors of six books, and the host of The Honestly Adoption Podcast.

Sarah Gray

Sarah Gray is the executive assistant to Mike and Kristin Berry. And she is the best in the land. In addition to providing a warm and friendly response to the many emails our company receives on a weekly basis, she also manages Mike and Kristin’s speaking and meeting schedules, and makes sure that team events go off without a hitch.

Nicole Goerges

Nicole Goerges is a Content Contributor & Special Consultant for The Honestly Adoption Company. She works with Mike and Kristin as a recurring co-host for the Honestly Adoption Podcast, and co-host of Kitchen Table Talks, exclusive video content for Oasis Community, along with Kristin. She is a fellow adoptive mom, and former foster parent.

Matt McCarrick

Matt McCarrick is the Content Production Specialist for The Honestly Adoption Company. If you’ve loved listening to our podcast, or enjoyed any of the videos trainings we’ve published, you have Matt to thank. He oversees all of our content production, from video edits, to making sure the tags are correct on YouTube, to uploading new videos to Oasis, to hitting publish on a podcast episode, he’s a content wonder!

Karen Anderson

Karen Anderson is the Community Engagement Specialist for The Honestly Adoption Company. She spends the bulk of her time interacting with, and helping, people through our various social media channels, as well as providing support for Oasis Community members through chat support or Zoom calls. In the same spirit as Beaver, Karen is also passionate about connecting with parents and making them feel loved and supported. Karen is also an FASD trainer and travels often, equipping and encouraging parents.

Beaver Trumble

Beaver Trumble is the Customer Care Specialist for The Honestly Adoption Company. Chances are, if you have been in need of technical support, or forgotten your password to one of our courses, you have interacted with Beaver. He is an absolute pro at customer care. In fact, he single-handedly revolutionized our customer care department last year. Beaver is passionate about connecting with parents and making them feel loved and encouraged.

Kristin Berry

Kristin Berry is the co-founder of, and Chief Content Specialist for, The Honestly Adoption Company. She spends most of her time researching and connecting with guests for our podcast, as well as direction, designing and publishing a lot of the content for our social media channels, blog and podcast. She loves to connect with fellow parents around the world, and share the message of hope with them.

Mike Berry

Mike Berry is the co-founder of, and Chief Marketing Specialist for, The Honestly Adoption Company. He spends the bulk of his time and energy designing and building many of the resources you see within our company, as well as social media and email campaigns. His goal is to use media as a means to encourage and equip parents around the world. He is also the co-host of The Honestly Adoption Podcast.