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  • Lori K Walters

3 Ways to Create Space for yourself in tense interactions with your Teen

eagle flying through bright blue sky

You were just triggered. Your heart starts beating faster, your shoulders rise, you breath gets shallow, your vision goes fuzzy... And then you can’t remember where you are, what you were going to do or how to regulate yourself.

We’ve all been there.

It’s like you’re on a fast-moving train that you can’t stop. You’re already locked in. The decision has been made for you. If you can hear a voice, it’s saying, “You can’t do anything but blow up. You’re already there. You might as well go ahead and get it out of you.”

We’ve all been there.

Old habits are woven into our minds, hearts and bodies, like well-worn routes through the forest. It's easy to fall back on those routes and it takes real focus and practice to break free and choose another direction.

You’ve probably heard the quote from renowned psychiatrist Viktor Frankl: "Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom."

The first time I heard this, I scoffed. In my parenting pattern (going from some little disturbance to high tension in 10 seconds), there wasn’t any space for any considerations or choices, just a fast-moving train with no station stops. I heard a voice saying, “This is just who you are. This is all you’ve got to work with.” And I believed it… even though my gut told me it didn’t feel right, even though it obviously wasn’t working for me or my kids. I believed the voice because it came from within me. It was reassuring and reasonable. I trusted it - for way too long.

We’ve all got patterns that we’ve grown accustomed to. And as you replay and replay those scenes, even if they’re not working for you, there is a comfort and familiarity that make it hard to recognize any space, any choice, any possibility of doing something different. Your habitual reactions are that powerful: you are lulled and reassured on your usual route, and your body has the sequence memorized and replays it robotically.

That’s the definition of a parenting pattern: there is no sense of space between the trigger and your reaction. So you follow the old route and take the same action robotically.

This is one of the things we must learn when are determined to change our relationships with our teenagers. And it’s one of the capabilities that many parents come to me for help in developing.

What’s one automatic reaction that you can’t seem to resist? I invite you to take a moment here to describe it, either out loud or on paper.

What’s the usual trigger? _________

How do you know your habitual route/ robotic pattern is happening? _________

What happens in your body? _________

What does the energy around you feel like?  _________

Knowing your pattern is essential.

And then you want to know how to interrupt a repeating pattern. How do you find that crucial little space and notice what's happening right when it's happening? How do you shift out of that well-worn lane and into another?


1. Create space with a silent signal to yourself.  

Put your hands on your heart if your pattern includes a racing heartbeat.

Close your eyes and then open them wide if, in the heat of your reactivity, you tend not to be able to “see”.

If you feel dark clouds rolling in, touch the top of your head and imagine white light entering.

Pulse light out from your heart, if you feel your chest caving in.

Put your teeth tightly together of words usually fly out too quickly.

Massage your ears if you feel unbalanced.

Bounce gently if you feel frozen.

Rub your arms or thighs if you feel cold and alone.

Soften your spine if it is stiff with anger or straighten it if you tend to feel weighted down.

Wiggle your fingertips if they tend to clench.

Drop your shoulders if your breath gets stuck in your ribcage.

How each of us moves into that space between trigger and reaction is individual, depending on your childhood experiences, conditional beliefs, personality structure, etc. Given what you know about your own reactivity, what might be a move to interrupt your usual reaction? Try it for a few weeks.

In the words of one mother I worked with, “I didn't understand why you wanted me to develop this move and practice it. It seemed so trivial compared to the panic I was feeling being caught between my feuding children. But now I really get it. Lifting my chest is my little secret and it releases that old feeling like it’s all up to me and I have to jump in to fix everything. Those few seconds are all it takes to remember myself and my intention.”


2. Enlist support.

Call upon one of your spiritual guides. 

Bid an ancestor to have your back.

Envision your spirit animal with/in you.

Breathe in fresh oxygen and access Nature.

Connect to the Great Heart.

When I feel the edge of tension and anticipate that unstoppable train, I call upon the eagle spirit that has accompanied me through many challenges, quests, dreams and ceremonies. There is a longstanding connection between us and, in moments when I want to resist my old way, I know I can count on its support. I visualize one of my favourite eagle encounters and immediately feel uplifted and supported.


3. Ask for a little space in the conversation.

I want to stay connected. Let’s pause for a moment and make sure we’re still grounded.

I want to understand you clearly. Could you say that in a different way?

Can we slow down and discuss one thing at a time? I’m worried about our thoughts and feelings going off in different directions.

I’m getting lost. Could you tell me when and where this happened?

Learning different responses when we are triggered is ongoing, challenging work and I love love love that we are in this together – admitting where we get caught up, finding our balance, breaking free from long-time patterns, and choosing different ways of responding to our children.

New ways of parenting that reinforce our sense of integrity.

New ways that honour our sacred unfoldment.

New ways of loving. 



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