Antecedents: Preventing Another Emotional Storm

Another day. Another storm is always in the forecast.

It’s been the norm at my house for two decades. An emotional downpour that pops up unexpectedly or one that gathers strength hour by hour.

Each is unpredictable weather – over which I have little control. 

I tried to push back against nature in my early years of parenting, but the cross-wired brain won. Alcohol or drug exposure in the womb is a formidable foe. So is developmental trauma from neglect early in life.

Eventually I learned to put my energy elsewhere.

What mattered more was my response before and after the storm. And I’m not talking about endless consequences. As trauma experts know from years of research, consequences rarely produce lasting change. If they do alter behavior, the change will be short-lived.

Counterproductive – if hard-earned trust is lost. 

That’s because fear will never be a sustained motivator with the vast majority of our kids. It becomes another obstacle to evade. It enables a game of manipulation.

In the past I’ve written about the amygdala, a tiny region within the brain. It plays a huge role in regulating the emotional storm. You know – the fight, the flight.

No doubt, every parent wants to calm the upheaval within the amygdala – somedays easier said than done, as I know from experience. In other words, we hope the weather prediction is wrong.

We need the storm to blow over. We’d prefer it to miss the family altogether.

That brings me to something very powerful from dissecting my children’s past behavior. Antecedents. They’re the series of events right before the storm.

Today, I call these antecedents the Six Ts. 

Tired – the no brainer. When I’m tired, my fuse is short. Patience escapes me. Now multiple that factor by 10 and realize the potential negatives for our kids.

Never engage a child, teen or young adult who is tired. You are set to fail. My classic line in the evening is simple, yet empathetic. “I’m tired. You’re tired. Let’s revisit this in the morning.”

I buy myself time – with my kids usually having less need to re-open a negative conversation the following day. And when we talk, the waters are much calmer.

Transition – very common yet under-rated. Let’s face it. Few people want to stop something in the middle and move onto a less desirable task. At the same time, we parents know the activities that foster rough transitions. Homework. Chores. Bedtime.

Timing is everything in the life of a parent.

How about less transitions? How about eliminating small windows of time that instantly create an additional transition – one that might start a storm? Parents know their routine best and can plan accordingly.

With six kids my mornings had to flow smoothly. Tooth brushes at the kitchen sink. The sock drawer in the front hallway – next to book bags. It worked nearly every day.

Tried – the fear of failing. Unfortunately success doesn’t happen naturally for the majority of our sons and daughters. Many have executive function deficits and often don’t remember the best way to start a task.

Then someone assumes they are being lazy or don’t care. A lightning strike before the storm.

My time continues to be well-invested in helping my children initiate the task at hand and work toward completion. I repeat myself less, minimize arguing and never force my words. And something is accomplished – together. A positive precedent.

Timid – the fear of the unknown. This hampers a new experience, even when mom or dad is sure of the fit. For some of my children, the unknown meant possible failure. Then embarrassment – potentially doing the wrong thing in front of peers.

Why even attempt?

And surprises, forget them. Not worth the risk. Our kids easily assume the worst, because their glass is consistently half-empty when we see it half-full. Quality over quantity makes sense too.

Toxic – an environmental disaster. Most children do best when surrounded by positive role models who embrace them – mine included. On the other hand, they sense when others could judge.

My kids have radar that predicts an incoming storm. One they can’t always avoid – then feel compelled to confront.

Feeling like a target – although less so today – remains a fact of my children’s lives. In their minds someone always is out to get them, if they let down their guard. A perception that is sadly real.

Trust – the glue that binds. Without it, our effectiveness as parents is doomed before the day even starts. That’s why I work every day to build upon the trust that took years to develop. I say what I mean and keep my promises. I don’t take back things that were earned. 

By being mindful, I carefully select my words without being patronizing. What do you expect of yourself? What should you do to earn my trust? How can you keep that trust?

This is one place where “I” statements never work with my kids. They immediately assume that I am more concerned about me than them. And for kids with early trauma, that sense of unworthiness triggers anxiety.


Without question, you have the power to parent outside the box. You have the ability to influence. You have desire to overcome.

What’s in your forecast today?  DCP


Craig Peterson publishes EACH Child every Tuesday. To subscribe, open this link and “Like” the page. EACH Child is Special: Working Smarter Not Harder to Raise Every ONE

To follow Craig’s journey in raising his six children with special needs, click here: Adopting Faith: A Father’s Unconditional Love

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