This is a concept that means a person says or does something specifically to provoke a (known??) reaction in another person. The goal in “punching buttons” is to manipulate the other person. For example, many parents have a “button” about their children’s safety. This “button” may be “punched” when your child says something like, “If you don’t let me (fill in the blank) I am going to run away/kill myself.” The child knows the threat of self harm “button” will most likely lead to permission to do what they want.