To React or Respond?

I grew up being the oldest in my home, and I would almost daily get in to some kind of bickering match with my siblings. Having experienced this as a child, I know that there will be days to come where my son will throw temper tantrums and yell and scream “But why!?” or throw his food or drink on the floor in defiance……

How am I going to immediately respond?

Am I a yeller? Will I overreact? Should I just ignore him, walk away or throw up my hands in frustration?

Or will I inquire and help him to find a better way to express his emotions?

As we strive to have strong positive relationships with our children, it’s important to remember to Respond rather than React.

Reacting means that you meet your child’s emotionally charged behavior with your own emotionally-charged reply. They are yelling, so you enter the conversation by yelling.  They are screaming and having a tantrum, so you work hard to quiet them down and “get over” their fussing.

Responding, on the other hand, gives your child permission to express their big emotions, ideas and feelings without criticism, shame or guilt. If your child is upset because something doesn’t seem fair, you let them be frustrated and express empathy.  There’s no need to change your mind or try to fix the problem.


This is really tricky concept for a lot of parents. You are definitely not alone if you struggle in this area. I know I do, and my son isn’t even one yet.

In the long-run, however, the payoff is fantastic. Your children/child  will learn that it is safe to express their thoughts and feelings. They will learn to trust that you will help them process big emotions. And you may feel less pressure to intervene right away or change your mind at the last second.

If you’re a “react-er,” it may take time for this to become more natural. That’s ok! As you go through your day, look for times to respond rather than react to every situation. If you slip-up and react, give yourself permission to try it again. It’s not a sign of weakness to say, “Wait, what I meant to say was…” Let your children know that you are not perfect either!

Here some examples of reacting vs. responding:

“Stop that crying right now!” vs. “You look upset, do you need a hug?”

“If you two don’t stop fighting, I’m turning this car around!” vs. “I am pulling over.  When the car is quiet, I will continue driving.”

“What?! You spilled your juice again!” vs. “Oops, let’s get a rag and get that mess cleaned up.”

“Darn right it’s not fair. Life’s not fair. Get used to it.” vs. “I can tell you’re upset about my decision.”

“How many times do I need to ask you to feed the dog?” vs. “It seems like we’re always forgetting to feed the dog. Can you help me create a plan so we remember to feed him every morning?”

“Another ‘C?’ What’s going on with you?” vs. “It looks like you are struggling in math. Is there anything I can do to help?”

“That’s enough whining.” vs. “Please use a calm voice when asking me for something.”

“I’ve had it with you!” vs. “I’m feeling frustrated right now, I’m going to take a walk to calm down.”

How do you respond? How do you react?


Categories: Parenting

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