How To Respond, Not React, To My Kids

by | Jul 26, 2022 | Family, Mental Health, Tips

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Parenting is difficult and challenging. There are times when I lose my cool and feel awful afterwards. How do I respond to my child’s feelings without reacting to them? How can I respond not react? Great question!

Staying calm seems like the right thing to do, but how do I do that? And how do I let my kids know that having strong emotions and feelings is okay. Here are some tips to learn and practice responding to your child’s feelings and not reacting to them. We all strive to respond and not react.

boy with hands over face, parents on couch in background - respond not react

Respond Not React

First, what do react and respond mean. Reacting is being emotionally charged when your child is feeling the same way. When they are having a meltdown and you react with yelling or screaming. It is like you are having an adult tantrum. You might even tell your child to get over it and stop acting like a baby. 

Responding is what we strive for as a parent. Responding to your child’s feelings is giving them freedom to express their big emotions and feelings without shame or guilt. You don’t try to fix them, but help them to acknowledge their feelings. So how do we do this?

It is important for children to see a range of emotions, but we still need to model emotional intelligence. This takes practice and reflection. We all need to learn to respond not react. The tendency to react instead of respond is a human challenge, not just a parenting challenge. 

Your child does not need a “happy mom.” They need a REAL parent. One with a range of emotions. One that feels comfortable to express those emotions and then models how to process those emotions, without guilt or shame. Grant yourself the same grace and forgiveness you give your child. You both deserve to be human.

J. Milburn

TRIGGERS

Learning to respond takes practice. Learning to self-regulate and use emotional processing tools takes time and practice. It is important to recognize what your triggers are or when you lose your cool or fly off the handle. By recognizing your triggers you will know how to plan for those moments. Some of the triggers might be

  • Lack of sleep or being tired
  • Getting dinner ready
  • Getting ready in the morning
  • Going to bed 
  • Kids acting out in a store or restaurant
  • Kids refusing to do something you ask of them
  • Kids fighting or arguing 
  • Getting ready to leave for an activity 
  • Yelling
  • Crying

3 TIPS to “Respond Not React”

Calm down before responding. This is difficult to do, but so necessary. This might include deep breathing, taking a walk, going to your room for a break, or counting to 100. Decide which one will work for you and then do it. You will need to decide which one you are going to try and then practice it every time you are triggered. 

Make a plan with your family. This will help you and your child. It will also help your family know that having emotions is healthy, but learning to regulate them is also just as important. This modeling will help your children know that having a plan to deescalate is good for the entire family. It is important to acknowledge and process the emotions you are having at that moment.

Listen to your child’s viewpoint instead of reacting. Staying mindful when they are having big emotions will model emotional regulation. This will help them to learn how to do that too. 

Mom and son sitting on couch talking

FOCUS ON THE 4 C’S

Using these four strategies will help you to respond to your child’s feelings and not react to them. It also helps us to have a growth mindset so that we can continue to model ways to respond when we are feeling frustrated. 

CALM

Use your plan to calm down. Deep breathing, walking, going up and down the steps, or counting to 100. Do whatever works for you. Make sure to have a plan.

COMPASSION

Give yourself permission to feel frustrated or angry at that moment. Then ask yourself how you think your child is feeling. Put yourself in their shoes. How can you offer support to your child?

CONNECTION

Some kids want help and others need time when having big emotions. Knowing and using the plan you have determines what the best way to connect with your child is. Sometimes it is better to give space, but let them know you are there for them. Other times you may need space so let your child know that you love them and you will be back after your time for a break. 

CONTROL

It is best to keep your cool and then offer to help your child have more control over the situation. Give them choices like, how many minutes do you need or what do you need from me to help you feel safe. Each child is different and each situation is different. 

Examples Of React VS Respond

REACTING

Go to your room.

You spill ALL the time!

Life’s not fair. Get used to it

How many times do I need to ask you to clean your room?

Stop whining. You are such a baby.

You are driving me crazy?

RESPONDING

Let’s take 5 minutes, sit on the sofa to calm down.

Can I help you? What can you do next time to not spill?

I can see you are upset.

When do you plan on cleaning your room?

Please stop. Count to 10 and then ask me again in a calm voice.

I am feeling angry so I am going to take a walk to calm down before we talk.

BENEFITS OF RESPONDING VERSUS REACTING

  • You become more aware of your feelings and emotions.
  • You become better at self-regulating your emotions.
  • You become more responsive to your child’s needs, thoughts and feelings.
  • You judge behavior less.
  • You feel more connection with your child.
  • You feel more joy in parenting.

Responding to your child’s feelings and not reacting to them takes practice and time. Remember parenting is challenging and there is no perfect parent. We want our kids to see that we have big emotions and that is okay. Modeling how to respond not react will help your child learn those same tools in life. Making a plan and following up with it is important to the success of responding. You might realize that some of your triggers are no longer a trigger. By responding not reacting you will find more joy in parenting. 

How To Respond, Not React, To My Kids

by Dr. Kim Grengs, Ed. D., Parent Coach

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