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Parenting Pointers: Respond Rather than React

Updated: Jul 18, 2023

Parenting Pointers: Respond Rather than React to Your Children

Would you like to reduce tantrums and meltdowns at home? Learn to respond instead of react to situations. This allows you, as the parent, to demonstrate how to handle difficult situations calmly and efficiently without losing control. Your children will learn to do what you do.

Reacting is doing something immediately to a situation without thinking it through. It usually involved a release of unfiltered emotion. Responding, on the other hand, is being intentional about thinking about the situation and making a choice that is best for everyone involved. It could come very quickly after the trigger or it could be delayed for a while. Not every situation requires an immediate response.

For instance, if you child spills the milk you may feel the urge to yell, call your child clumsy, or throw your hands up at the situation. Your child will then react to your emotional state and become upset. Alternatively, you could say "Oh no! The milk spilled. Let's clean it up." This helps in a few ways:

  1. Saying "Oh No!" can be your replacement for the curse word you may have been thinking. It gives you a little verbal outlet that is not going to cause a triggering response. Bonus points for saying it in a sing-song voice.

  2. You are separating the situation (the spilled milk) from your child. Instead of blaming, you are recognizing a problem.

  3. You move immediately into problem-solving mode. This becomes the focus rather than the problem.


Kids are masters at triggering their parents. It must be in their job description. It may be helpful to think of responses ahead of time, knowing your child's patterns of behavior. If your child is throwing a ball in the house a reaction would be yelling at him and telling him to stop. A better response would be to redirect him outdoors. Or perhaps you could say that if the ball continues to be thrown in the house it will be removed for the rest of the day. This response is more helpful because it is not verbally lashing out at him, but giving clear instructions and consequences if he fails to listen.

If you are triggered and feel like lashing out, it is best to take a few deep breaths, walk away if needed, and then try to figure out a proper response once you are calm. If you feel out of control and try to handle the situation your child will probably lose control as well. Kids mirror their parents. As you demonstrate being calm and composed, your child will be able to do the same.

Remember, your child looks to you to determine how to react to situations. If you are cool and calm, the child will stay calm. When a parent loses it, alarm bells go off in a child's head. They think if mom or dad is out of control, something is wrong. You see this when a toddler falls. She will look up to mom to see what to do. If mom is calm, the child may fuss for a second then will be up and going again. If the mom is freaking out, the child will start crying hysterically. The mom's reaction is telling the child that things are not ok.

This will not get rid of all tantrums and meltdowns, but it can help significantly reduce them. However, this practice will help increase your child's ability to cope with difficult situations and to learn skills to gain mastery over emotions. Every little bit helps!

You can find more articles in this series below:


Helpful Resources:

How to Respond Rather than React to your Children

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