Oh no! Red juice was just spilled all over your brand new white couch. Now, your 5-year-old is staring at you with big puppy dog eyes, bulging with tears. Now what?
Do you react or respond? Although we all may want to say we would respond, sometimes its not that easy. When difficult things happen, we are often victim to our initial reaction. It can be difficult to think before we react. Many times, depending on the situation, we can go into ‘fight or flight’ mode. This is an acute stress response that can lead to over-reaction, yelling, and even aggression.
As a parent or guardian, it is important to know the difference between reacting and responding to our children. If our children spill a drink, break a glass, or have a tantrum, we need to be aware of how we are behaving as a result.
What is reacting?
Reactions are often fueled by emotions, and emotions are not always rational. If something causes you to have an emotional response, you are going to need to recognize the emotion, take a deep breath and think. If your first reaction is to yell, the reaction you will be met with is far more likely to be negative and emotionally fueled. Is your child yelling and screaming? Yelling back will only make the situation worse.
What is responding?
Taking a minute and regulating your initial response can lead to a more thoughtful reply. Responses contain more reason than initial reactions. If you take the time to add reason into your response, you have more time to take into account your child’s feelings and thoughts. For example, in the aforementioned example, saying “How could you be so careless!” would be a reaction. However, a response may be: “Okay, I see there was an accident here, let’s get a sponge and clean it up together.” For several other examples, Imperfect Families created a useful chart for reference.
Why does it matter?
When you respond to negative behavior rather than react to it, you are encouraging your children to express their emotions. An emotion that is met with anger can cause a child to be fearful to express their frustrations, or to make mistakes. Children will look to you for help understanding their emotions and feelings rather than shying away from your guidance.
Being a parent is difficult. We are faced with a variety of challenges everyday. However, taking time to sort through your emotions and responding to your child, will help create a more positive environment where emotions are celebrated and shared openly.