Respond v. React
by Linda Michie, Executive Director and Founder at Wishing Well Adoption & Family Services
For the purpose of this line of thinking, let’s define reacting as something you do in the moment without thinking about it first. People say “knee-jerk-reaction” referring to the involuntary movement of your leg when your doctor hits your knee with that little hammer. Reacting is automatic, instinctive, and often fueled by emotion. As parents, we sometimes react by yelling, spitting out orders, and spur of the moment punishing.
Let’s say responding is the action we take when we’ve had a chance to think through our options and create a plan for our behavior based on love instead of anger.
Now think about your day-to-day interactions with your children.
Are you doing more reacting or responding?
Most days we know what sort of behaviors our children will present to us. They will try to sleep late, fight with their siblings, refuse to try the food you made them, ignore you when you talk… Whatever behaviors make you mad enough to yell, insert them here.
Now think about how much more smoothly things could go at these times if you already had a plan about how to handle them. Then add to that the thought of how things would go if your children knew how you were going to respond to their behaviors.
There’s no need to yell (it’s not helpful anyway). Simply remind your children that you have a plan for this situation and that they should follow through with the next steps on their own. This puts the responsibility for their behaviors on them and reminds them that when they use their free will to make a choice to behave in an unacceptable manner that they have also made a choice to make amends for their behavior.
Try this: Your children are fighting over the remote and it’s starting to look like someone is going to take a swing. Stop what you’re doing and turn your full attention to your children. Remind them that when they fight you have to stop what you’re doing and therefor lose the time you needed to get your chores done. Since you don’t have time to get your chores done they will have to help you make up that lost time by doing the dishes now.
If the children are not able to agree on a show that they both want to watch you can turn the tv off (because the fighting and the tv together are just too much chaos). The tv can go back on when they have peacefully negotiated a settlement. In this way you are teaching conflict resolution skills to your children and accepting nothing less than appropriate behavior.
If you just yell at them and send them to their rooms they remain mad at each other, both miss their show, and are now mad at you for being so unfair. They feel guilty for upsetting you, ashamed of their poor behavior, and now have time to plot revenge against their sibling because this was all her fault anyway. You feel guilty for yelling at your kids again, mad at them for fighting, frustrated that this cycle never breaks, and throw in a little resentment for your spouse because they haven’t done anything to help you.
So respond, with a well thought-out plan that brings more joy, skill, and peace into your daily living instead of reacting out of frustration and multiplying discontent.
Sit down in a quiet moment of well-being and make a list of your children’s behaviors that you are frustrated with. (If you have a co-parent you can do this together.) Then make another list of responses to those behaviors that will bring more peace to your family. If you get stuck ask your kids for help. They might surprise you with solutions they can think up while they are not in the thick of it too. Have a family meeting to go over your decisions and consider posting the plan on the frig. This way, if the children want to make a decision about a certain behavior, they can check and see if it’s worth it to them.
I wish you joy and peace in your parenting. If you need some hands-on help making a plan call Wishing Well and inquire about hiring a coach at (757) 739-2118.
Linda has worked in the child welfare field since 1999 and is a Licensed Child Placing Agent.
Wishing Well assists in domestic adoptions in the state of Virginia, and provides parenting coaching, and supervised visitation in Virginia Beach, VA.
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