Do you react or respond?

Do you react or respond?

Do you react or respond

Making a conscious choice.

Your choice will make the world of difference to your child’s development.

American motivational speaker Zig Ziglar once said there is a big difference in the words ‘react’ and ‘respond’. ‘Just imagine going to the doctor and having him say “You are reacting to the medication”,’ he says. ‘Then think about going back to the doctor two weeks later and having him say “You are responding to the medication”.’ The same can be said about our style of parenting. While both ways evoke a result in a situation, only one can provide a positive approach when dealing with our kids.

We’ve all been there: it’s late, it’s been a bad day, you’re stressed, tired and ready to snap, and then disaster strikes… your child brings a detention note for you to sign. Your gut reaction might be to yell, scream, punish, and demand. Although tempting, none of these actions will lead to a positive situation.

In cases like this, remember two actions: mindfulness and pause. advises that ‘mindfulness’ means watching ourselves when something happens that might normally upset us or trigger an emotional reaction. ‘Pause’ means we don’t have to act immediately just because we have an internal reaction. We can pause, not act, breathe. We can watch this urge to act irrationally arise, then let it go away. And then respond.

What is the desired result?

When dealing with issues with our children we need to ask one simple question: What is the desired result in
this situation? On the topic of strength-based parenting, Charlie Appelstein, author of No such thing as a bad
kid, says that when we respond to our children instead of reacting to a situation, we’re focused on strength building
and not flaw-fixing. The long-term goal is a positive one and doesn’t desire an instant fix. He adds that responding shows our children that we believe in them before they have tried, and haven’t adopted the ‘seeing is believing’ mentality. According to Charlie, this approach produces optimism in the situation, which in turn feeds possibility in the mind of the child.

‘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?’

At, they say, ‘Learning to respond instead of reacting is not about ignoring emergencies
or becoming permissive, but rather trusting that learning can take place at a moment when everyone is actually
ready to communicate; that place rarely lies in anger.’ Responding takes the threat out of the situation. It removes
the need for our kids to be defensive. It levels the playing field and allows the lines of communication and problem solving to open up.

Get beyond yes and no

Instead of responding automatically with ‘yes’ or ‘no’, try asking your children open-ended questions. Once you’ve asked the question, pause and wait for their response. Give them time to think through the question and allow
them to formulate an answer. This process activates the processing and problem-solving portion of their brain. They’re more likely to learn for a situation and grow as individuals if they’re allowed to process their actions and
formulate their own action plan (with your guidance). As parents we’re often tempted to step in and ‘fix’ a situation, but this does no favours for our kids. Don’t try to take over in a situation. Step back and let them problem-solve a solution, but be available to guide them and answer any questions they may have.

What to say vs what not to say offers a few examples of reacting vs responding:

  1.  ‘Stop that crying right now!’ vs ‘You look upset, do you need a hug?’
  2. ‘If you two don’t stop fighting, I’m turning this car around!’ vs ‘I’m pulling over. When the car is quiet, I will continue driving.’
  3. ‘What?! You spilled your juice again!’ vs ‘Oops, let’s get a cloth and get that mess cleaned up.’
  4. ‘Darn right it’s not fair. Life’s not fair. Get used to it.’ vs ‘I can tell you’re upset about my decision.’
  5. ‘Another “C”! What’s going on with you?’ vs ‘It looks like you’re struggling with maths. Is there anything I can do to help?’
  6. ‘That’s enough whining.’ vs ‘Please use a calm voice when asking me for something.’
  7. ‘I’ve had it with you!’ vs ‘I’m feeling frustrated right now, I’m going to take a walk to calm down.’




Joni van der Merwe

About Joni van der Merwe

Your Family’s Digital editor. Avid retweeter. When I’m not scrolling Instagram you’ll find me in my garden. Keen on DIY and I don’t believe there’s anything that can’t be fixed with some chalk paint.


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