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  • Jared Stern

Responding Instead of Reacting


One of the greatest a challenges that a parent faces in life is reacting vs. responding. I have seen it time and time again. Their children come up to them, cause a sibling to scream, make a mess, and parents without thinking do what comes natural: react.

I have to remind myself time and time again to stop and take a deep breath.

The problem is that it is difficult to remember to do so. James 1:19 should be one of the verses a parent holds onto most when it comes to parenting:

Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.

– English Standard Version

The struggle is real! Especially when your child takes a pen or a marker and writes all over the walls! Or maybe they spill their milk on the floor! It is difficult to not lash out in that moment when all you see is a mess that YOU need to clean up.

Your child sees the way that you respond to difficult situations and they are constantly watching and observing. The way you respond is going to get passed on to them and it will be how they respond to their children one day.

Think about it. Do you really want to pass those tendencies to your children? Especially when your children have done nothing more than just be a kid? Yes children are an inconvenience. It is inconvenient to have to clean up messes or have to get up off the couch to break up a fight. But you signed on to the inconvenience when you decided to have kids. Parenting is a major challenge but it is also a major reward.

By reacting, parents are encouraging an outburst from their child whether they realize it or not. Kevin Leman, a renowned author and psychologist, puts it this way: "You would not want your doctor to tell you that you are reacting to the medication. You do want to hear that you are responding."

When a person is put on a medication, it takes time for your body to respond to it. In order for a parent to respond and not react, they need to evaluate the situation, hear the child out, and respond in a calm and collected manner.

I admit, I don’t always do this. Often I find myself dishing out consequences before my child has time to explain himself. So I talk over him. I need to do a better job of stopping and listening.

There are times when Noah’s actions are clearly wrong, like if he hits his brother. But what prompted those actions? Did Uriah encourage a reaction by stealing Noah’s toy?

Your child wants to be heard. Listen to them.

Also, work on changing the way that you word your response to your child. Words are powerful. What you say could determine how your child reacts. Parents (me included) overuse the word “NO”. Now yes, you need to place limits on your kids and not always give in, but you also need to be careful as to how much you use the word no. If you use it all the time, children become desensitized to it and it loses its effectiveness.

On his talk show, Kevin Leman recounts a conversation with a couple about how to respond better to their teenage daughter about her expensive taste in clothes:

And so, kids are always going to want. Kids are hedonistic little suckers from the get go. Okay? So, for a kid who wants really nice clothes. “Honey. Listen. That’s pretty costly stuff. But you know what? You’re a real hard worker and you’ve got a lot of ideas. I’m sure you could figure out a way to create an income for yourself, make some money so you could buy that beautiful sweater.” Now, what have you just done? You’ve taken that tennis ball life, as I like to say, and you put it right back in the daughter’s side of the net. You haven’t said, remember what I said, “What are you thinking? Where did you think we’d get money for that? I mean, what’s wrong with you kid?” And that just sets up an explosion. Where, if you do what I just suggested, you’re saying, “Wow. You want it that bad, I bet you could find a way to earn some money to bring that puppy home and put it in your barn.” But you know what I’m saying? (Taken from: http://birthorderguy.com/podcast/we-dont-have-much-money-but-my-daughter-is-furious-that-she-cant-dress-like-other-kids-episode-223/)

So in other words you could react to your daughter’s expensive taste in clothes with, “What?! Are you out of your mind? Do you know how much that costs? Where do you think we are going to get the money for that?!” OR you respond and put the ball back in their court in a gentle way.

Another verse that often pops into my head when I overreact is Ephesians 6:4:

Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger by the way you treat them. Rather, bring them up with the discipline and instruction that comes from the Lord.

–New Living Translation

Am I provoking my children by the way that I am reacting? Or am I teaching them the correct way to respond in situations?

It’s tough. And truth be told, you won’t always get it right. But keep at it. It takes time. When my kids are all grown up and they are raising kids of their own, I want to be able to say that I trained them up the best that I could. I want to be able to see them respond to their kids and not react so that multiple generations are affected and are raised in a manner that is godly.

With God’s help, you have the power to affect the future. Be a responsible parent and do your best to train your children so that when they are old they won’t turn away from it (Proverbs 22:6).

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