Respond; Don’t React: What It Actually Means

respond don't react. Photo of mother and daguther snuggling on a large round swing

One of my favourite parenting books (and probably the only one I read from cove to cover) is Barbara Coloroso’s “Kids Are Worth it!

Barbara Coloroso is an author, retired teacher, and mother of three adult children (among many other experiences). I first learned about her when I read “The Bully, The Bullied and The Bystander” during my Bachelor of Education program. That book, by the way, should be required reading for all parents, teachers, and anyone who works with children. But I digress.

In Kids Are Worth It, Coloroso teaches several highly effective strategies for disciplining with kindness, so that you can build a relationship with your kids that’s based on mutual trust, not fear or physical violence.

There are several things from the book that I try to remember as a parent (and I—like every parent—am a work in progress). The main mantra from the book that I try to live by is that

1. If it’s not life threatening

2. If it’s not morally threatening


3. It’s not unhealthy,

Let them learn by natural consequences.

It’s below zero (celsius people, I’m Canadian) and kiddos don’t want to wear mittens? They’ll get cold. Let them get cold. They’ll learn and wear them next time. Kiddos are wearing shoes on wrong feet? Their feet will hurt. They’ll change them (maybe. My kid with ADHD, Autism, and DCD probably wouldn’t notice he’s getting hurt, so I give him some reminders. I don’t blindly follow all advice, either).

While the mantra above is really useful and applicable to parenting, there’s something else in Coloroso’s book that has stayed with me. She talks about responding to your children instead of reacting to them. This is a parenting nugget of wisdom I heard as early as prenatal class, and although on a superficial level I understood what it meant, I didn’t really know what it meant on a deeper scale. As I continue to work on my own parental shortcomings, I’m starting to “get it.”


Respond; don't react when disciplining children

Parenting is hard. Being fully responsible for another human being (or three, in my case) can be nerve-wrecking. Dealing with the inevitable, emotionally explosive situations when you have three very different children who are all fairly strong willed under the same roof, keeping calm is not always easy. Yelling is not something I’m proud of, but I have done more than my fair share of it. And when you stop and think about it, what does yelling do? Absolutely nothing.

When I “lose my cool” and raise my voice, my children are hearing the volume but not the meaning. And so taking a deep breath and responding calmly is a necessity to strengthen our relationships with our kids and to give them what they need (not necessarily what they want) in each given situation. But there’s more to responding versus reacting than deep breaths and cooling down techniques.

One of my biggest problems is that I’m a somewhat impulsive person. This sometimes—oh, who am I kidding? Always—results in me giving answers to questions too soon, before I’ve had a chance to evaluate and think about how I’ll respond.

Responding instead of reacting means removing your emotional reaction from a situation so you can analyze it objectively. This is really hard to do when it’s all breaking loose, but it’s a necessity to solve situations with lessons that last and that kids will remember for the long haul.

When things start to fall apart, do what you have to do in the immediate present to prevent any physical harm (i.e., if kids are fighting), and then, after taking those deep breaths, help the child analyze the situation.

I’ve learned in my short time parenting that lecturing kids doesn’t work, and that the most successful way to teach children appropriate solutions to life’s problems is to show them that they’re capable of finding those solutions with a little guidance, but mostly on their own.

So, after all this blabbing, what I mean to say is that we need to respond to  our children by listening to their version of events and trying to find meaning behind their words to understand their needs at each particular moment. And sometimes, a snuggle on the couch before fixing a problem might be just what the doctor ordered (yes, even if the child has misbehaved, you are allowed and encouraged to offer a hug—despite what a childless, inexperienced counsellour once told me). Because removing physical contact as a form of punishment isn’t only ineffective, it’s harmful and interpreted by some children as the removal of love. And I will always love my kids and hug them, even when they mess up—especially when they mess up.

And I’ll keep working on the responding bit: because every child deserves to be heard and to have their needs met.

How will you respond to your kid(s) today?



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