Do You React or Respond in Conflict?


As parents, it’s time we grow up. May we remember that life is most often caught, not taught.

As a young mom I found myself praying, “Lord help me respond, not react.”

Easier prayed than done!

I wish I had responded more often. I wish I had prayed for more awareness in the daily and difficult times. I wish I had responded more often.

The difference between responding and reacting can be summed up in one word: self-control. Responding is taking the time for a deep breath, perhaps counting to 3, and thinking about our response. Reacting, on the other hand, is just that: our immediate, knee-jerk reaction, revealing our frustration and anger.

Why do we react?

So the question is: why do we react and sometimes overreact?

The list is long…we are tired, frustrated, impatient, and annoyed! The constant questions, arguments and deliberate disobedience are enough for us to pull out our own hair (which may or may not include some of the child’s food in it).

Add the list above to everyday life and you have a wonderful mixture of spilled milk with less than 4 hours of sleep, clothes left all over after you’ve asked them 1,463 times to pick them up, candy wrappers on the floor with some chocolate crumbs rubbed into your new rug, shoes from the front door to the back door that you just tripped over…and the list goes on.

How do we react in these moments? Yell? Stomp our foot? Say a choice word or two under our breath hoping the children don’t hear?

They are the kids…we are the adults.

In the heat of the moment it’s so hard to remember that reacting, and not responding, rarely works or achieves a positive end result. Oh it may put fear into a child or quiet them for the moment, but long term do we lose their heart?

Emerson has a phrase that can pertain in many situations and definitely in parenting….we use unholy means to achieve a worthy end.

I think we forget that they are the kids and we are the adults.

Let me say that again.

We forget that they are the children and that we are supposed to be the adults.

If you saw the movie Hook, you may remember the scene where Peter Banning (played by Robin Williams) is on a plane with his son, Jack, and he becomes frustrated when Jack keeps irritating everyone within reach or earshot. Finally, Peter says: “What in the #%$* is the matter with you? When are you gonna stop acting like a child?” Jack responds, “But I am a child,” and his father snaps back, “Grow up!”

We project all of our life lessons onto these tiny people who have yet to “grow up” and what will they remember? Will they remember that when they accidentally spilled their milk mom and dad went ballistic? Or will they remember that they calmly helped them clean it up and used it as a teachable moment?

If my negative behavior deflates my child’s spirit, what or who needs to change?

Who moves first?

In our marriage conferences we ask, “In conflict, who moves first?” The answer: “The one who sees himself or herself as the most mature.” OUCH!!

Even when our children are 90% at fault (they spilled the milk), if our reaction is not calm and controlled, our 10% makes us 100% guilty.

I always felt more effective as a parent when I calmly responded. When I over-reacted I had two problems: the situation at hand and me. I’d rather just have one.

If we act immature, how can we expect them to go on in life and be mature?

It’s time to grow up!

Questions for reflection:

  1. What might happen if I prayed every day, “Lord, help me respond today and not react”?
  2. What might happen if I chose to be the mature one as often as possible?

As parents, it’s time we grow up and remember that life is most often caught and not taught.

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