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The Key to Becoming a Better Mom

I did a TV interview last week where the first question asked was, "what's the difference between reacting and responding?" (My book is called Stop Reacting and Start Responding: 108 Ways to Discipline Consciously and Become the Parent You Want to Be.) My answer may help Ruby C. and others who wonder, "what's the best way not to get angry?"

How Is "Responding" Different From "Reacting"?

Reacting is caused by the way you're thinking about your daily life. Reacting ignites the fight or flight response, as I described in my article "Why So Many Moms Have Short Fuses."

Responding begins in your heart. Responding allows a parent to remain calm and firm at the same time, which is the key to unlocking the "I'm Not Listening Barrier."


Reacting forces compliance. Responding wins cooperation.

Reacting is born from anger. Responding is created from empathy, not sympathy.

Sympathy is feeling sorry for a child; empathy acknowledges the feelings a child has about getting busted for the misbehavior yet still insists that a correction happen anyway.

Reacting skips over the emotions a child has about the situation. Responding addresses the emotions that caused the misbehavior in the first place.

Reacting doesn't address the needs of the situation; it uses punishment. Responding fully focuses on the needs of the situation, showing parents what a child needs to learn.

Reacting usually causes a parent to have to apologize for behaving badly. Responding requires a child to apologize because they're the only ones who misbehaved.

Reacting repeats the parenting methods of past generations. Responding is a new way to parent that uses calm yet firm techniques that create balanced parenting.

Trying Out a New Parenting Technique

I know you know what the difference between reading and applying a parenting technique is, but the depth of what you'll find when you apply a new technique is so valuable that I wanted to mention it.

When you read about a parenting technique, you use your logical mind, intellect, and reasoning to tell you if this will make sense in your family. Reading about something can cause you to miss valuable "aha" moments that could potentially transform your parenting for years to come.

When you apply a parenting technique, you get to experience how the method actually works for your family.

Experiencing how a new method (like responding) works means you don't miss a thing. What worked and what didn't work is evident because you're actually calm enough to recognize which clues and keys caused your child to listen, cooperate, and blossom right in front of you.

Applying will also help you:

  • Find ways to talk to your child so she feels truly heard
  • Hear the difference between your angry voice and your calm yet firm voice as you correct behavior
  • See what triggers you about your child's misbehavior, what lights you up like a Christmas tree and causes you to react
  • Create ways to communicate dialogue that will strengthen the parent/child bond.

Sharon Silver is the author of Stop Reacting and Start Responding: 108 Ways to Discipline Consciously and Become the Parent You Want to Be and the founder of Proactive Parenting. Her book and site help parents gain more patience by responding instead of reacting as they deal with the whirlwind of emotions created by raising kids ages 1-10.

Image Source: POPSUGAR Photography / Grace Hitchcock
Join The Conversation
LeanneBroadstock LeanneBroadstock 5 years
i think i got more information and some good techniques to try from the ladies and parents commenting than i did from this article...
RachelCochenour RachelCochenour 5 years
A good parenting book that I have recently read is by Love and Logic, has some really great parenting tips.
AmyDecker81908 AmyDecker81908 5 years
Thank you Christa! Taking a time out for yourself is a great idea! I can definitely relate, and when you're with them in public maybe pull them aside one at a time and bend down to speak to them at their level. Another thing that works really well is talking to them in advance about where you're going and what the plan is. Just the other day we went to the toy store and before we left I went over why we were going there and what we were going to do. Also reminded them when we pulled in to park and when we got inside, it worked well. They love to help, so giving them a task always helps!
ChristaMercado ChristaMercado 5 years
I found that I was yelling all of the time. One day my three year old said, "don't scream at me mommy, it hurts me feelings" (we have been working on expressing feelings). I realized that i grew up with a model of calm/rage. I have been reading a bizillion books that tell me how I am supposed to do it, but none tell me how to get to that place of calm. I have started to say, "Mommy needs a time out" I will leave her in her room (door open) and I will walk away for a few minutes so that I can re-group. )This method does not work so well when we are in public though.
CherylIacone CherylIacone 5 years
I agree Joy - seems like the wrong article???
JoHutchins JoHutchins 5 years
I'm going to find this book as my daughter will be 1 next month and is becoming selectively deaf when I ask her not to do dangerous things (like coming off my sofa head first!) and I do not want to be a shouting mum as I was brought up that way and found it hard to talk to either of my parent and disliked them most of the time as I felt they were refusing to hear me and I don't want that kind of relationship with my girl.
DeborahTrickett DeborahTrickett 5 years
Good and informative article. But Joy Grams: I agree, the only thing mentioned on HOW the remain calm is breathing, which, don't get me wrong is very important. It's extremely important! Breathing is mentioned in the "Why so many moms have short fuses" article which is linked to this article. I'd just like a backup strategy, or 2, or 5. I guess you gota try and catch yourself. It's a matter of being one-mindful and being in the moment, as mentioned. Not thinking about the stressors of the past or future, seeing as those are the triggers. If anyone wants to know more about controlling your behaviors (which arise from emotions) google Dialectical Behavior Therapy. It is a therapy used for emotional disorders like Borderline Personality Disorder, but can also be VERY useful to the general population.
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