Mindfulness in Parenting: Reacting vs. Responding -by Laura Novak, LCSW, CADC

One of the most important skills I try to cultivate in my own life as well as teach to my clients is the ability to respond rather than to react.  The difference between the two is much bigger than you may think.  A response is thought out and conscious.  A reaction is unconscious, and may sound defensive as well as disproportionate to the event that occurred.  It is often spoken out of fear and anger. Sometimes you will know you are being reactive because what you say or do is far beyond what is called for given the situation.

Here are a few ideas to consider when making an effort to respond instead of react:

-You can’t change reactivity without being self-aware.  Pay attention to how you talk to your children, and examine if you find yourself “overreacting” to your children.  Identify what triggers your reactivity.  Being as calm as possible when interacting with your child is important, whether you agree or disagree with their choices.  You can still be calm while setting limits with your child, even if it is challenging at times!

-When you catch yourself overreacting to something it can be the perfect time to learn about yourself.  Ask yourself “Why does this bother me so much?”  A strong reaction to something can teach you a lot about yourself, and help you discover parts of yourself which you may need to understand more thoroughly.

-Consider your expectations for your children.  Think about their age, their temperament, their skill set.  Remember, children, just like adults, are sometimes tired, grumpy, sad or scared, and it is our job to help them identify and regulate their emotions.  This can help them to be authentic, confident adults.

-Also, consider your expectations for yourself.  You might find yourself more irritable because you are taking on too much or you have an overly idealistic vision of how things “should be”.  Sometimes our lives are frantic and overscheduled.  This can be harmful for your children as well as yourself.

-Take time to just be with your children and enjoy their company.   Make a concerted effort to point out their strengths.

-Being responsive means we try our best in the moment to be aware of what might be a helpful thing to do or say in a given situation.  It means that we try to know ourselves deeply and as honestly as possible, our strengths and our weaknesses, and we will actively choose what to do or say.  It means asking ourselves, “What kind of relationship do I want to have with my child?”

As parents, we occasionally find ourselves overwhelmed.  Since the parent-child relationship is so important, it is vital that we as parents are self-aware and able to respond in a helpful, loving manner.

The book Everyday Blessings: The Inner Work of Mindful Parenting  by Myla and Jon Kabat Zinn is one book that you may find helpful in your journey to engaging mindfully with your children.  Follow this link to read their 12 exercises for mindful parenting


If you find yourself struggling with responding mindfully to your child, you can contact Laura Novak, LCSW, CADC at 847-336-5621 Ext 151 to work together toward that goal.