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I have had many parents struggling to feel calm to their children’s behaviour or responses. And yes it is not easy when you are highly stressed and exhausted and now you have to respond calmly!

But your response or reaction plays an important role in how your child responds in return. Be the adult. Be the parent. Be mindful and teach appropriately.

“Jonathan! How many times have I told you to pick up your shoes and put them in your room! I am gonna end up breaking my neck, falling over them. Stop, misbehaving and listen for once!”

“Why do you keep asking, Jessica? For goodness sakes, I already said NO, you cannot have sweets before dinner! DO NOT backchat and roll your eyes at me!”

“Musa! Hurry up! We are going to be late for school. Put down that iPad already and get to the car! How many times do I have to tell you! Juuust you watch, tomorrow morning you shall not have any iPad time.”

Do these sound familiar? Are you the parent that just cannot handle how your kids JUST DON”T LISTEN……and how they are rude and disrespectful?! Are you being a reactive parent?

Reactive parenting is when we act on our emotions in response to a child’s behaviour.” https://www.pbs.org/

Parents…. pay attention to yourselves first. Take note on how you are communicating to your child. Notice how you are reacting to their behaviour. Notice how you are feeling at that moment in time. Is it worthwhile reacting to it in an upset manner? If you are too upset, irritated, frustrated, angry or stressed, what do you think is their reaction going to be like back to you?

Your child’s reaction is a reflection of your reaction. Think about the Cause and Effect Theory or Causality, explaining how, the cause (parent’s behaviour/ reaction) contributes to the effect (child’s behaviour/ reaction).

“Causality (also referred to as causation, or cause and effect) is influence which one event, process or state (a cause) contributes to the production of another event, process or state (an effect) where the cause is partly responsible for the effect, and the effect is partly dependent on the cause.” Wikipedia

In other words: “cause (parentis partly responsible for the effect (child), and the effect (childis partly dependent on the cause (parent)”…….right??

It’s not easy to admit that our children’s every action is anything but a direct result of something that we as parents have said, done, taught or reacted in some way. And it is really hard not to be reactive. “Parenting is by nature a highly emotional endeavour that stems from our deep love for our children and the accompanying worry for their well-being. The toddler years can be especially challenging given that young children are driven by their emotions and behave in irrational, maddening and often confusing ways that most parents have no roadmap for navigating.” (read also the definition of being the Proactive or Responsive Parent).

So many articles talk about The Proactive or Responsive Parent, how to be aware of your child by taking into consideration what you know about your child, what their behaviour is communicating, and what THEY need to cope. But maybe we should consider putting YOU first…….so let me give you a few tips on The Cause/ Parent, how to manage yourself before you can manage The Effect/ Child. This is part of what we teach the child in Play Therapy, how to regulate themselves before becoming reactive – “kaboom”. Remember the child is dependent on the parent, so let’s set up a good example or be a good role-model to them.


Firstly be aware of your own stress levels, emotions or physical disturbances or discomforts. Of course, if you have not had enough sleep, work is stressing you out, there are problems or difficulties taking place in your life that is causing more stress and therefore having difficulty to function with a clear mind or you are feeling physically uncomfortable and irritable. These contribute to a lack of patience, short-tempers, short-fuses and irritation and then your child’s disrespectful reaction or lack of response is the cherry on top. Therefore being aware and mindful of how you are feeling at that moment, is VITAL! As it should provide you with the ability or awareness to calm your mind and body when you get triggered by a challenging behaviour so that it allows you to think about your feelings and reactions and then choose a response that you believe and will hopefully be helpful to your child to learn positive ways of getting their needs met.

DOWNLOAD: Mindfulness for Parents


This is difficult to do but needs to be practised. Imagine the traffic light: STOP (red light), BREATH AND THINK (yellow light), THEN RESPOND APPROPRIATELY (green light). Therefore if you feel like you are going to lose your cool or flip your lid: Remove yourself from the situation (inform your child you are not running away, although I’m sure that’s what you want to do); or Call for assistance (for someone else to take over, if they can); or Calmly Explain (as best you can) that you just need to calm down. Then Parent…, go and BREATH, drink water, cry or scream into a pillow, go for a jog or walk and THINK (after letting off some steam) of an appropriate way to respond and then return and RESPOND APPROPRIATELY (saying less is better, don’t lecture)!

“Being mindful does not mean parents never get frustrated or angry. It means, …… PAUSING, before reacting in stressful situations.”


Your child is presenting you with clues (slamming the door, whining, consistently crying, annoying the sibling). Use your investigator skills. Take into consideration what you already know about your child, what their behaviour is communicating or saying and what it is that they need to be able to cope and what type of personality/ characteristic they have. Ask yourself, could it be that they are tired/sleepy; hungry; energetic; bored; needs to be stimulated; anxious about change; physically irritable or sensitive….. Therefore, STOP, ASSESS/ “INVESTIGATE”


Understanding your child’s developmental level is knowing what they are capable of doing and also knowing that their understanding at their developmental age is not yet emotionally mature enough to naturally respond appropriately if the task is difficult to achieve or fulfil. REMEMBER PARENTS…..children are little humans, still learning and growing, so don’t place high expectations that are not achievable for them. Also do not expect your child to do something perfectly or accurately (you are not perfect either), otherwise, they will have low self-worth and will give-up easily or give you attitude. Therefore it is up to the adult parent to demonstrate a more mature and experienced way of responding appropriately in a difficult situation (someone they can learn from) and up to you as a parent to be patient, as they are still learning, “how-to”.


Children are still playful, so if you want them to respond to your rules or just getting them to be involved in a task or routine, or even just paying attention to you….. be creative or involve their toys in the task, be a character, but most of all, be positive, encouraging, supportive and empowering. Of course, if you are in a bad mood, rushed and throw orders around, you will have a child who will become defensive (ignoring or backchatting). So play it cool and go back to mindfulness.


Parents, be kind to yourself. If you cannot cope and you feel overwhelmed, seek help and guidance. You are not the only parent going through these challenging times with your children. So make sure you understand what triggers you. Notice the sensations in your body before the volcano explodes, stop yourself, breath and think of the consequences of your reactive behaviour and ask yourself if that consequence is worthwhile going through and what would be a better response to do. Trust and believe in yourself that you are capable of doing this – it just takes practise.

Parents, you are the most influential people in your children’s lives. Inevitably, they’ll pick up some of your mannerisms, ideas, habits, prejudices, and talents. Be aware they shall also pick up on how you respond or react to situations and their behaviour. This is where you want them to be proactive and not reactive.

You’ve heard the quote by Jim Henson (creator and Puppeteer of The Muppets and Sesame Street):

Kid’s don’t remember what you try to teach them. They remember what you are.

Jim Henson

This article was first published on: https://www.practicalparenting.co.za/2020/09/21/parents-how-not-to-be-reactive/


  • https://www.pbs.org/parents/thrive/responsive-vs-reactive-parenting-it-makes-all-the-difference#:~:text=Reactive%20parenting%20is%20when%20we,and%20frustration%20for%20everyone%20involved.
  • https://www.inspiringlifedreams.com/proactive-parenting/
  • Mindfulness for Parents by Kathy Kinser, Maria Gehl and Rebecca Parlakian
  • Wikipedia

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