How To Stop Reacting And Start Responding To Our Kids’ Big Emotions

July 12, 2018


My wife and I often catch ourselves being impatient with our kids, taking their big emotions personally. Oftentimes this leads to the feeling that we’ve somehow failed. I especially, seem to have so much more access to empathy and calm when dealing with coworkers and direct reports, compared to when I interact with my kids. I find myself reacting immediately with my own kids. After many conversations with my wife, reflecting on how we deal with situations at home, we recognized that we had a problem: I was reacting instead of responding.


To fix this problematic approach, I started doing a lot of reading and researching using books, forums, and blogs, along with some introspection. I found that there are certain factors that act as triggers and force us to react instead of responding when dealing with our kids. Additionally, through my research, I was able to learn a few different coping strategies for when I’m confronted with challenging situations at home. Of course, it will take time, commitment, and consistency for these strategies to be effective, but we’ve started implementing them in our home and I would like to share these hacks with other parents who might find them useful.



When we’re at work we subconsciously align ourselves with the expectations of our work environment and standards, so when we come home, we often seek comfort and “freedom” to cater to our own needs that are not being met in our work environment. The reality, however, is that when we make our transition from work to home we’re walking into another environment where everyone needs us.



To support the transition from work to home, we need to align our expectations with our home environment. We can do that by sitting down with our family and establishing guidelines that work for all. We can involve our kids in the decision-making process when planning for something. For instance, we asked our five-year-old what we needed to accomplish before leaving for school on time and let him time manage it. This approach drastically reduced our morning battles and more things got accomplished with less stress.



As parents, our love is unconditional, and we are the safe space for our kids. For this reason, we are the recipients of our kids’ most trying behaviors and biggest emotions. If we think about it, this is true the other way around too. We know that our kids’ love is unconditional, so we tend to let our biggest emotions flow freely with them, without hesitancy.



Following my spouse’s advice, I decided to be more intentional about treating my own kids like I treat my team at work. I realized that to help them to be their best selves and build a strong relationship, I needed to treat them as I would treat an adult. I decided that I needed to be more focused on creating a safe space for them to learn and grow, supporting them both emotionally and physically and encouraging them to be self-sufficient. When they act up I keep in mind that it is because they want our attention or have some other need that is not being met. 



Our family gets the last of us instead of the best of us because by the end of the day we’re overcommitted, tired, and emotionally exhausted. After being at work, taking care of others’ needs depletes our reserves and leaves us prone to frustration and anger.



What has been working for me and my wife, so far, is making sure we are taking care of ourselves throughout the day. Because we are attending to the needs of others at work, we intentionally carve out small moments in our day just for us. Most of the times it is five minutes here and there, listening to a favorite podcast or watching an entertaining video while indulging in a favorite beverage or treat. My wife and I often talk about what we’re grateful for and try to find positive things and outcomes in any challenge we might be facing in our lives. I give myself time to decompress after a busy day at work before entering the house, and always make an intentional effort to look past any messes made, say hi, smile, and hug my kids. Last but not least, we’re working on giving ourselves some grace and keeping in mind that we’re only human.



Seeing poor behavior in our own kids provokes anxiety and stress because we tend to see the reflection of our weaknesses and flaws in our children, which triggers a strong reaction from us. It’s like viewing our children’s behavior as our “report card” on parenting and being concerned about what people are going to think about us. If we dig into the situations that make us react as parents, I’m sure we would find some of our deepest parental anxieties and fears. 



This challenge is the one that I struggle the most with. I've found, however, that when I make a real effort to look at myself when having a strong reaction to something my kids do, I discover a limiting belief of my own that triggers my reaction. For instance, I would get frustrated at my kids for picking on each other, so instead of getting angry at them, I paused to think about why I was reacting in such a way. I discovered that it was the anxiety over my relationship with my own little brother that was actually bothering me. This practice has taught me to be mindful that the issues my kids bring are not about me, enabling me to remain calm and connected no matter what my kids are bringing.


Once I started making an effort in recognizing my triggers and identifying my fears, anxieties, or shame, I was able to become less reactionary to my children’s behavior. As soon as I feel my anger building I give myself a timeout instead of lashing out. This hasn’t changed the fact that our kids fight, but it has changed my ability to better handle conflict and coach the kids to a positive resolution instead of just yelling and handing out consequences.


Raising children is never easy and transitioning from work to home after a long day at the office can be taxing on even the best of us. The strategies that I have implemented have been invaluable to our family and have greatly increased our ability to communicate and to thrive together as a cohesive unit. I hope that you are able to take value from this and implement some, or all of these strategies, successfully in your home. We are also interested in strategies that you have tried and what those results were. Please feel free to share with us in the comments section. We’d love to hear from you!


Recommended reading on this topic:

The Me, Me, Me Epidemic by Amy McCready.

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