React & Respond:  Synonyms?

What’s the real difference?

One of the simplest yet most essential features of managing behavior is the idea of RESPONDING vs. REACTING.  Reacting is the easiest thing to do.  Responding?  Not so much.  So what’s the real difference?

When we REACT, we match or exceed the child’s escalated emotional state and find that we are both out of control which leaves zero opportunity for de-escalation and problem solving to occur.  When we RESPOND, however, we PAUSE, we THINK, we CHOOSE.  By quieting our body, remaining silent and essentially “freezing”, we give ourselves time to consider what our child is trying to communicate to us which allows us to choose the best course of action.

It is essential that we try and appear as though we are not a tiny bit affected by the child’s behavior which is incredibly hard to do at first but gets easier with time (I promise).  While our bodies may be still as a statue, inwardly we are thinking hard and fast.  We are crafting a plan.  It may look like we are doing nothing, but these are the moments when we are working the hardest as parents.  It has been referred to as “robot-mode”, a term that seems awfully fitting because the outside is objective and mechanical and the inside is like a computer clicking along at high speed.

Simply put, emotions drive our reactions and logic drives our responses.  We can never respond carefully when we are driven by our emotions in the heat of the moment.  It is also perfectly acceptable to tell your child that you are unable to make a good decision in the moment and that you need a break to consider things.  Say less.  A lot less.  And think more.  A lot more.  It is impossible to un-say what you’ve said when you react heatedly to your child’s behavior.  That is when we make all sorts of punitive threats, intimidating comments, and possibly say damaging words to our child that erode self-esteem slowly over time.


  • Slow down.  If I can teach parents only one thing when dealing with challenging behavior it is that.  Slow. Down.  Behavior change will occur more quickly if you do.
  • Reacting and Responding are NOT the same thing.  Be aware of your own triggers in order to limit emotional reactivity!