Responding vs. Reacting

Being cooped up in my home with a busy one and two year old during the COVID-19 pandemic, along with the nausea and fatigue from being in the first trimester of pregnancy, left this mama tired and grasping for moments to recalibrate throughout the day. Even the simplest tasks felt arduous. Daily, I looked forward to savoring coffee alone on the couch after breakfast and diaper changes as the children quietly played.

Except, it rarely played out that way; and instead I often found myself juggling hot coffee amidst a slew of toys on the floor while comforting one child and serving as a human jungle gym for the other. Not exactly what I had in mind as I poured my cup of coffee each morning.


Though I wanted to enjoy the extra hours with my daughters each day, I often found myself agitated and snappy with their young demands. Surprisingly, my children aren’t quite capable of asking questions like, “Mom, is this a good time for me to have a meltdown?”… or “Are you rested enough for me to refuse to take my nap today?” Or better yet, “Would you mind if I spilled my milk just one more time?”

Wouldn’t those considerate questions be nice to hear?! 😂

But life’s circumstances and our precious little ones’ needs often leave us as mothers with little left in the tank. And if you’re anything like me, this can quickly cause a firecracker of emotions to go off leaving everybody affected by the blast.

But nobody wins in these scenarios.

I’ve come to realize that’s not the way I want to live or parent my children. Proverbs 15:1 says, “A gentle answer turns away wrath.” God values a gentle answer, and though they can’t articulate it, I’m sure our little ones do too! Not only that, according to scripture it can de-escalate situations.

Essentially, with the help of the Holy Spirit, I can have more control of my reactionary emotions so they don’t end up controlling me; and, in turn, I can learn to respond in a healthier way.

Here are few things that may help because they help me!

1. PRAYER: When my emotions want to reach the altitude of my child’s tantrum, whispering a prayer as I breathe in and out slowly can help de-escalate my own. Pausing for a moment to take these breaths can help me feel ready to respond in a more positive manner. Further, I’ve discovered this space to breathe allows me to recognize why I may be feeling the way I do.

2. PAUSE: If I pause, I often look at the situation more logically and realize maybe it’s not that big of a deal, or that I’m reacting quickly because of other underlying reasons – like maybe I’m extra irritated because I’m tired, or feeling hurt about something else, or I’m embarrassed that my children are acting a certain way in front of others. Often when I’m frustrated or upset, it’s because things haven’t gone the way I’ve planned. (Which is hard for a planner to accept!).

3. TEACH: After I’ve taken a moment to understand why I’m overreacting I might realize that it’s a good learning opportunity for my child. For example, my child may not know I’m exhausted and thus not ready for her to climb all over me. So, instead of frustratingly bursting out, “Mommy needs her SPACE!” I can sit my daughter down and tell her I would love to play in a few minutes, but I’m asking her not to climb on me right this second.

When I have the presence of mind to create this space to breathe before reacting, everyone wins. Because mommy probably feels good that her child has learned something (hopefully) and the child has more understanding of how to behave in a given situation.


Another thing to consider is that children take cues and pick up behaviors according to what they observe. What am I displaying to my children in this area? Will they learn to overreact every time a situation doesn’t go their way, or will they observe a parent who can take a deep breath before responding?

I do believe there are definite instances when we as parents should use a stern tone or be strict for the purpose of correcting a child’s behavior, but a controlled stern response is very different from a highly emotion-driven reaction.

When my default is to shoot off my emotional firecracker, it may mean I see the outward situation as the issue and that it gives me the right to let my feelings take over. But the Apostle Paul reminds us that one of the fruits of the spirit is self-control. Though a situation may give us reason to react, by the Holy Spirit, we will have the ability to respond.

Some of us may feel leaps and bounds away from where we want to be, but I pray God continues to lovingly teach us – through his grace – how to better respond to our kids with a gentle answer.

Keri loves to see women come to better know who they are in Christ. Previously she worked as the Assistant Dean of Women at Christ for the Nations Institute and also worked as the Assistant Dean for Leadership and Experiential Learning at North Central University. Currently she lives with her husband Jordan, their 2 daughters, and 2 German Shepherds.