The #1 Mistake

Published on February 25, 2012 by in Response vs. Reaction


We all make mistakes, and believe it or not they’re gifts in disguise.

When pride doesn’t get in the way, I”m able to see my mistakes as great opportunities. They shine a light on areas that need more attention.

In terms of being with children, the biggest mistake adults make is to react instead of respond.

A reaction is based solely on emotions, and usually isn’t a constructive way to handle situations with children. For example, I recently heard an angry mother raise her voice to her 6-year-old son in a restaurant and tell him that if he didn’t behave she’d make him go sit in the car by himself like a dog. A mature, healthy way to manage a child’s behavior? I think not.

There are many degrees of reaction, some more severe than others. No doubt you can think of plenty of examples. As an adult working with children, I can say from experience that learning to respond instead of react is a challenge. It’s a level of emotional self-regulation that takes effort.

To be clear, this is not a question of how much we love our kids. Humans get frustrated, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. The real question is, what do we do when frustration comes up?

There’s a moment between feeling a reaction arise, and actually reacting. That’s the magic window. That’s our chance to respond instead of react.

What works for me is to acknowledge and experience whatever emotion is there (irritation, frustration, etc.), but not get so swept away by the feeling that I say or do something hurtful. It’s like letting the wind blow through me instead of knocking me down. This allows me to keep my cool and respond in a way that’s constructive for the child, and appropriate to the situation.

It’s not an easy technique to practice, but believe me when I say it’s transformative. In future posts, I’ll share some examples of how this has helped me as a teacher.

Right now I’d love to hear about your experiences. What mistakes have you learned from as a parent? What lessons did you absorb from watching others? Please share your comments, stories or questions!

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