re·actHave you ever compared these two words (react - respond)? At first glance one may think the two are similar. Webster's dictionary definitions show this is not the case.
1 : to exert a reciprocal or counteracting force or influence
2 : to respond to a stimulus
1 : to say something in return : make an answer
2 a : to react in response b : to show favorable reaction
3 : to be answerable
To react is to reciprocate. It is an action that occurs immediately following another action. It is a stimulus reply to a given action. No reasoning has taken place - just a reaction. A chemical reaction would fit this definition.
To respond is to provide some sort of intelligent data in return for another action. A response is a reasoned reply - something which has been considered to be right and accurate. A response is something expressed by a responsible human being.
Why is the comparison of these two words so important? Because, without realizing it, many new moms and dads are thrown into the sphere of parenthood with very little training for the job. As that small infant begins to develop into an individual human being, with a mind of its own, many parents are confronted with actions for which they really have no prepared response. So, how do they handle the situation? They usually tend to react.
By reacting to a child's behavior rather than responding we lose the contest of the wills. Somewhere in the early stages of development every child discovers he or she has the ability to control the actions of others around them. For instance, they learn that crying in the middle of the night will bring mother running into the room. Most kids learn this before they are a month old.
As they grow, they learn more and more behaviors that bring about a desired reaction from mom, dad, grandma, grandpa, etc. Kids aren't dumb. Without knowing it, many parents end up at the end of a whip being snapped by that little child. And it's usually because they started out by reacting rather than responding.
So, how can you gain back the control from the child? Begin by responding rather than reacting. Think ahead of the child. Have a planned response ready for the behavior you are trying to change. When I was an infant my mother and father had to work. My aunt took care of me in the evenings. She trapped herself into the habit of holding me until I fell asleep because if she laid me down I would cry.
When my mother's schedule changed and she was home at my bedtime she wasn't going to let me control her life. She put me to bed and let me cry myself to sleep. After about three nights I stopped the crying and just fell asleep like all other humans do. Did it hurt me to cry? Not at all. It helped me develop stronger lungs. And, sooner or later I would have grown too large for my aunt to hold in her lap!
My aunt was reacting - she was letting my behavior control her actions. My mother was responding. She used her knowledge and wisdom to control my behavior. The fact is, my mother was more responsible than my aunt.
Crying is a built-in function of the body. There are many times when we all will cry. An infant cries when he or she is hungry. That's supposed to get mom's attention and it works. Infants learn this early and if mom isn't thinking clearly she becomes the slave to a crying toddler. I always made sure to listen to the crying of my children. If it was sincere I would respond properly. If it seemed to be an attention-getter I ignored it. It didn't take long before my children learned that crying for attention didn't work. Crying takes a lot of effort and if it does no good, a child will look for another means to get attention.
I always paid compliments to my children when they did something I admired. I would say, "I'm very proud of you." Or, "You're getting so grown-up." Or anything that was appropriate at the time to let them know they had my full attention. As they matured they learned what pleased dad and what didn't please dad. Most of the time they did what they could to please dad and mom.
Our society requires each parent to be responsible for their own children. It's sad that the child protection agencies have to remove so many children from a home where the poor parents have no clue as to why their child controls them and they cannot control the child. It's all due to a lack of knowledge of the difference between a reaction and a response.
Read all of these pages and print them off if you wish. Hopefully, you can become the best, most responsible parent your children could ever wish to have.