Parenthood is an ever-evolving journey, filled with moments of joy, challenges, and the constant ebb and flow of emotions. It’s also harder now than it’s ever been.

In today’s fast-paced, digital world, parents can find themselves getting stuck in an endless cycle of reaction – reaction to global news, reaction to research on every aspect of life, reaction to advice from social media “experts” weighing in on every little thing 24/7, including how to raise children.

I’m currently raising five kids under nine. At the beginning of my journey as a parent, I worked so hard to read all the best books, seek all the best counsel from the people I respected, and read all the best blogs.

But, not only did that leave me feeling like I could never “do it right”, I also felt like I was constantly parenting under the critical eye of others (including my own). This on top of all the typical mommy feelings – overwhelmed, exhausted, and afraid I was going to scar my kids for life!

As a result, I tended to operate out of a deep anxiety, never sure of myself, often too quick to judge situations and act without clear goals or consideration for anyone’s feelings. I was constantly reacting, living in fight or flight mode, trying to “do it right” and get the “right results.”

But in reality, I was more like a drill sergeant barking orders than the loving, nurturing mom I aspired to be (maybe you can relate).

But what if “doing it right” isn’t about carrying out some expert plan or gathering all the right information? What if it’s about simply loving your kids and responding to their true needs in real time? What if it’s ok to acknowledge your own needs at the same time?

Responsive parenting is simply about being attentive to yourself and your children, understanding they are human just like you.

They share the same struggles, the same need for love and validation, and the same tendency to lash out emotionally when they feel like their needs aren’t being considered.

A responsive parent understands that underneath our child’s behaviors are beliefs that speak to their need to love and be loved, their need for belonging and significance.

Therefore, when conflict arises, the responsive parent asks, “What is the motivation behind my child’s behavior right now, and what faulty belief do they have about themselves or others?”, seeking to engage the child in a way that instills a sense of belovedness, connection, and responsibility to themselves and others.

So how do you break the cycle of reaction and become a more responsive parent?

The first thing I started doing was listening to my kids before judging the situation. When conflict arose, I started asking them curious questions and just letting them express themselves.

Questions like:

  • What happened?
  • How did that make you feel?
  • How often do you feel like that?
  • Why did you choose to respond that way?
  • Can you think of a better way to express yourself?”

I quickly found out as I spent more time actively listening to what was in their hearts and minds, I not only understood their motivations and faulty beliefs about themselves, it also became easier to coach them through the situation and get a positive outcome.

For instance, as I asked my 5-year-old these kinds of questions, I began to realize she wasn’t lashing out because she’s naughty or strong willed, but because she had been feeling overly criticized, misunderstood, and neglected by the family.

Then my heart began to break for her! No wonder she was being so disrespectful – she always felt like she was being disrespected by everyone else.

In other words, she was having a unique experience in the family that led to a unique set of felt needs, and if I wanted to parent her effectively, I needed to try to understand her experience and acknowledge her unique needs, whether I felt like her feelings were justified or not.

This also meant I had to be willing to be interrupted and tune into her needs. I had to refuse the quick fix, set aside my agenda, and simply let my heart be caught up in her unique story.

If I’m being honest, my children’s negative behavior is usually a reaction to me being distracted anyway, which often means their behavior is just a bid for my attention.

But when you sit with your kids and listen to them, you are spending much-needed quality time with them. You are treating them like another human being whose feelings and story matters, and they will feel much more connected to you for that.

After listening to my kids, I also began validating their feelings, sharing my own stories of times when I felt what they were feeling. Not only did they feel seen and heard by me, they also felt respected and safe in my love. 

When there was conflict between my kids and their siblings or their friends, I would share my own stories of being hurt by the words and actions of my siblings or friends when I was young. 

“I remember when I was your age, and my brothers or my friends at school would say really mean things to me. It made me feel sad and confused. So, I understand why you’re so upset.” 

Not only have these moments created a deeper bond between my kids and I, but they have also been excellent opportunities to speak a different identity over them. 

For instance, as Jesus followers we believe that Jesus’ death on the cross proved once and for all that we are unconditionally loved by God (Romans 5:8). So I remind them of that by saying something like, “I know their words made you feel bad, but Jesus loves you, His Spirit is with you, and I will always love you, too. And nothing anyone says or does can change that. How does that make you feel?” 

Or maybe your child, like our 8-year-old, has a habit of giving up on their school work too easily. Instead of reacting to their behavior out of frustration, we can relate to them: 

“You know, I had a hard time with some subjects in school, too. Some things felt too hard or just plain boring to me. But I learned that I don’t have to do it all perfectly, all I have to do is try my best and I will do better over time.”


One of our family memes is: “Do the best you can until you know better, and when you know better, you do better”,

and when I remind them of this in a moment of frustration, they respond with the fortitude to continue putting their best into the new skill they are learning, believing that one day this won’t be such a challenge for them.

Lastly, I began coaching them in healthier ways to express their emotions. I started giving them language to use when they felt disrespected or devalued.

With five children all being homeschooled, we are steeped in sibling conflict – all day, every day, without a break. And though it’s totally normal for kids their age, it is exhausting to try to mediate their conflicts. 

So I coach them ahead of time in what to say when someone says or does something to offend them and make them feel unloved. “You can say, ‘Please don’t say that. It hurts my feelings,’ or ‘Please don’t do that around me. It bothers me.” For the offender, we coach them to say, “I’m sorry, I was wrong. Please forgive me.” 

As we listen to and validate our children in these moments, we also remind them of what we have coached them to say in these situations so they learn to bring harmony to their relationships on their own. 

Is it possible to be mindful of all these principles all the time? No more than it’s possible to account for all the needs of my five children at any given time! But the less distracted we are and the more committed we are to becoming students of our children, the less reactive we will be and the more capacity we will have to respond to them with love and compassion. 

In short, the responsive parent understands the importance of face-to-face interaction and shared experiences in building a strong parent-child relationship, resulting in formative memories and a lasting bond with their children – children who grow up to be emotionally secure and intelligent. 

Furthermore, their home will become a beacon of light in a chaotic, anxious, and reactive world, offering peace to everyone in their orbit and creating a more compassionate, understanding culture around them. 

Reflection Questions:

  1. What are the most anxiety-producing distractions or disruptions in your typical day? How do you notice these moments affecting you emotionally?
  2. What are the most predictable things your kids do that elicit a negative reaction from you? If you could reimagine that situation as a more responsive parent, what might it look like? 
  3. What stories from your own childhood might help you relate to what your kids are going through? How can you communicate them in a way that helps your kids feel more loved and understood by you?

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