Responding, Not Reacting; A Lesson from the NFL

Training Myself to Respond, Not React

The other day Grace was on the changing table getting dressed and accidentally bumped the lamp. By a stroke of luck I was able to catch it before it went crashing onto the floor. I reacted, blurting out a four letter word that I am *usually* really good about avoiding in front of my kids. But it just slipped out. The lamp started to fall and I reacted, with actions and an unfortunate word choice.

I have been doing a lot of reading recently about responding, not reacting, and there is a world of difference between the two options. And given my above example, I am not here to share with you how I have perfected the art of responding. BUT, just being aware of the difference has helped me tremendously in my parenting — and in all of my relationships.

A perfect, unfortunate display of reacting, not responding, happened during the Browns and Steelers game last week. I am not a fan of either team but caught a glimpse of what transpired while at the gym. In short, a fight broke out when Myles Garrett hit quarterback Mason Rudolph in the head with his own helmet. Other players got involved and many punches were thrown.

According to an article from CBS, a statement was issued the next day by Garrett apologizing for the violent incident. “Last night, I made a terrible mistake. I lost my cool and what I did was selfish and unacceptable. I know that we are all responsible for our actions and I can only prove my true character through my actions moving forward. I want to apologize to Mason Rudolph, my teammates, our entire organization, our fans and to the NFL. I know I have to be accountable for what happened, learn from my mistake and I fully intend to do so.”

Both teams were fined $250,000 and multiple players have been suspended and faced other disciplinary action.

According to, reactions are instinctual and stem from our unconscious minds. It’s when you are running on auto-pilot and don’t think about the implications of what you say or do. You just do. As was the case above, Garrett clearly didn’t think about any implications. He acted 100% on his emotions.

Responses, on the other hand, are much more thoughtful. You consider the outcome of your words and actions, including the impact both for yourself and for others.

Just yesterday, I had to tell myself over and over to respond, not react. Keener was whining about everything and anything and I was losing my patience. “I want the blue cup! Grace got the blue cup! I want milk! You gave me water and I don’t want water! I want water! And the yellow plate!” I was so close to reacting. Every whine got me closer and closer. While I don’t think the NFL would have fined me for my words or actions, I was really close to acting on my emotions and reacting.

Ways to Respond

Kind of like I was the perfect parent before I had kids, it’s also WAY easier to respond (over react) when I’m not with my kids! That said, the following have been ways that have helped me improve my ability to respond:

  • Don’t say anything. Give yourself time to *think* first before opening your mouth at all. This gives you the time to think through the impact of your words and actions for yourself and your kids.
  • Say how you feel. Use an I statement to let your child know you are frustrated. Keener, I am feeling really frustrated and trying not to yell.
  • Validate how they feel. I can see you are frustrated. You wanted the blue cup tonight and Grace is using it.
  • Offer a hug. Often when our kids are acting out of emotion, they need support. A hug is a great way to change the energy from negative to positive.
  • Take some space. Don’t be afraid to tell your child you need some space to help everyone get back to a calm place. Either spell it out clearly that you need some space away from them or make up an errand in another room to give yourself a few seconds to think.
  • Think through what you would do when you are NOT in the heat of the moment. (i.e. next time Keener is whining, what should I do? I am going to take a deep breath, tell him how I feel, offer a hug, and then take some space)

Keep in mind that “keeping your cool” is hard, even as an adult with fully developed communication skills. It is even harder when there are variables such as exhaustion or hunger at play. “Hangry” didn’t become a thing for nothing!

A final thought from my current book, Are My Kids On Track?

  • A hungry heart has no ears.
  • An emotional kid has no ears.
  • An elevated parent can’t think clearly.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.