Raising Royalty: Taming the Reaction Monster

After spending years being a reactive person, I chose to take charge of my life and my behavior and tame the Reaction Monster inside me. Sadly, my children had seen and mimicked my reactive behavior. If there is one thing I’ve learned while parenting, is that if you don’t want your kids to do it… You should stop doing it FIRST.

What do I mean by “Reaction Monster?” Let me set up a mini scenario:

Intense Reactions Come Out First: Riding in the car where everyone is being noisy and silly. I just notice that my son has been kicking the back of my seat for a while and he’s pushed me over the edge of my tolerance so I scream at him to stop. Bad reaction, quick to anger, no grace or kindness being given = Reaction Monster.

Someone spilled the sock basket... Raaaarrrr!

Stop hitting each other!  ...  Raaaaaarrrr!

Stop yelling at each other!  ...  Raaaar! (That's when you realize, you're doing exactly what you are telling them not to do. )

Walking away from the Reaction Monster

I started noticing my reactive and explosive behaviors. My kids would all be suspended in time, staring at me, wondering and in fear of what I would do next. That is no life for a child. I want them to always know that I love them, even when I am justifiably angry. After all, anger isn’t a sin, but breaking relationship (or sinning) while angry IS.

What is sinning anyway? I feel like we’ve lost touch on this word because it is so overused.  Sin is acting against God’s law. It seems really out there and I think to myself “I would never turn against God.” But if you think about what He is all about, consider the two greatest commandments…

Love the Lord your God with all your heart mind, soul, strength ------ Relationship with Him

Love your neighbor as yourself ---------------------------------------------Relationship with people

Love your neighbor as yourself---------------------------------------------Relationship with yourself (which is a whole other can of worms!)

God is all about Relationship. So if I sin, I’m breaking relationship with someone. In this instance, I’m breaking relationship with my children. I am being easily angered, not gentle at all, not kind, and for sure not self controlled. So I totally “hate” on them every time the Reaction Monster rears its ugly head.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. 1 Corinthians 13:4-8a

The Reaction Monster proved to me over and over that I wasn’t loving my own children actively, I was hating.

So it was time to tame it.

Think-Outside-Of-Myself Time

What does “thinking outside of myself” mean? Thinking outside of my own selfish thoughts, desires and brokenness. Thinking of others and how they feel about what I’m about to do, or already did. Thinking about if my actions are creating or breaking relationship. And adjusting behavior accordingly.

Sadly, it was hard to think outside of myself BEFORE the Reaction Monster leaped from the depths of my being. I had let it run freely all too often. It’s like I already gave myself over to it. I asked God to help me out. I needed to see what I’m doing. So as each bad-reaction situation happened, He would bring me to my senses and I would have to apologize. Embarrassing? Yes, but that’s what it took for me to stop it. So every time my reaction was worse than what the situation deemed appropriate, I would apologize. Every time I was embarrassed of my behavior. (Apparently that’s what it takes for me to “get it!”)

Measure Reaction Against 1 Corinthians 13:4-8

So now I think about what I’m doing in comparison to 1 Corinthians 13:4-8. Am I being patient, kind, easily angered? If not I can choose to put away my selfish attitude and adjust my emotions and react according to the situation. Self control, YEAH! (I don’t have it down pat, yet. But I give myself a brownie point every time I react well.) God is healing and changing me one situation at a time.

Now I can choose to be kind in my reactions. I can discipline my kids with grace for their menial kid-mistakes and give a punishment to fit the crime. I even seem to be more patient about their disobedience. We should protect them from our scary side and heal that part of ourselves so that they can have really good parents.

Communicate My Needs

I find that when I have a bad reaction it’s because my expectations (or needs) aren’t being met and no one is doing what I want. (Wow, that sounds selfish.) So I started stating what I want from my children before I blew up at them. When a dramatic situation happened, (ie. Children fighting in Wal-Mart) I would stop, state my expectations of their behavior and let them choose. If they choose wrongly, they are disciplined appropriately by a well-behaved and self controlled mother.

Teaching Children to Tame the Reaction Monster

Helping children see the Reaction Monster is a backwards learning process from a grown ups. They can’t think outside of their immediate needs at first. From birth, children’s reactions are over the top. I’m hugry: “Waaaaaah.” I’m tired: “Waaaaah.” He took my toy, “Waaaaaah.” Nor can they process 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 and apply it to their lives. In the baby, toddler and PreK stage, I thought this madness of emotions would never end. But there is hope for those of you who are IN IT, it does end.

Communicate Their Needs

Teaching them to communicate comes in three different forms. They are not sequential, but situational. 1. Teach and talk them through it in the moment, 2. Practice in the moment, or 3. Talk to them later (after they’ve gotten over themselves.)

1.               Teach and talk them through it: As they got older I started to encourage them to tell me or whoever they were having issues with, what they want (or most often, don’t want.) I would simply say, “You don’t have to cry every time you need something or when something bad happens. You can just talk in normal words and tell me what’s wrong, or stop screaming and tell the other person what you want.”
I sometimes give them a silly example if a grown up acted the same way they did (with flailing antics and all), it would seem weird. “Stop it! Stop it! He won’t stop touching me! Waaaaah!” said Mr. Rogers.
Usually that silliness would shift them out of blame-mode and into telling the other person what they really want. "I don't like it when you poke my ear. Can you please stop."

2.               Practice in the moment: Sometimes I make them do a “Do Over.” I start the whole situation over again and apply a correct reaction, so they understand what I'm explaining to them and how to use it in a real-life situation. (This is hilarious sometimes.)
For example: Warrior Princess came and stole the Xbox Controller that was lying next to Princess Buttercup. Princess Buttercup proceeded to SCREEEEEAM at her, “Give it baaaaaaack! That’s mine!” And when she didn’t, Buttercup applied MORE screaming and crying and foot stomping. (It was not pretty.)
So I made them start the whole scenario over again: Xbox Controller laying next to Buttercup, Warrior Princess grabs it—I pause them and have Buttercup say, “Sir Handsome asked me to lay my controller down while he tried something new in the game.” Warrior Princess said, “Oh, sorry, I thought you were done with it,” and hands her back the controller.

3.               But sometimes the anger sharks are already devouring them from the inside and there is no way to get through to them. The best thing to do is talk about it again later when they aren’t out-of-their-minds with anger. When they can reason and consider their actions, talk about what happened and how they could probably get their brother to stop slapping their baby doll on the head if they just told him they don’t like it and asked him kindly not to do it again.

Measure Their Reaction Against 1 Corinthians 13:4-8

Teaching this to young children (toddler through Kindergarten) can begin simply by encouraging them to have kind reactions, gentle reactions FIRST and communicate what they want or don’t want. As they can begin to understand the “why” behind it, (school age) read the love verses together, talk about it, soak it in, and practice it.

But sometimes reading 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 doesn’t drive the point home like it does when you figure out together the antonym for each word: Patient—impatient, Kind—mean, Doesn’t boast--bragging, Doesn’t keep a record of wrongs—holds a grudge… You get the point. It’s sometimes easier to compare ourselves to the negative than the positive. Each of my kids highlighted a few of them that they know they have issues with. (As do I.) And we work on them daily, practicing, reminding ourselves how to react in love, not hate. (It's awesome what this does in your marriage too.)

This Reaction Monster: “NO! No! No! Don’t, stop it. It’s mine!!”

Can turn into this: “Please don’t take that part of my Lego house. I was using that piece.”

Then the other child can choose a Reaction Monster response or a love response.

Think-Outside-Of-Themselves Time

If both children are being trained to think outside of themselves and have good reactions to each other, their relationship can strengthen, mutual respect occurs and unnecessary drama can decrease exponentially. These lessons they learn with you and each other can bleed over into when they are out in the world—at school, a friend’s house, grandma’s house, etc. WooHoo!

Goodbye Reaction Monster… Hello Love!