Impact of a Reactive Parent on a Child's Self-Control

Learn how being a reactive parent (a parent with a lack of self-control) impacts a child's self-control.

Most parents accept the fact that self-control is one of the most important pillars of a happy and well-adjusted childhood. Without this foundation, children's emotional stability is easily rocked by peer provocation, pride injury, criticism, and a host of other "hard knocks" that help build resilience in kids. Yet, some parents overlook one of the most critical ingredients in building this emotional and social foundation: parental self-control. Instead of modeling appropriate restraint when faced with reactive children, reactive parents lose their cool. Reactive parenting doesn't work for teaching a child self-control.

How a Reactive Parenting Style Relates to Self-Control in Children

If the term "reactive parent" describes you or someone with whom you parent, read on:

Reactive parenting often has its roots in childhood. The daily frustrations of raising children test the patience of all parents and can "open windows" into one's own childhood. If adults were raised with an authoritarian parenting style that entailed intimidation and fear, these practices may be the only available responses when emotions heat up. Instead of a parenting repertoire that stresses two-way communication parent-child, safety, and self-correction, the parent resorts to yelling and punishment. Those who recognize the deleterious effects of this punitive parenting upon children are willing to consider other options.

Identify your parenting hot-spots in order to be prepared for "quick cooling." One way to create a new parenting path is to focus on what child behaviors trigger your hot reactions. This may include lack of compliance, sibling mistreatment, verbal/nonverbal disrespect, or purposeful defiance. Accept that these behaviors are part of everyone's parenting journey and not a reason to become an overheated parent. Develop a three-step plan to follow when a hot-spot is spotted: A for awareness, B for breathe deeply, and C for calmly respond.

Strive to respond as a parent coach rather than a parent cop. Parent cops emphasize punishments and threats as their major tools of discipline. When parents step into the coaching role, problem behaviors are viewed as opportunities to help children self-correct. The game plan entails inviting children to express their side, express understanding of their view, describe consequences of problem behavior, and offer alternatives. Keep in mind that expressing understanding is not the same as agreement, and that when describing consequences it is important to emphasize the effect misbehavior has upon trust, privileges, and welcome surprises.

Offer a calm tone of voice and words that promote a two-way dialogue. "Let's figure out how we can both solve this problem without either one of us losing our cool," is one way to start a productive coaching huddle. This kind of opening tends to minimize defensiveness on the part of the child, and pave the way for the parent to avoid the common pitfalls of reactive parenting: accusing, blaming, and controlling (the other ABC's to be avoided).

Remember that most misbehavior is a message and the parent's job is to decode the meaning so that the communication can be clearer and acceptable. Emphasize the importance of communicating with the right tone, words and actions. Periodically huddle with your child about the problems even when they are not happening to show them you haven't forgotten their concerns and that you recognize their progress.

Once you stop using the reactive parenting style, you'll find your family life calms down and everyone feels better after a while.

APA Reference
Richfield, S. (2019, August 2). Impact of a Reactive Parent on a Child's Self-Control, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 21 from

Last Updated: August 2, 2019

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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