From Chaos to Connection: The Power of Non-Reactive Parenting

Parenthood is a beautiful mess. One minute you’re basking in your child’s laughter, the next you’re dodging tantrum-fueled projectiles.

In the heat of those meltdown moments, reacting is our natural instinct. But what if there was a different approach, a way to stay calm even when your child is anything but?

Enter Non-Reactive Parenting. This parenting style is not about being perfectly stoic while bottling emotions. It’s about a powerful shift in perspective.

One that will transform caregiver-child relationships (and save your sanity in the process).

Intrigued? Read on to discover the core principle of Non-Reactive Parenting and why it’s easier said than done (but totally worth it).

The First Rule of Non-Reactive Parenting: Just Don’t Freak Out

The first tenet, step, or principle of Non-Reactive Parenting is right there in the name. Don’t be reactive in response to anger.

When a child misbehaves, it’s natural to feel anger. Feel it all you want. But don’t react to that (completely understandable) anger. Stay calm.

If caregivers do nothing else, this omission of adult behavioral patterns (in the form of not reacting to anger) is the most important step.

The Second Rule of Non-Reactive Parenting: Disregard The First Rule When Behavior Is Positive

When you see your child doing something positive, react right away in a positive way! Show them big smiles, warm facial expressions, and use a happy, playful tone of voice.

The younger the child, the more hammy your reaction. Clapping hands and jumping up and down, a whole production.

The over-10 will still appreciate simple and sincere compliments, or small rewards (like a Starbucks stop).

non reactive parenting meme

Non-Reactive Parenting Is Simple, Not Easy

Non-Reactive Parenting is waaay easier said than done. And, in the moment, it sounds as easy as it looks.

When my children act out, I look as placid as a lake. Like I don’t care or have disassociated.

But underneath, eddies roil. I am usually furious (hey man, parenting is frustrating). My mind flits, from self-talk, to prayers, to breathing exercises.

There’s a lot of work going on to look (and eventually, stay!) unbothered.

Things To Do Instead of Reacting

  • Grounding Techniques
  • Bite your inner cheek or pinch your leg (may the pain keep you present and silent)
  • Pray (we need help)
  • Breathwork (it sounds hokey BUT IT WORKS)
  • Take notes (literally, type into your notes app about how you feel, what set off the behavior, etc)
  • Tense and release muscles, especially large muscle groups like glutes (fool the brain into thinking you’ve “fought” or “flown” and therefore decrease your cortisol)
  • Repeat mantras (“don’t freak out,” “emotional regulation is hard,” “calm now, consequence soon, teach later” are some of my favorites)

Non-Reactive Parenting is hard. We’re meant to struggle. It’s not our fault.

funny non reactive parenting meme

Why Is Non-Reactive Parenting So Hard?

We all want to be calm, collected parents who respond thoughtfully to our children’s outbursts. But we simply weren’t taught the emotional skills needed to be those caregivers.

On top of that, our biology and psychology work against us, especially in heated moments (uh, like most parenting).

We Weren’t Taught To Separate Thoughts and Feelings…

Cuz that’s an ability society doesn’t value. Or teach. And it’s a hard thing to do.

To be able to think, “I am so mad about what they did,” without yelling and throwing furniture is an undeveloped ability (one needed for optimal adulthood).

To be able to think, “Whoa, better tread carefully, I seem to be having an emotional reaction, therefore cannot think clearly or behave at my best” takes insight that doesn’t come naturally.

But training ourselves to pause before reacting (passively observing our emotional and intellectual interior) is doable, noble work.

Loryn Branz Parenting Poem

…Or Emotional Regulation

The other thing we weren’t taught? Emotional regulation. And, I don’t mean to offend, but you’re terrible at it. We all are.

Most of us think, deep down, that our behavior is justified when angry enough. Depending on how “bad” the other person behaves, is how much they deserve (and will receive) our ire.

But listen. We’re not pinball machines, designed mechanically and made to react to every push of any button. (Get it? The pinball is our behavior and the button is the negative behavior of others.)

We’re Tired, Stressed, Sick, and Overworked

Non-Reactive Parenting calls for cognitive clarity. This means planning ahead, staying organized, and being mindful of your time.

It takes executive functioning and emotional intelligence to watch/experience feelings, rather than reacting to them.

These abilities don’t come naturally. Dealing with physical hurdles like poor health, lack of sleep, and/or stress, makes them even more elusive.

Acknowledge that reality, first and foremost. Trauma, work disasters, and physical ailments happen. When they do, we won’t react optimally. Tell friends and family when you’re at a low, emotional regulation-wise.

When stuff isn’t directly hitting the fan, do what is within your control to shore up your first level of needs (from Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs).

maslows hierarchy of needs ish mom
Fill up that first level as best as you can

It’s Not Self-Care, It’s Pyramid Stabilization

You know the expression “You can’t pour from an empty cup?” That’s what proactively shoring up physiological needs (sleep, nutrition, shelter, etc) is. Filling your cup.

Again, do what you can. Sometimes extraneous circumstances get in the way of a good night’s sleep. But…many times it’s my own scrolling habits. I have to work on my sleep hygiene.

When I at least try to make sure I’m getting enough sleep, moving my body, speaking my emotional truth, eating well, etc, it’s so much easier to handle adulthood in general, let alone Non-Reactive Parenting.

dysregulated child non reactive parent meme

Sometimes stumbling blocks to Non-Reactive Parenting is more mental than physical.

Two Misconceptions About Non-Reactive Parenting

First, every parent thinks they can, and should, be able to control the behavior of their children.

Second, because…America? …a societal lack of emotional maturity? …intergenerational cycles of violence? some think Non-Reactive Parenting is permissive.

After all, if there isn’t anger, where’s the punishment?

Let’s unpack these lies.

Calm is contagious non reactive parenting meme

Who Can You Control? Where’s Your Locus of Control?

Social psychology lore states that individuals have an internal or external locus of control. Ultimately, they’re on a spectrum. Too far in either direction can be problematic.

Non-Reactive Parenting steers caregivers towards the internal.

An individual who attributes their success (or failure!) to their own actions (“I worked hard for that grade!”) has an internal locus of control.

In parenting, that means crediting outward behavior to the internal landscape. “I was tired today so I freaked out when Kid did blah blah blah.”

Those with an external locus of control put their success (or failure!) down to outside factors, like luck (“I got a good grade because the teacher likes me!”).

A caregiver with an external locus of control typically chalks up their behavior to what was going on in the moment. “Kid did blah blah blah so I freaked out.”

Caregivers focus on what the child did wrong, the thing that “made” the adult yell. They zero in on the child’s negative behavior because they think they can control it. Because they can’t, I say, “Yeah, man, kids are jerks,” and keep it moving.

I’m rarely gonna disagree with you. Yes, those kids are bad. They’re “bad” kids with weak synapses and undeveloped brains. I can control them as well as I can control a cornfield.

Non-Reactive Parenting deals primarily with adult behavior. Cuz adults have fully formed brains.

Even adults sometimes misunderstand Non-Reactive Parenting. They mistakenly think that because parents avoid anger, it means they are permissive.

Non-Reaction Doesn’t Mean Non-Consequence

The longer I talk about Non-Reactive Parenting, the more surprised I am about the need to convince caregivers to separate anger and “punishment” (or consequences).

Just because an adult isn’t getting angry doesn’t mean a child is “getting off easy” or “not learning a lesson.”

In fact, the opposite of that last accusation is true (we’ll get into that).

But. Regardless of veracity, I need you to sit with that mix-up. The notion that “anger” goes with “punishment.”

It’s a false equivalency.

Why do you think that? Why are lapses of emotional regulation ok if it’s in regard to “punishing” children?

Exploring those answers is difficult. But it’s part of Non-Reactive Parenting, which isn’t easy.

Do You Want The Negative Behavior To Stop Or Not?

Ish Mom starring into camera Non Reactive Parenting 101
Well…do you???

Cuz that’s what all this boils down to, right? The whole reason for punishment?

Great. I’m glad that’s established. Listen to me carefully:

The acting upon of anger (not necessarily the presence of anger) during punishment, negates the punishment.

If a caregiver is yelling, stomping, waving their arms, etc., in front of a child, their brain is releasing cortisol. The person acting out, anyone witnessing the incident, everybody’s brain is full of cortisol.

Guess what happens when cortisol is released? A lot of things. Assuredly not learning.

It’s very hard for the brain to create new neural synapses and patterns (i.e., learn) if the brain is physically and chemically freaking out. Which is what happens when cortisol is released.

(No, I don’t care if that child is a teenager, smirking in your face. Their brain is as primitive as their facial expression and it’s flooded with cortisol.)

all quiet on the frontal lobe meme
Oh good, the ideal time for teaching and learning

Keeping Our Eyes On The Prize

Are you picking up what I’m putting down?

If the purpose of punishment is to lessen negative behavior (i.e. to “teach” them not to do it) and witnessing active anger causes the brain to release cortisol and the release of cortisol inhibits learning then…why commingle anger and consequences?

By all means, punish those kids. Ground ’em, confiscate their electronics or let natural consequences run their course. Whatever your family does (in the realms of decency and legality), do it.

But do it consistently and without emotion.

Teach When The Teaching’s Good

Negative behaviors can only be extinguished when things are calm and learning is possible.

Non-Reactive Parenting calls for a proactive approach towards negative behavior, rather than reacting to it in the moment.

For example, I’m dealing with our boys climbing the furniture (and the staircase and trim and porch walls). I would yell at them to get down. This would get them back on the floor for the moment, but I was hollering it all day.

It was better to talk about it randomly, during calmer times. Putting on their shoes I’d say, “Oh we don’t want shoes on the furniture cuz of germs and dirt. And I don’t want you climbing on the furniture because you could fall on your sister.”

More helpful was the time spent exercising their impulse to climb, in appropriate ways. Climbing tree and playground equipment or doing indoor obstacle courses and YouTube kid brain break videos.

Ish Mom on floor smiling with A2 and A4

Teaching skills and dispersing consequences are two different things. When a child acts out, deliver a consequence, in the moment, calmly.

Then tuck that knowledge away and think about (or better yet, journal) teaching moments to deal with it later.


Non-Reactive Parenting may seem like mastering self-control on the fly, but it’s a journey of growth. It’s not a destination.

The rewards are immense – a calmer, more connected relationship with your child, and the fostering of positive skills in a peaceful environment. Remember, you’ve got this!

Want More?

Interested in Non-Reactive Parenting? Check out these articles:

You Tell Me!

What is your biggest struggle with the non-reaction of it all? Does it feel easier as time goes on? Let me know in the comments.

Happy Non-Reactiveness!


megan imhoff
Picture of Megan


Megan writes everything on Ish Mom. She possesses a bachelor's degree in psychology, a flair for theatrics, and a whole lotta nerve. She lives in the Midwest (and loves it) with her wonderful husband and three young boys.

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