How 4 Seconds Can Transform Your Parenting


The pressure-cooker of motherhood has been intense this summer. I am experiencing high stress as we walk alongside our teens in moving forward with driving, college classes and an Eagle Scout Project. We have four birthdays to celebrate in six weeks along with all the preparation and purchases that come with a fast-approaching new school year. The pressure of finances, details, and deadlines means the stress is rising strong within me.

So last week when I found out that my children had returned four of my personal well-loved books to the library receptacle, I completely lost it. I questioned, berated and asked, “How could you!?” I cried and experienced what felt like a peach pit lodged in my throat. You could call it a mothering temper-tantrum, and I regret the way I modeled handling stress and the shame I offered my children.

Mothering children is hard work. We know this. It requires skill-sets that we are learning on-the-job, in the dailiness, trying and failing. We have heard it said that children don’t arrive with instruction manuals, and our chronic sense of parenting confusion reminds us of that reality. We have no book to turn to, and even if we did, it would not perfectly serve our particular children with their unique needs.

We can try helpful parenting techniques on our children, but ultimately we have no control over our children’s responses. They have been born with a will and a choice. The only person that we have control over is ourself.

Since we cannot control our children, the best place to start is with ourselves, the parents. Instead of focusing on our kids’ behaviors today, let’s focus on our own mothering behavior. Often we try to overhaul our whole lives in a day or think that the next great book will solve all our parenting issues. We need to stop searching for Magic Bullets and start small. We can learn a new practice today that can help us stay clear-minded, proactive, and connected in our relationships.


I am not one for Magic Bullet Solutions, but I am one for Small Habit Solutions.


I listened to a podcast interview with Peter Bregman about his new book titled 4 Seconds. Peter said that four seconds is the moment between when we experience something and respond to it. Four seconds is the amount of time to take a deep breath.

He teaches leaders to use the concept of Four Seconds to take a deep breath as a way to respond in emotionally healthier ways with their teams. I quickly made the connection to how this could impact my mothering in moments of discipline, frustration, and intensity.

When our children disobey or make immature, childish choices, we have a moment to choose a deep breath. A Deep Breath gives us the four seconds that we need to create a brief moment of space between their choice and our reaction. These four seconds give us a window to make a smart, discerning and intentional decision about whether or not we want to respond reactively or with clear-minded wisdom.


Event —> reaction —> outcome


In that moment when our child is screaming, arguing or breaking something, we ask ourselves these questions and answers:


What is the outcome that I want in this situation?

Answer: a better relationship with my child


How then do I want to react?

Answer: with calm and clear consequences


We must move our desired outcome of Connected Relationship to the primary role in the parent/child discipline process.


Is yelling, threatening, losing my patience or being a silent martyr going to give me the outcome of a better relationship with my child? If we yell, then the reaction of our children will be to yell back and the outcome is distance in the relationship. If we punish through withdrawal and silence, then the reaction of our children is to withdraw and hide.


If we pause between the event and reaction, take a deep breath, we have a window to choose our reaction. Our outcome can be a better, healthy relationship with our child.


Even though my reaction last week was terrible, as a Christian I know the beauty of grace. I confessed my sin to the Lord and to my children, asked for forgiveness, and the outcome was grace, mercy, and connection. 

We are imperfect parents with imperfect reactions. We are not always going to take a deep breath. We will have times of poor emotional reactions of anger, shaming or brooding silence.


With grace + time, we can begin Small Habit Solutions to promote growth and health in our relationships.


Let’s begin the Four Second Habit of Deep Breath.


Keep coming back to this practice throughout your day today. We parents are continually breathless, and we live short-winded and anxious. The power of a deep breath can cleanse our minds and emotions, lower our stress levels, and help us walk closer to our deepest desire of connected and close relationships.