“Give that back, don’t take from your sister.”
“Stop fighting; you are not being nice.”
After child trips, “Be careful, don’t trip.”
“How could you think climbing the altar would be okay?!”
These are all examples of reactive parenting.
There will always be some reactive parenting to do, because life often brings the unexpected. The difference between reactive and proactive parenting is the proactive parenting focuses on preparing children for what is to come so they are not caught off guard by life. Instead of only correcting children when they mess up, proactive parenting gives guidance in advance.
Proactive parenting requires forethought. By looking ahead to what a child will be facing, a parent can talk through upcoming situations with a child so that child can move ahead confidently.
When I was growing up, random corrections were often given around the supper table. “Don’t hold your spoon like a shovel.” “Don’t reach across the table.” “Sit down.” Unfortunately, very little direction was given for what to do. So I would sit in my chair, wishing for the butter on the other side of the table with no idea of how to get it.
Parents have this tendency to tell children what not to do, but don’t often give them what to do. Proactive parenting purposes to guide children. The above reactive corrections could become proactive if they included how the child should respond.
“Don’t take; ask if you may have it when they are done.”
“Those words do not sound kind. Say ‘Please don’t’, and wait for an answer.”
After a child trips, many moms say, “Careful, don’t trip.” Sounds silly, but it’s what we do. Guidance could be given to help them avoid tripping again. Perhaps, “Roll up your pants, they are too long, then you won’t trip so easily.”
Instead of drilling a child when they have done something unthinkable, like climbing the altar, wait until the emotions are under control and discuss again what things are not to be touched. Our guideline is: if it is not your possession or a toy, then you shouldn’t touch it without permission.
Proactive parenting can appear to have a lot of rules. I like to think of them as guidelines. Children feel secure knowing what is expected and how to handle difficult situations in advance.
Our family’s number one tool in being proactive in preparing our children for what’s to come is to role play in a non-conflict situation how to handle any given circumstance. Sometimes this is foreseeing what is to come, and sometimes this is replaying an incident that didn’t go smoothly in the past.
Up until their teen years, most of the role playing was literally pretending we were in the situation acting out what we would do and say. As they matured we have graduated to more talking and less acting through how to handle circumstances.
A proactive example of role playing could be prepping your child before you go to visit friends. You may role play how to greet adults, what happens if you run in someone’s house, how to handle conflict with peers, and proper table manners.
If, after visiting friends where the child did not greet the adults, you could do some reactive role playing by practicing the desired behavior when you get home. Then, turn this reactive situation into a proactive one by role playing other types of experiences where the child will be around adults. Role play greeting neighbors, people at church, check out clerks at the grocery store, and relatives.
Proactive parenting is the fulfillment of Proverbs 1:8:
Listen, my son, to your father’s instruction and do not forsake your mother’s teaching.
In order for our children to “listen” and to “do” we must be giving “instruction” and “teaching. In order to instruct and to teach our children we need to be actively seeking wisdom to pass on to them. We must also be observing our children’s lives to be aware of their needs and their weaknesses.
Proverbs 1:9 goes on to say what the parent’s instruction and teaching will be to their child.
They will be garland to grace your head and a chain to adorn your neck.
Our rules or teaching is an adornment for our children, not a burden. It is a help that makes them beautiful inside and out. They have peace knowing how to handle what is coming as well as being confident of what is expected.
Yes, reactive parenting will always be a part of being a mother, but being proactive can really minimize the emotion filled “what were you thinking” moments of parenting.
As Proverbs is a book written “for attaining wisdom and discipline; for understanding words of insight;” so we as parents are who God uses “for giving prudence to the simple, knowledge and discretion to the young-“ (Proverbs 1: 2, 4)