The Proactive Tool saves us from the Reactive Parenting Trap. Reactive Parenting focuses our parenting energy on the back-end of behavior. The behavior happens and we react to it. Reactive parenting isn’t healthy for our kids because most of the time our reactions are anger-charged and lead to yelling, spanking, and punishing which creates a fear-based relationship. But it’s not healthy for us either. It creates high blood pressure, chemical releases, and of course, a lot of “Parent Guilt”. Plus, it’s exhausting and draining–and let’s face it–we don’t need anything else that is going to exhaust or drain us as parents. The Proactive Tool, however, focuses on the front-end of behavior and all the things we can do IN ADVANCE. We put things in place and focus more of our parenting energy BEFORE the behaviors happen. The Proactive Tool reminds us to think ahead, plan ahead, and put more energy ahead of our kids’ behaviors (and our own)—-to help prevent them in the first place…preserving our relationships with our kids and creating more peace in our homes.
The Proactive Tool can be applied to your parenting in a variety of ways:
- Setting Expectations and Consequences in Advance:
- BEFORE you give your child an electronic device, there should be clear expectations and consequences in place. For example: Expectation–The Santiago Team will listen and obey and turn off our electronic devices the first time we are asked. Consequence–Device will be taken away until the next day.
- BEFORE you go ANYWHERE, let your kids know what to expect from the outing or event and let them know what you expect out of their behavior.
- Spending Time with Your Kids: YOUR KIDS NEEDS YOU! Taking time to connect with or play with your kids is what I call Preventative Care for Better Behavior because remember that much of your kids’ misbehavior is simply to get your attention. If you intentionally and willingly give your kids your time and attention, not only will you get to know the amazing child God has given you, but you will also be preventing many unnecessary fits and fights.
- Knowing Your Snapping Point: You know when you’ve held it together (and held it together and held it together), but then you know at ANY moment, if ANY kid (innocent or not) does or says ANYthing, you will just lose it? Well, act quickly to release this potentially explosive energy in a more healthy way instead—go for a run, punch a punching bag, scream into a pillow, or even set up a counseling appointment. No need to take out frustration and anger unfairly on your kids.
- Identifying Family Sore Spots: Don’t just let bedtime continue to be a hassle over and over. Don’t let mealtime continue to be a disaster over and over. Pray. Talk to your spouse, talk to your kids, and then come up with a plan for change before it comes around again!
- Taking Care of Yourself: Are you getting enough sleep? Are you getting enough nourishing and healthy foods? Are you getting enough exercise? Are you getting enough quiet time/downtime? Are you getting enough time to pray and spend time with the Lord? Are you getting enough time to pursue hobbies? This isn’t meant to be a selfish, me-me-me kind of thing. This is about proactively working with your spouse to find a balance of “you time” and “family time”. When you take care of yourself, you will have more patience for your kids.
- Taking Care of Your Marriage: Are you getting enough date nights (they don’t even have to be out of the house ones)? Are you spending enough time talking and connecting? When you nurture your marriage, you become a stronger parenting team! And a stronger parenting team has more energy and patience to work together to stay strong and be the united front your kids need.
- Focusing on our Future Kids: Proactively parenting our kids means that we also look at how we want them to be in the future, and what character traits we want to instill…and focus our entire parenting energy around teaching those traits. This doesn’t mean that we spend all our time worrying and wondering about the future and miss out on enjoying our kids right now—after all, the Bible tells us that we are only given enough worries for today. But it does mean that in our daily parenting interactions with our kids, we can emphasize, model, and instill qualities that we value. So we can build up our children to be God-loving, kind, respectful, and responsible adults.
- Instead of “Get your homework done before you go outside.” You can say: “Let’s do our responsibilities first. From now on, homework will need to be done before you go to a friends’ house.”
One time, I took all three of my children to Hobby Lobby—a local craft and home decor store (parenting tip–do NOT take ANY of your children to a local craft and home decor store.) I did everything right. I proactively set the expectations in advance. I did the 3 B’s: “This is a store with a lot of beautiful and breakable things. Please BE RESPECTFUL. BE A GOOD LISTENER. BE AWARE OF OTHERS–please note that there are other people in the store that do not want to hear you scream or throw a fit.”
I set the consequences in advance: “I will give ‘Store Strikes’ for any violations of these expectations and you will have privileges taken away when we get home.”
They were “having fun”, but it felt like too much fun to me with so many breakables around. They were just “being kids”, but their childlike wonderment felt like torture when they were touching things and asking so many questions. (Parenting tip: Make one of your expectations before entering a craft and home decor store: DO NOT TOUCH ANYTHING!!!)
I was annoyed. But we made it! Nothing broken. No strikes. No fits. I was patient. I was firm. I was calm. All was well, right? Well, truthfully, no. What I didn’t anticipate was that my anticipation of possible negative behavior, possible fit-throwing, or possible broken items shattered all over the floor actually created a lot of tension within me.
This is where I had to be proactive AGAIN. If I didn’t release this pent-up anxious energy as soon as possible, then one of my unsuspecting children would do or say even the slightest, teeniest, tiniest annoying thing at some point later on, and I would explode on them. So, as soon as we got into the car, I thanked them for choosing to be respectful in the store and said: “Let’s have a car dance party.”
What they didn’t know was that I was actually going to crank up some music so I could scream the lyrics at the top of my lungs and release all that tension! (By the way, Twist and Shout from the Parade scene in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off gives you a great opportunity to shout your anger out!) Tension was released. Unfair anger was avoided. And the car dance party was fun.
Train up a child in the way he should go, And when he is old he will not depart from it. Proverbs 22:6
Lord, only You know how we can be more proactive in our family. Only You know what changes we need to make. Reveal to us the areas of our lives where we are simply reacting. Guide us in putting more proactive plans in place—especially when it comes to teaching and training our kids. In what ways are we damaging our relationships through our negative responses? And in what ways can we build our relationships through our intentional proactive actions? In what ways can we be more in-tuned to our own needs, to the needs of our spouse, or to the needs of our children?