Reactive: Tending to be responsive or to react to a stimulus. Characterized by reaction.
Proactive: Creating or controlling a situation by causing something to happen rather than waiting to respond to it after it has happened.
~The Free Dictionary online
As parents we all spend some of our time operating from each of the reactive and proactive ends of the parenting spectrum.
We are reactive when we call out, “Stop,” to our child when we perceive they are in danger or when we in frustration declare,”Right. We will not be going to/doing xxx.” In contrast, we are proactive when we say, “Five more minutes of playtime and then it is time for your bath,” or when we sing our way through a tidy up time. Being proactive, or the creator or causing influence of what happens in our home, is the more positive place to operate from for both ourselves and our children.
But sometimes we fall into the trap of becoming more reactive then proactive in our interactions with our children. We are tired. Or distracted. Or frustrated and doing and saying the same things that we said half an hour ago or yesterday. And the day before that. And the one before that as well. Or we fall into a pattern of negative interactions as we expect the situation to be as bad as it was yesterday. And this is when we most often begin to feel frustrated, powerless or disillusioned at our parenting ability. We question ourselves, “What am I doing wrong?” and our children, “Why do I have the only child who xxx?”
It is when we find ourselves falling back into a reactive position which is becoming all to familiar and achieving little, that we need to stop, take stock and make a conscious decision to change our reaction, our response, to try something new, and to become more proactive in the situation.
Some of the ways to achieve a more proactive stance include;
- Get into the habit of providing a verbal commentary for your day. Talk to your child about what you are doing, even the mundane and give lots of positive warnings of upcoming transitions – like going out or naptime.
- Practise giving your child the opportunity to feel more control by letting them make (appropriate to their development) choices. You can read more about choices in this post here.
- Look at the situation from your child’s perspective. Consider their age and stage of development, their personality type and influences on the current behaviour. Is there a developmental factor contributing to their behaviour – frustration at being unable to communicate what they want, or unwillingness to nap meaning it might be time to drop a nap, are two examples of where development may be influencing behaviour.
- Where you are dealing with an ongoing behavioural situation, try looking for patterns within your child’s behaviour or ongoing contributing factors. What is the trigger? Is it happening at the same time of day each day? Is your child tired? Hungry? Bored? Seeking attention as you attend to another child or other tasks? Knowing what is influencing the behaviour can help you work out a potential solution.
- When something isn’t working, try reacting in an opposite manner. For example, instead of feeling frustrated and bribing or threatening consequences (which usually doesn’t work anyway), start quietly singing. Let your child know that you are there and are aware of their behaviour but you are not going to engage (and therefore escalate) them further in a negative way.
- As children grow and develop, their needs and responses change. Keep this in mind if a strategy that has worked before stops working. It could be time to change directions and try something new.
- Look for a way to circumvent the development of a negative situation. If your child is resisting bath time could you make it more fun by adding some bath crayons? If they are acting out whilst you are feeding a new baby, could you set them up with a special story and book on CD to listen to? Look for creative ways to engage your child positively at these times.
- Find a way to make it fun. When Immy resists getting into the bath or going into her bedroom, Dad 101 or I will pretend to be an animal and invite her to be one too. Invariably one of us becomes a crocodile or a tiger, stalking the other. It makes the transition fun and works a charm.
- Children sometimes act up if they are craving our attention. This can be frustrating when we have much to do and little time. Try involving your child in your household tasks – young children enjoy washing dishes and anything which involves a little water in a spray bottle – like dusting or cleaning windows.
Have you recently faced some challenging behaviour which caused you to act more reactive than proactive? What was the behaviour and what did you try (or could you try) to get back to a more positive, proactive place?
If you feel that you need more help stocking you behaviour guidance toolkit, I suggest the ebook, Parenting With Positive Guidance, by child development expert Amanda Morgan (this is an affiliate link).
- Can We Love Our Children Too Much?
- Why Kids Are No Good At Being Good
- Invasion of the Body Snatchers: Dealing With Toddler Tantrums
- Using a Reward Chart as a Positive Parenting Tool