Proactive or Reactive Parenting

Friday, September 3, 2010

Most of us plan everything. We are raised to plan. Our homework, our career, our study, our wedding, our work, even planning for our child’s birth and then we become a parent and almost everything we knew and planned goes out the window.

Parenting is like nothing we have experienced before: no excuses, no sick days and limited time out to think or make notes. No remote control or off/reset button when things aren’t ‘working’ properly. No manual or perhaps on the other hand too much information and we get numbed by what is right or wrong.
We become reactive as parents and start questioning ourselves. Our values, our approach, our upbringing and our abilities or potential and effectiveness.

Can we parent proactively? How do we parent proactively? In order to become ‘proactive’ as a parent you need to trust your maternal /parental instincts. It is very uncommon to find a parent who would not want the best for their child and do whatever it takes to provide that.

Parenting ‘proactively’ allows you to foresee issues and hopefully put together a plan of action for when that occurs, it may be a simple plan like, needing to buy a gate to keep a child safe or a floor mat so your child doesn’t mess when they start feeding themselves. It is knowing a hungry child may become angry or throw a tantrum and being prepared to deal with that issue as it arises. Parenting “proactively” is being aware of and trying to prevent a problem or deal effectively with a problem that could escalate.

A child under three months is very demanding, in the sense that they are very dependent on you to meet their basic needs of comfort and food. This is a time when you may be more “reactive” in your parenting. Reacting to their cries, to supply their need. Being reactive in this time is appropriate and your child learns that you are their source of safety and supply. I think it is at this time that we can get stuck in a ‘reaction’ phase. However, as the child gets older, a ‘proactive’ approach will make parenting less stressful and more enjoyable.

Parenting “proactively” means you -
• Are willing to try new things - because parenting involves learning on the job. Something we fortunately don’t need a degree for - but we do need to try and try again until something works. My son throws tantrums and as he is getting older and I’m getting wiser... or perhaps just practice makes perfect. Ignoring seems to be working best also sometimes he just needs “space” to deal with the emotions he is feeling at the time. I’ve learnt sometimes that simply saying ”mmm”or “it’s okay that you feel sad or upset”, given some time he eventually comes out with “Mum, I’m sorry for.....” what a day that was! It happens more regularly now and he is learning to accept what he is feeling and what is appropriate or not when dealing with intense emotions.
• Are flexible – routines are helpful but some things cannot be planned for and with children even small things like getting in our out of the car are going to take ten minutes longer.
• Know your child – you observe how your child behaves, identify “who” they are – so you know when something happens that is out of place or out of character, so you can follow this up with them.
• Know what you want - what are the important things for you or your family and what can you let go.
• Your children know what you want – you have expressed clearly, perhaps in steps and reminded them what outcome you would like to see or expect.
• Are prepared to hand over and accept responsibility.

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