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Are You a Proactive Parent or a Reactive Parent?


I recently had the opportunity to sit in a doctor's office waiting room for almost an hour. During that time, I quietly observed several mothers come and go with their preschool age children.

Each mother I observed seemed warm and loving toward her children, and the children all appeared to be happy and healthy and exhibited age appropriate behavior.

I also noticed two distinctly different parenting models among those interactions.

An example of this model I saw is when one mother announced it was time to leave. Both of the children began racing each other toward the door. She warned them, "You better not run out that door into the parking lot!" Her children responded by running straight out the door. She yelled, "You better not run into that parking lot!" They kept running. She yelled again, "If you run into that parking lot..." She never finished her sentence, but sprinted into the parking lot to scoop up the laughing children and carry them to the car.

I was nervous the whole time, looking right and left out the window for cars who might not see small children dart out in front of them.

I saw this when, shortly after the above incident, a mother pulled into the parking lot and began unbuckling 2 small children. I could see by her pointing that she instructed them to stand and wait until she got everything she needed from the car.

I was again nervous that they might run into the parking lot away from their mother, like the last children.

Instead, though, they stood patiently while their mother got her belongings and shut the car doors. Then they all walked cheerily inside the waiting room and she told them to play with the toys while she checked in. Just like in the parking lot, they did as they were told.

When she was through checking in, she hugged them both and one of them handed her a book, which she read aloud to them.

I pondered these two different types of parenting models and realized that the first was reactive and the second was proactive.

Remember, mothers, in interacting with your children there will be actions and reactions.

Causes and Effects. Don't fall into the pattern of letting all of your interactions be reactive. This happens when the mother waits for her child to determine what will happen next, as in the first scenario above.

Instead, use your time at home with your children to teach them your expectations before you encounter those scenarios in public.

I'm imagining that the second mother had previously taught her children, "When I tell you to stand here, don't leave that spot until it is time to follow Mommy. It is dangerous if you don't obey me when I tell you to stand here." This is proactive parenting.

Don't wait until you are in a dangerous situation to teach your children to stand where you tell them to. Don't wait until you are in church to teach them how to sit quietly [2]. That is reactive.

Be proactive and show them at home how to obey you in public.

In addition to the above lesson, an unpleasant consequence should be applied each time the child disobeys even in safe situations if you expect them to follow your instructions in dangerous situations.

The first set of children in my illustration did not obey, so the mother had to run after them and hope she made it to them before a car did. She yelled an empty threat, and the children acted to see how she would react.

The second set of children obeyed in the parking lot (dangerous) and in the waiting room (safe). It was apparent that they were accustomed to hearing instructions from their mother and obeying them. She was a proactive parent.

These things must be taught and practiced.

Children do not come into the world knowing whether they should mind you or not.

Be a proactive parent not a reactive parent.