As part of my constellation of professional activities, I often talk to parents about their child’s behavior. Frequently, I find myself highlighting two fundamentally different styles of parenting.
With “Reactive Parenting,” as the name implies when a negative behavior occurs the parent reacts (yells), pretty emotionally to a situation as it happens. I find reactive style parents are not thinking too much of the odds of an event occurring. It is very “of the moment.”
Kids are pretty predictable. If I said to you any of the following behaviors were shown recently, what would you say the odds are of them occurring again?
- Running ahead an ahead in Target even though you warned not to.
- Had a fit in the supermarket when she couldn’t have exactly what she wanted.
- Dawdled getting ready and was very uncooperative getting out the door.
- Back seat arguing and screaming with sibling.
Thinking of odds, I would bet you would say that if these behaviors recently occurred, the odds are pretty good they will occur again.
Proactive/Strategic approaches take the odds into consideration before going into a given situation and help to shift the odds in the other direction.
For example, for the child who runs ahead in Target she can be talked to in calm (but direct tones), something like the following: “The last time we went to Target you broke the rules and ran ahead. This made Mommy very unhappy. It will not happen that way today. If you run ahead, we will stop and go straight home. No McDonalds afterward – nothing. Even if we have to put everything in the cart aside, that’s fine. That’s how it’s going to work.”
If the child runs ahead, give a simple warning and if this is ignored, then go straight home. No yelling, no screaming, no time-out.
Later, when it is time for bed (“tuck-in time”) you can calmly talk about what happened and offer to go back tomorrow and try again.
Odds are the next time you go the child may be showing a different set of behaviors (at least that’s the horse I would bet on).
Front-end thinking (considering the odds of a given event or behavior occurring) helps you to anticipate and put strategies in place before the behavior occurs. This is not fool-proof and it does not mean that all negative behavior will be eliminated, but the odds of occurring will be greatly reduced.
Over time, the child will learn to anticipate better on her own, which is the ultimate goal of “self-regulation.”
Adapted, School Struggles, Richard Selznick, Ph.D, 2012, Sentient Publications
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