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Remember those days before you had kids? You would see parents in a store or public event and gawk at the kids throwing tantrums. You may have uttered those ill-fated words: “When I have kids, I will never…” My version included verses like, “I will never bribe my kids with sweets” or “I will never allow my kid to throw a fit in public.”


Fast-forward a few years and most of us are now eating those words. As I look back at those pre-parenthood days, I realize that much of my switch from parenting in theory and parenting in reality had to do with the difference between a reactive and proactive approach.

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Before we had kids, we all probably imagined that we would be those proactive parents who knew how to respond to every situation in a thought-out, reasonable way. The reality of parenting is that kids often act in ways that are so unpredictable that we struggle to be proactive.

No parent can be proactive all the time. Some situations require a quick, reactive, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants decision. There are a few strategies we can keep in mind, however, to keep us in a more proactive, logical mode much of the time.

1. Try to stay in your right mind (literally)

In a great talk I was listening to the other day, the speaker was discussing the roles of the different parts of the brain. The emotional part of the brain often takes over when we get upset with our kids. This rush of emotion tends to make us much more reactive instead of proactive. Not surprisingly, our kids’ brains our dominated by emotion, too. Since their brains are still developing, it is much harder for them to shift up to the thinking part of the brain.

For us adults, however, we can consciously try to keep ourselves thinking instead of just reacting based on emotions. Emotions serve a purpose, but if we want to model self-regulation for our kids, learning techniques to help us calm our emotions enough to respond rationally is key. Strategies such as taking a deep breath or taking a few minutes away from the situation are often helpful. Switching to our thinking brain will help us respond in a more proactive way.

Try this: Keep breathing and step away if necessary. Repeat to yourself, “They are just little and still learning.”

2. Consider your child’s temperament

Do your children have very different personalities from you? My children differ in temperament from me quite a lot. This was evident early on when my toddler would try to talk to every new person on the playground while I was content to hang back.

Having differing temperaments can spark some challenges, especially with being a proactive parent. Your temperament usually influences how you automatically respond to a situation. If your temperament differs from your child, your automatic reaction might not always be the best approach.

For example, imagine you have a much more outgoing, talkative temperament, but your child is more introverted or quiet. If you are trying to discipline her, a loud wordy reprimand is probably going to cause her to shut down. If you understand her temperament, you can act proactively to think through how to react in a way to help her learn the lesson instead of feeling anxious.

Try this: In a calmer moment, consider the approach that works best for your child, such as quiet words, time out, wordy discussion, etc. Make a mental note of this for the next time a meltdown happens.

3. Connect first

This may sound counter-intuitive, but sometimes when you like your kid the least, is the best time to spend more time with her. We’ve all had days (or seasons) where you and your child are just not getting along. The stresses of life and school are wearing you down. Your kid talks back to you and you may not respond much better in return.

Many times this is a signal that you and your child are just not connecting. Just as the saying goes, all work and no play makes everybody grumpy. I have found this advice on taking time to play with kids to be a real game-changer. Even 10 or 20 minutes a few times a week can really help you become a more proactive parent, instead of just responding to immediate emotion of the moment.

It seems that when kids know you will take time to get down on their level and engage in something they enjoy, the grumpy moods and snarky attitudes are almost impossible to maintain. In turn, you have a more positive attitude too and can respond to them better.

Try this: Ask your child if you can join her in an activity that she enjoys. Ask something like, “Would you like to play a board game or Legos.”

4. Simplify life

In the past year or so I have really tried to focus on simplifying our life and routine. If I feel stressed about piles of toys and too many activities, I can only imagine how it must make my kids feel. After reading several insightful articles about how we can simplify our lives to encourage our kids to play longer and feel more content, I was on board.

How does this relate to being a more proactive parent? For me, just taking steps to simplify is itself a proactive move. It’s about being intentional with how we spend our time and money and what effect that has on our kids. Additionally, the calmer, less stressful environment makes it possible for me to be more proactive with other parenting decisions. If you are always in a mode of “putting out fires” it is difficult to be a proactive, intentional parent. Simplification for me was the first step in moving away from just reacting to my kids and towards a goal of living more in line with our larger family goals.

Try this: If you are considering signing up for another activity or getting another toy, ask yourself, “Will this benefit my kid long-term?” Or, “How long do I think they will stay interested in this?” Additionally, consider, “Is doing this worth the extra stress and less downtime for my kids.”

5. Set clear expectations

This one may seem obvious, but it is easy to forget that kids sometimes do not have the same goals or assumptions about behavior that we do. This hit home to me just the other day with my 7-year-old son. We had just had a long discussion about the difference between playful roughhousing and actual hitting with friends. Then, just a few days later I saw him repeating the same inappropriate hitting with his brother. I sat him down and explain in clear terms that hitting was wrong. This time the lesson stuck.

He said he did not understand that it was wrong before. I was shocked, but I think he was being genuine. It was then that I realized how clear we have to be with kids. Long, wordy discussions sometimes go over their heads. Clarity in expectations is key.

Setting clear expectations is the cornerstone of proactive parenting. It sets out ahead of time what we consider appropriate in a given situation. I find myself having the little talk about expectations prior to almost every event or outing with my boys and I do think it helps them.

Try this: Before an event or outing, sit down for a minute and clarify the expectations with your kids, “We are going here, I expect you to…”

As parents we often fluctuate between proactive and reactive parenting styles. If you are in a season of life where just surviving from day-to-day (hello newborn stage) is a big accomplishment, then proactive parenting may seem like a distant goal. Over the long-term, however, a proactive approach can help you remain a calmer and more consistent parent and help your kids thrive.

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Back when my husband and I were creating our wedding registry, it was a fun, low-pressure opportunity to select some new dishes and linens. After all, I knew a thing or two about stocking my home and making the "wrong decision" with thread count was the only thing that posed any risk to my sleep at night.

Fast-forward a few years to when I created a baby registry before the birth of my first child—and I found the experience to have a much steeper learning curve. Unlike those sheets, it felt like a bad swaddle or bassinet selection would be catastrophic. Unsure of what to expect from motherhood or my baby, I leaned heavily on advice from friends who already ventured into parenthood. (Starting with their reminders to take deep breaths!)

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Now a mom of three little ones under the age of four, I'm happy to be in a position to pass along some baby registry wisdom.

Go shopping with a veteran parent

As first-time parents, my husband and I barely knew the difference between a bouncer and a swing, let alone what specific features we would want. So when a mom friend recommended we head to Walmart to build my registry together—because she found them to carry the trendy brands she loved AND make registering a breeze during her pregnancy—I leapt at the chance.

By walking through the aisles together and actually getting to see the products, I was much more confident in my registry selections. Thanks to that quick, in-store tutorial from my friend, I understood exactly how to match a perfect infant car seat with an extra base and stroller—which is something I would have been clueless about on my own.

Include items at a variety of price points

When it comes down to it, a registry is really a wish list. So, while I had a personal budget for a stroller if it had to come out of my own pocket, this was an opportunity for me to ask for the stroller of my dreams. And, wouldn't you know it? A few family members went in on it together, which made a bigger price tag much more manageable.

At the same time, it's nice to include some of the smaller ticket items that are absolutely essential. I can't even begin to tell you how grateful I was to skip buying my own diapers for those first few weeks. (With super cute patterns, these are also surprisingly fun to give, too!)

Think about the gifts you would like to give

The first time I bought a mom-to-be a gift after my own child was born, I knew immediately what to look for on her registry: a diaper bag backpack, which I had come to have very strong opinions about after battling falling straps with my first diaper bag. This allowed me to feel like I had a personal touch in my gift, even if I brought one pre-selected by her.

I also appreciate it when my friends clearly incorporate their style into their registry choices, like with adorable baby outfits or nursery decor—and there's no sweeter "thank you" than a picture from a friend showing your gift in use.

Ask for things to grow with your child

Even though it's called a baby registry, there's no need to limit yourself to gifts to use before their first birthday. (To this day, I still have people who attended my baby shower to thank for the convertible bed that my oldest child sleeps in!) Knowing that, I would have included more options with long lifespans into my registry—namely, a baby carrier that can be used during the newborn months, baby months and well into the toddler years. A well-designed baby carrier would have saved my back from serious pain because it would have allowed me to comfortably and ergonomically carry my toddler as she made her way into the 25lb+ club. One brand that's designed to grow with your baby and accommodates 7-45 pounds (up to about four years old) and offers both inward and forward-facing positions is Ergobaby. With several different design and style options, you can easily find one that caters to your parenting needs. From an all-in-one carrier, like the Omni 360, that grows with baby from the newborn stages into the toddler years or a newborn-specific carrier, like the Embrace (and don't worry you can later upgrade to a carrier for an older baby, I recommend the 360 Carrier). The best part? All ergonomic designs are supportive and comfortable for both baby and parent, offering extra lumbar support with breathable, lightweight mesh styles. Everyone (even grandparents!) can get a kick out of babywearing, which is a nice and welcomed break for parents. Having one of these on my registry would have certainly made those first few years so much easier.

Motherly is your daily #momlife manual; we are here to help you easily find the best, most beautiful products for your life that actually work. We share what we love—and we may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.

This article was sponsored by Ergobaby. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.


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Tantrums are one of those unavoidable parts of parenthood and when you're in it, you're really in it. Your toddler has gone boneless and is sprawled crying across the floor. What can you do?

Here are six things to try:

1. Be present and listen.

My number one recommended strategy is to be present. In some ways, this sounds deceptively simple. If you walked into a room and saw a father using this strategy with his child, you'd see a child having a tantrum—yelling, crying, maybe kicking the floor—and a parent just sitting there with them. How hard could that be? Very, it turns out. Pay attention to what is happening and listen to what your child is trying to say.

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