“STOP FIGHTING! YOU HAVE BOTH LOST SCREEN TIME!” you scream at your kids. You are frustrated and exhausted, and you feel guilty for yelling AGAIN at your children.
You let your emotions get the best of you and you’re ready for a change.
If you find yourself responding emotionally to your children’s behavior, you may be stuck in the cycle of reactive parenting.
If you are struggling with reactive parenting, don’t worry – you are not alone!
Trust me. I am no stranger to child behavior issues nor reactive parenting.
Many parents find themselves reacting to their children instead of taking a more proactive approach.
Deep breaths. It can get better, promise.
Table of Contents
WHAT IS REACTIVE PARENTING?
The reactive parenting style is a type of parenting that is often characterized by responding to your child’s behavior in an emotional way.
When you’re reactive, you’re usually responding to something that your child has done or said.
This can be anything from them spilling their milk to them arguing with their sibling.
The key is to take a step back and assess the situation before reacting.
You might be reacting out of negative emotions such as frustration, anger, or even fear.
These are all emotions that come along with us from our own childhoods. Sometimes you can pinpoint where they come from, other times you will need to do some digging to figure it out.
In an ironic twist, parents who react to their children in this way are typically not very consistent with their discipline either.
Most of the time after giving a consequence, a reactive parent will feel guilty and go back on what they said.
This creates an even bigger issue because it confuses the child and makes the parent look unsure of their own leadership.
WHY IS REACTIVE PARENTING BAD?
Here’s the deal– we are all reactive at one time or another with our kids.
Maybe you go through phases where you are peaceful and proactively parenting, and then you are suddenly reacting to your child’s behavior.
Stress from work, relationships and life in general can cause a swing toward the reactive parenting side.
But you definitely don’t want to stay in the reactive parenting realm for very long at all.
Reactive parenting leads to tension and more conflict in the home.
If you are yelling and/or shaming your child during their challenging behavior, you will damage your relationship with your child and cause further behavior issues.
You want your kids to feel secure in your leadership, not scared of your reaction when they are having a tough time.
I often think of the analogy of parenting and trees.
Parents have the strength of trees.
Our experiences, including our children’s behavior blows through our branches like the wind.
We bend, but don’t break.
It’s hard to stand steady like a tree, but our kids need us to.
Healthy parent-child relationships are *the* most important part of parenting, so getting reactive parenting under control is a must.
Problem behaviors are normal when you’re raising children, and they indicate that your child is trying to communicate their needs.
If your child senses that you have a difficult time with their behavior, it gives them a feeling of insecurity and instability, which results in even more behavior issues.
Do you see the crazy cycle?
It’s important to address the issue if you want to create a healthy relationship with your child and a positive environment for your family.
HERE ARE 5 SIGNS OF REACTIVE PARENTING
1 | You have a hard time staying calm when your child is misbehaving.
2 | Your child’s behavior triggers your own feelings of anger or frustration in you.
3 | You find yourself yelling at your child more often than you’d like.
4 | You have a hard time following through with consequences because you feel guilty or like you’re being too harsh.
5 | You feel like you’re always on edge and that your child is constantly testing your limits.
WHAT IS PROACTIVE PARENTING?
If you can relate to any of the above signs, it’s a good idea to take some steps to become more proactive in your parenting.
Proactive parenting is the opposite of reactive parenting.
This approach can be very beneficial for both parents and children, and it has been shown to lead to better outcomes overall.
It means that you are always looking ahead, planning for potential challenges and trying to stay one step ahead.
Proactive parenting is also based on the idea that parents should take an active role in their children’s lives, instead of waiting for problems to arise and then reacting to them.
Being a proactive parent is one of the best things you can do for your child.
By doing so, you can create a more positive and healthy environment for your family.
Proactive parenting takes time and effort, but taking small steps toward improving your parenting is worth it in the long run.
HERE ARE 5 TIPS TO HELP YOU GET STARTED WITH PROACTIVE PARENTING
| 1 |
Connect with your child.
I want to throw out a disclaimer before I go any further… I am totally aware that you can connect with your kids and still have multiple behavioral challenges that stretch you as a parent.
However, I think it’s important to visit the idea of connection as a way to be a proactive parent, so that you build your relationship with your child and enjoy mutual respect.
That mutual respect will be a pillar in your relationship with your child, but it doesn’t happen overnight.
And if there’s one thing I’ve learned, reactive parenting snuffs out my kids’ respect for me faster than a lightning bolt.
In order to connect with your child, you have to be present and active in their lives.
Being active in your child’s life looks like spending time together daily. Even as busy as life gets, setting time aside for you and your child will make a world of difference in their behavior (and yours).
Oftentimes, our children act out because they aren’t feeling connected to us and whining, crying and having meltdowns are a way of communicating with us.
If we are proactive in keeping an open line of communication for our children to express their frustrations, fears and all other emotions, we can stop a lot of behavior in its tracks.
Communication will allow you to address any potential problems early on and prevent them from becoming bigger issues down the road.
| 2 |
Use mindfulness practices.
Mindfulness practices are extremely helpful so you can control your own stress response when your child is having a difficult time.
For example, when your child does something that triggers a negative reaction in you, take a deep breath and count to ten before responding.
This will give you time to calm down and think about how you want to handle the situation.
It’s kind of like pushing the pause button before you move forward with talking or reacting.
Another way to be mindful is to pay attention to your body when your child is misbehaving.
Notice physical changes like if your body is tense, your jaw is clenched or if it feels like your blood pressure is literally rising.
I have felt my body’s physical changes during my child’s misbehavior.
Once I was mindful of my body’s reactions, I was able to stop myself from dishing out negative responses.
It often means walking away, or closing my eyes, so I can avoid my own, adult meltdown.
★★★★GREAT BOOK ALERT ★★★★
If you want to read more about reactive parenting and being mindful, Hunter Clarke-Fields wrote an amazing book that will teach you how to stop being reactive so you and your kids can flourish together.
Hunter Clarke-Fields, MSAE, knows a thing or two about raising good humans.
As a parent and an educator, Hunter has spent over two decades helping kids and families learn how to thrive.
But when we dismiss our children’s problems, our little ones feel overlooked and uncared for. Instead, we can use mindfulness to notice our thoughts, then consciously choose to respond with kindness and empathy to our children’s behavior.Hunter Clarke-Fields
In Raising Good Humans: A Mindful Guide to Breaking the Cycle of Reactive Parenting and Raising Kind, Confident Kids, Hunter offers readers a wealth of information based on mindfulness and neuroscience that will help you transform your parenting style from reactive to reflective.
Drawing on her personal experience as well as stories from parents and children she’s worked with over the years, Hunter provides clear steps for breaking the cycle of reactive parenting so that both you and your children can live happier lives.
| 3 |
Set clear rules and boundaries and be consistent.
Having rules and boundaries is essential to stopping reactive parenting in its tracks.
It not only helps your children know what is and is not acceptable, but it keeps you accountable and consistent in your parenting, which lessens the chance of reactivity.
We all know that willy nilly parenting comes back to bite us in the rear.
For example, my kids know that all of our pets and household chores have to be done before any screen time can take place.
It’s something that I am firm about.
I put this in place so that animals and our house aren’t neglected, and because I have been consistent with this rule, my kids have accepted it as part of their day.
Does it always run smoothly and perfectly? NOPE!
But my kids know what to expect, and I don’t feel guilty about setting those boundaries.
If my kids refuse to do their chores, then screen time is postponed.
I don’t have to yell, scream or get into a tizzy, because I’ve set the boundary and enforce it daily.
Make sure that when you set a rule or boundary, it is realistic and age appropriate.
You will frustrate yourself even more if you set rules that are unattainable.
| 4 |
Create a plan for how you will handle difficult situations before they happen.
One of the most practical strategies for proactive parenting is to set up a game plan for how you will handle your child’s future negative behavior.
You may want to track the pattern of negative interactions that take place with your child to help you decide where you need the most help.
Prepare yourself when you see the pattern beginning and make a conscious decision to stop the cycle and stay calm.
How will you respond to your child in those triggering moments?
What will your initial reaction be when your kids are fighting, or when someone spills a drink on your carpet?
It can be helpful to take a few deep breaths, or even walk away from the situation for a moment if you need to.
Once you have calmed down, you can then address the behavior in a more constructive way.
Another simple reaction to practice during challenging behavior is giving your child choices.
For instance, if they are upset, you could say something like “Do you want to go to your room or stay in the living room?”
This will help them to feel like they have some control over the situation, and can often diffuse the tantrum.
Think deeply about what your triggers are and play out each situation in your head.
Then, rehearse what your reaction will be.
Will you count to ten?
Present choices to your child?
Picture yourself reacting in a calm manner.
Practice the words that you will use in your most triggering situations.
This can help you to stay calm and avoid reacting impulsively when your child’s behavior is challenging.
| 5 |
Make sure that you’re taking care of yourself both physically and emotionally.
One of the most effective ways to banish reactive parenting is to make sure that you feel well, physically and emotionally.
This will help you to be more patient and understanding with your child.
A harsh reality that I had to come to terms with was that I was solely responsible for my reactive parenting.
My kids weren’t the cause of my negative reactions to their behavior.
My husband wasn’t the cause of my negative reactions to my kids’ behavior.
That’s just silly.
When I finally realized that my reactive parenting issue was mine to fix, I started looking at what I could do for some quick wins.
That meant looking at things like my diet, exercise and overall self-care.
I have never been a better parent than when I started taking care of myself, physically and emotionally.
Now, I know that every season of life isn’t going to allow you to get monthly massages or have weekly date nights with your husband.
I get it.
But, small ways you can take care of yourself count too.
Buy the smell-good face scrub.
Sleep in on a Saturday morning.
Do something that makes you feel good.
After learning that I had chronic fatigue (adrenal fatigue) and heavy metal toxicity, I was able to begin healing my body, which made me feel healthier and happier.
In addition, keeping your own emotions in check might mean you work on your own triggers that you may have picked up in your childhood.
I saw real change in my own triggers and reactions as I started to sift through my own upbringing and things I still carried with me.
When we begin to work on ourselves, we can be more present, less reactive and more proactive as parents.
FINAL THOUGHTS ON REACTIVE PARENTING
If you are struggling with reactive parenting, know that you are not alone. There are many resources available to help you, and by using a more proactive approach, you can effectively deal with difficult behaviors.
Whether you’re parenting young children or older kids, you have to take a proactive stance when it comes to how you will react to challenging or disrespectful behavior.
Sometimes it takes getting out of your comfort zone and recognizing what *you* need to do to keep yourself from reacting negatively.
If you need additional support, please don’t hesitate to reach out to a professional. Parenting is not easy, but it is possible to overcome these challenges!