Life has a way of exposing individuals and families to a range of positive and negative experiences on a daily basis. Part of creating a healthier family involves parents being more proactive rather than reactive to these life events. Being proactive entails conscious thought and action whereas reactivity entails impulsive words and actions. These response styles are the result of interactional and coping strategies learned in our families of origin.
Reactive parenting creates tension and disconnection within individuals and families. Parents may act in a reactive manner consciously or unconsciously to try to maintain a sense of control. This style was most likely unintentionally carried over into their adulthood and parenting approach. Reactivity is demonstrated by caregivers who respond to situations in the extreme, who place blame or complain too much, who express out-of-control anger with verbal and/or physical aggression, who give mixed messages, who are inconsistent in their quality of structure and nurture and/or who assert control through fear and intimidation.
Children who are exposed to reactive parenting risk many negative outcomes such as less likely to feel good about themselves as individuals, to have less self-control and to have a harder time getting along with others. These outcomes continue to impact school performance, physical and emotional health as well as future employability and family dynamics with potential for domestic violence or divorce. If a child’s needs for connection and security are not met in the home, children will look elsewhere with risk of D&A use, sexual promiscuity or delinquency.
Proactive and preventative parenting results in creating a sense of security and stability in the home. Parents build this environment by planning ahead, by considering what could go right or wrong, by having realistic expectations, by teaching problem-solving and by keeping things in perspective. Proactive parents are able to own their mistakes, to apologize if needed and to make changes for the future. There will also be more consistency and age-appropriate structure and nurture in the home.
As a result of proactive parenting, children will most likely feel better about themselves as individuals, develop more self-control and relate more effectively with others. The development of constructive problem solving and respect of others will have a positive impact on children’s school performance and future prospects related to work and family.
Because there is no one right way to live and be a family, we need to remember that we are all in the same boat of learning how to create healthier families. It is never too late to reevaluate one’s parenting style to be parent you always wanted to have. I challenge you to be more proactive and preventative in how you raise your children. You will not regret this extra work to impact your child’s development and your family. Your community and country will also benefit.