Upleveling from Reactive to Proactive Parenting

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What adjectives would you use to describe your parenting style and strategy? Do you ever feel overwhelmed, frustrated or uncertain about how to handle situations that come up with your kids? Today, I am joined by Parenting Specialist Rachel Bailey who is known by her clients for working magic! For Rachel, the 'magic' comes down to understanding how children are physiologically and psychologically wired, and using that knowledge to our advantage. She is sharing with us all about how to nurture proactivity, harmony, and mutual feelings of respect and success for ourselves and our kids. Come on, mama, let's uplevel our mommin' skills!

In today's episode, we discuss:

  • 'Band-Aid parenting' versus 'long-game parenting'

  • Our children's brains, how to work with rather than against their wiring, and the major 'tools' that are not innate to our children and need to be learned

  • The effectiveness of becoming curious and seeing situations from our children's perspectives

  • Our children's 'control banks,' and why & how to give our kids 'options within boundaries'

  • Shifting from external motivators (like rewards and consequences) to internal motivation

  • Nurturing a feeling of success in motherhood

Band-Aid Versus Long-Game Parenting

  • DOESN'T WORK (Band-Aid Parenting Quality #1):

Trying to change a behavior via 'quick fixes' (like rewards, punishments, yelling and nagging) without considering the cause of the behavior

  • WORKS (Long-Game Parenting Quality #1):

Becoming curious about and addressing the deeper reason for the behavior in order to create a more substantial, more lasting, 'sticky' solution

  • DOESN'T WORK (Band-Aid Parenting Quality #2):

Reacting to undesired behavior

  • WORKS (Long-Game Parenting Quality #2):

Proactively giving our kids what they need in order to behave

  • DOESN'T WORK (Band-Aid Parenting Quality #3):

Responding to our kids from our own frustration, big emotions, and 'yuck,' which causes things to regress further downhill

  • WORKS (Long-Game Parenting Quality #3):

Calmly engaging with and training our kids

In a nutshell, long-game parenting takes the approach of understanding why kids are doing what they are doing, and proactively giving them what they need in order to listen and do what they are supposed to do... all in order to create more harmony in the home.

They're Just Not Wired That Way

Working With Rather Than Against Our Children's Brains

Kids actually are not wired to behave, listen to us, or do things they don't feel like doing. Their brains are wired for stimulation, novelty and engagement, which is why they are so prone to distraction. The part of the brain that allows us to be mature, responsible, and to do the things we don't want to do, does not fully develop until our mid-twenties. This means that our children actually are missing certain 'tools' they need in order to be able to do what we ask (related to their wiillingness and follow-through, distinct from their physical ability to complete the task). When we as parents realize this and equip them with the missing tools, all of a sudden we start to witness significant shifts. To clarify, this does not mean we should be permissive or over-accommodating: when we give them the tools to do what they are supposed to do, we can be firm and strict because we can reasonably expect their obedience.

An Example:

Let's say we asked our kids to clean up after themselves (which, Rachel emphasizes, absolutely is something that we should be doing as parents). We postulate that since they are physically able to complete this task, we may reasonably expect them to do so. The 'tool' they're missing: the ability to stay focused on monotonous tasks. Remember, their brains are wired for stimulation, novelty and engagement.

What happens for children, and even for teens, is that they start to clean up, and then...

  • A young child may see something more stimulating, like a toy, and get distracted;

  • A teenager may get distracted by thoughts (e.g., "Who am I going to sit with at lunch today? What are my friends talking about? What am I missing out on?").

Experiencing Our Kids' World as They Exerpeince It

Becoming Curious and Seeing Situations From Our Children's Perspectives

There is a simple tool Rachel recommends we add to our parenting toolkits: namely, curiosity! For example, ask yourself with curiosity, "Why do I have trouble [getting my child's clothes on]?" Your task is to think objectively about what is going on for your child that they don't want to put on their clothes, and to step into their shoes and consider what the situation feels like from their perspective/ what is making it difficult for them. Maybe they don't like the feeling of the clothes on their body, or they would rather be doing something else. If either of those are the case, we need to learn how to engage them differently or better. Alternatively, maybe they are having trouble transitioning (i.e., maybe they were in the middle of doing something and they don't want to stop). If that's the case, it's likely that they are feeling like they don't have control in that moment, and we can give them a measure of control within the boundary we are setting (more on this in the next section). Rachel encourages that by becoming curious, we can often find the reason for the behavior, and then the solution follows pretty quickly behind.

The 'Control Bank'

Why and How to Give Our Children 'Options Within Boudnaries'

As parents, we naturally need to be in control often, and our children subsequently, naturally have very little control. Every time we tell our children what to do, we make a 'withdrawal' from our kids' control banks.

'Overdrafting' Our Children's Control Bank

When we make too many withdrawals and not enough deposits into this bank, our children's brains actually sense this as a threat. And so, they try to get control over the things within their power, which fall into three categories:

  1. Dressing (whether to yield to putting on or removing clothes)

  2. Elimination (potty training)

  3. Food (whether to eat, and how much to eat)

When we proactively make deposits into their control bank (i.e., if we have given them enough control outisde of the moment of mandated obedience), they do not resist as much. Additionally, children need to be trained how to handle the discomfort of being out of control. These two tools together - (1) proactively giving them deposits, and (2) teaching them how to handle the feeling of being told what to do - usually take care of control issues.

It Can Be As Simple as Giving Them Options

For a young child, giving them two shirt options when it's time to get dressed, for example, can be helpful. Beyond that, when it comes to effectively, consistently balancing firmness with giving our children what they need in order to respond well, Rachel recommends giving kids control outside of the moment. This way, going back to our getting dressed example, their control tank won't already be running on empty when you tell them it's time to get dressed, and they won't feel the involuntary push to resist.

Making the Shift from External to Internal Motivation

One of the skills or tools that our children are missing is the ability to regulate themselves. This is something that we need to teach them, understanding that defiance and disrespect are coping mechanisms for when they feel out of control. External motivators are a 'Band-Aid' for the absence of a learned skill... it's essentially the difference between us giving our child a fish, and teaching them how to fish for themselves.

Nurturing a Feeling of Success in Motherhood

Rachel shares that when we as moms say to ourselves, "I should know how to handle this or how to do this better," we actually counterproductively, unintentionally block off our ability to do so. When we tell ourselves the narrative, "I should know this," our brains interpret that as, "This situation is unknown and unfamiliar," the brain registers danger, and we enter into fight or flight mode - which actually shuts down the part of the brain where solutions live. So even if we have the solution that is right for our child, or we are 100% capable of figuring out what is going on, we can actually block and prevent ourselves from being able to know what we're supposed to do. We need to be able to work through the uncertainty or tension from a brain-space of "I am safe," so that we can look at the situation and say, "Ah, this is what my child needs. No big deal. I can handle this." The same thing happens when we have an unrealistic expectation: our brain interprets that as a threat, and it blocks our ability to actually give our kids what they need.

Common Limiting Belief About Our Kids:

The assumptions we make about our children's behavior (i.e., about them being lazy or bad)

Transformed Belief:

Recognizing that kids do the best that they can, and if they are misbehaving, there is a reason. If you can see that there is a reason for any one of your kids' behaviors or moods, that can be really transformational, and that is when you are going to find longterm results.

Common Limiting Belief About Ourselves:

The belief or expectation that we should be able to 'do it all.'

Tranformed Belief:

We can't do it all well, we shouldn't have to, and we shouldn't expect ourselves to. Also, setting priorities and boundaries won't necessarily feel good or comfortable at first, and that's okay.

Go to another episode about parenting and motherhood.

About Rachel

Rachel Bailey is a Parenting Specialist who has been serving families for over a decade. Besides being a mother of two, she also has a Master's Degree in Clinical Psychology, a certification in Positive Discipline, and has provided services as an ADHD Coach, in-home mentor, and therapist. Currently Rachel teaches parents practical, long-term tools for raising responsible, resilient, confident children... while reducing the stress and guilt in parents’ lives.

Here's where you can connect with Rachel:

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