Taking a few moments to consider Preventative Parenting steps and working to include these into your family life, can decrease many common childhood misbehaviors. When we fall into the trap of thinking we need bigger and better consequences, we often fail to miss how easy it is to prevent undesired behavior. The key to Preventative Parenting is being proactive, so that you don’t have to be reactive when kids misbehave. Including these in your family life won’t eliminate all undesired behavior, but these practices can have a large impact on preparing for difficult parenting situations before they arise. There are some situations we simply can’t plan for. But we can use these principles to guide our parenting through the hard moments.
Here are a few of the most common methods of Preventative Parenting, or parenting to prevent misbehavior. Remember, this is about being proactive.
- Relationship & Connection: The biggest thing we can do in our parenting is focus on our relationship with our kids. It is the foundation of all our parenting. When we focus on loving our kids, filling their love tanks, and connecting with them, they are less likely to have major behavior problems. Our kids will still make mistakes, but we can have them deal with the consequences while still being empathetic and loving.
- Be Aware & Recognize Triggers: Maybe you’ve had several grocery store meltdowns or numerous fights over homework. Or you just know there’s a sibling fight brewing. Constantly being aware of what causes undesired behavior or what causes kids to feel like their love tanks are running on empty sets us up to prepare for these moments before they arise. When you know what sets you or your kids off, you can talk about it in calmer times or discuss what consequences will be. Have a discussion in the car before getting to the grocery store and have consequences ready if our kids still make mistakes. Talk about homework before the battle starts and lovingly follow through.
- Teachable moments: We are our child’s first teacher. Not only for academics, but for life. We are their first and most important teacher for social norms, friendship, empathy, and how to love and live. This means we need to find teachable moments throughout our interactions with our kids. Not only showing them letters and numbers at the grocery store, but also finding opportunities to talk about discipline and following rules. We need to teach them the basics and build upon that as they grow. While driving to school, we can talk about why we don’t speed. Not just to avoid a costly ticket, but also because it keeps everyone safer. On the way to the grocery store, we can have a discussion about what we expect. We can let them know how we expect them to behave while things are calm.
- Questions will stimulate their thinking: Helping them focus on what they can do helps keep them positive. Creating a family blueprint or family standard allows everyone to see they are part of a team and a needed part of the family dynamics. Ask them what they think good choices will be.
- Emotional Intelligence: Sometimes when our kids are struggling, it’s because they are overwhelmed with their own feelings. There is often something underlying when we have behavior problems. We can teach them it’s OK to feel our feelings, but we have to manage how we express these feelings. We can teach them to label our feelings and what healthy coping mechanisms are. (Read more on teaching Emotional Intelligence here.)
- Work on Your Child From the Inside Out: Much like working on your relationship, this idea focuses on internal work. Notice your child’s positive character traits and things they do well. Point those out and foster their unique skills. The more we build up our child, the better they feel about themselves, and the better they want to behave. (Here is an article on building self-worth.)
- Choices & Control: Giving away control is both a preventative measure and a way to manage behavior. The more choices we give our kids, the more power they have in their lives. Power struggles typically happen because kids don’t feel like they have any control or power in their lives. This is also a common reason behind bullying. To prevent power struggles, we tell parents to give their kids as many choices as possible. This can be as simple as, “Do you want the red or blue cup?” “Do you want to eat three more bites or four?” “Do you want to come home at 9:30 or 10?” “How do you want to solve this problem?” The options you give are all fine with you but it gives your child the chance to have control over their lives. We all need to have that feeling of control, and when kids don’t have it, they try to fight for it. (Read more on The Power of Choices here.)
- Creating a Family Standard: Creating a family standard needs to include the opinions of everyone and reflect your family values. Certain boundaries can be made together, like agreements on screen time or curfew. Others happen in the moment, like the first time your toddler hits someone, or the first time you hear the words, “I hate you!”
I encourage you to make time for family meetings. When things are calm, you can discuss expectations and consequences if necessary. You can openly discuss your expectations on behavior and following rules. Your kids can even be part of the boundary making process. You can also see where your kids may be lacking in the love tank area and find ways to fill them up.
Maintaining a positive and safe family environment can take work, but it is well worth it. Again, we can’t prevent all undesired behavior. Sometimes kids need to mess up to learn consequences. That’s when we meet them with love and empathy and follow through on the outcomes. We can take some small steps within our family to prevent some grocery store meltdowns or battles over chores. Our relationship with our kids is worth the effort.
By: Emily Scott, PhD
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