Proactive vs. Reactive Parenting: What’s the Difference?

Alright, mama, honesty time. Do you constantly react to your children’s behavior instead of taking a more proactive approach? If so, you’re not alone. Reactive parenting is one of the most common parenting styles out there. But if you’re looking to maintain a harmonious home, consider switching to a more proactive parenting style. Here’s how to do it. 

What Is Reactive Parenting?

Reactive parenting is when you respond to your child’s behavior after it has already happened. For example, if your child hits another child, you might react by yelling at them or sending them to their room. Reactive parenting is often driven by intense emotional reactions such as anger, frustration, and fear.

Does reactive parenting work?

Unfortunately, there are several unintended adverse effects to this parenting style that reinforce unwanted behaviors. For example, if you constantly yell at your child when they misbehave, they may learn that yelling is an effective way to get what they want. 

Additionally, reactive parenting can lead to a feeling of powerlessness for both parents and children. When parents constantly react to their children’s behavior, it can be challenging to feel like you’re in control of the situation.

Why Do Parents Turn to Reactive Parenting?

Reactive parenting is often less work for parents because it doesn’t require much planning or forethought. Sometimes, it feels like the only way to diffuse a situation that is already out of control. Reactive parenting can also be a way to vent your own frustrations or relieve stress at the moment.

However, it’s important to remember that the short-term benefits of reactive parenting are not worth the long-term consequences. If you want to raise happy and well-adjusted children, it’s essential to take a more proactive approach.

What Is Proactive Parenting?

Proactive parenting is when you take steps to prevent problem behavior before it happens by encouraging good behavior. For example, if you know your child is likely to hit another child when they’re upset, you might take steps to prevent that from happening. 

Proactive parenting might include teaching them how to use words instead of violence and providing positive, healthy examples of how to handle powerful emotions. Research suggests this parenting style leads to more positive outcomes for children. 

Benefits of proactive parenting

There are many benefits of proactive parenting, including improved communication, a stronger parent-child bond, and less stress for both parents and children. Proactive parenting also teaches children how to effectively deal with their emotions, which is an important life skill.

Proactive parenting is often more work for parents because it requires planning and forethought. However, it’s much more effective in the long run than reactive parenting because you can prevent problem behaviors before they start when you take a proactive approach.

How to switch to a proactive parenting style

It can be difficult to switch to a more proactive approach if you’re used to reactive parenting. However, you can do a few things to make the transition easier.

  • Start by taking a step back and observing your child’s behavior. Try to identify patterns and triggers for problem behaviors.
  • Once you’ve identified the triggers and patterns, start brainstorming proactive solutions. For example, if you know your child is likely to hit another child when they’re upset, you might take steps to prevent that from happening. This might include teaching them how to use words instead of violence and providing positive, healthy examples of how to handle powerful emotions.
  • Remember that it takes time to change your parenting style. Be patient with yourself and your child as you make the transition.

10 Tips For Establishing a Proactive Parenting Style

Control your own emotions first.

As a parent, it’s essential to be in control of your emotions. For example, if you’re angry or frustrated, take a few minutes to calm down before responding to your child.

Here’s a game-changing piece of parenting advice — don’t take your child’s behavior personally. Toddlers and adolescents are naturally wired to be emotional, as the parts of the brain in control of emotions have not yet fully developed. So it’s your job as the parent to model how to deal with big emotions in a healthy way.

When you blame your children for making you angry or causing you to yell, you’re essentially handing over control to your child. Keeping a handle on your own emotions keeps you in power while also demonstrating healthy coping skills.

Set precise boundaries and expectations.

To be a successful proactive parent, you need to set clear boundaries and expectations for your children. If you’re not sure where to start, sit down and list what you expect from your child daily.

When it comes to communicating your expectations, it may be helpful to write down things like rules and chores and post them somewhere they’ll be frequently seen (like the refrigerator).

Have a planned conversation about your rules. If your children are school-aged, you’ll likely get a response like this: “but why do I have to do the dishes? Why do I have to do homework? I spent the whole day doing work at school. Can’t I just come home and do what I want?”

Again, children are wired to push boundaries, and asking questions like these is a normal (and, admittedly, slightly irritating) part of their development. Calmly explain your rationale, but don’t feel pressured to budge on high expectations.

It’s natural for children to need reminders of what’s expected of them, so be patient as your kids learn to meet your new bar for conduct.

Be Fair and Consistent With Consequences

If a boundary is crossed, you must follow through with the fair consequences you’ve set. This may include taking away screen time or sending your child to their room for a timeout. Becoming overly emotional and implementing a harsh consequence out of the blue will only serve to confuse your child.

On the flip side, it can be tempting to give in when your child is begging and pleading, but doing so will only teach them that they can get away with breaking the rules if they try hard enough.

It’s also important to be consistent with your consequences. For example, if you tell your child they’ll lose their privilege of watching TV for the day and then give in after five minutes, you’re sending a mixed message.

Be firm and consistent to effectively teach your children that there are real consequences for breaking the rules.

Final Thoughts

Parenting is hard, but remember that you’re not alone. Reactive parenting is a common style, but it doesn’t have to be the way you parent forever.

If you’re interested in switching to proactive parenting, use these tips as a starting point. And don’t forget to be patient with yourself — it takes time to develop any new skill, and parenting is no different.

What are some of your favorite tips for proactive parenting? Let us know in the comments!


My name is Jenna and I am the founder of Single Mom Spot. I've been a single mom for almost 10 years now. I'm a Christian and mama to two kids that I love like crazy. I started this site because I know how difficult single motherhood can be...and also, how beautiful. I believe that single motherhood helped make me into the best version of myself as a woman and mom. My hope, is that through a connection point like Single Mom Spot, women can share their experiences and grow together. What an amazing thing if every single mom could live her best life as a woman and mother right now, in the middle of her most challenging life circumstance. How bold. How beautiful. How unforgettable. Thank you for reading and supporting Single Mom Spot.