I’ve noticed some patterns in my journey of motherhood. We have these amazingly beautiful weeks, romping through the fields with smiles on our faces, holding hands, while the violin music plays and flowers float on the wind. And then we have embarrassing-to-tell-you-about weeks. The slamming doors, throwing spaghetti on the floor, Mom’s crying by three o’clock kind of weeks. There are beautiful times of laughter and growth and grace. And not-so beautiful times of tantrums and frustration and tears. I used to recognize these challenging seasons as child development, a rough patch I would just have to survive. But as I’ve progressed in motherhood, and my understanding of Charlotte Mason during the early years, I’m learning that these rough seasons probably have more to do with me than my children. When I let my guard down and switch from proactive parenting to reactive parenting, the peace in our home flies out the window.
This post was updated October 2019.
Out of exhaustion or defeat, I stop being adamant about positive habits. I give directions, and don’t see that they’re followed through. I don’t set clear expectations, then explode because my children didn’t read my mind.
The first several of Charlotte Mason’s third volume, School Education, gives recommendations for establishing a Godly, peaceful authority in our homes (and schools, of course!) But there is an idea that stood out to me as the solution to the problems we sometimes have:
“Another hint as to the fit use of authority may be gleaned from the methods employed in a well-governed state. The importance of prevention is not fully recognized: police, army, navy, are largely preventative forces; and the home authority, too, does well to place its forces on the Alert Service.” School Education, page 23
Related: Understanding Authority
Proactive Parenting, Not Reactive Parenting
This prevention she talks about can also be called proactive parenting. Proactive parents wisely look ahead to possible problems, and navigate around them. They change the way that they state things, give expectations before leaving a child a task, and foresee battles that might occur.
Reactive parents, like I am depending on dumb things like sleep, don’t think ahead. They simply react to negative behaviors. This makes for stressful days!
What this Looks Like
Charlotte Mason went on to give specific examples of this. They mostly involve scheduling, but that is often a huge object of dissention in our house!
“It is well to prepare for trying efforts: ‘We shall have time to finish this chapter before the clock strikes seven;’ or, ‘We shall be able to get in one more round before bedtime.’ Nobody knows better than the wise mother the importance of giving a child time to collect himself for a decisive moment. This time should be spent in finishing some delightful occupation; every minute of idleness at these critical junctures goes to the setting up of the vis inertia, most difficult to overcome because the child’s willpower is in abeyance. “ School Education, page 22
“A little forethought is necessary to arrange that occupations do come to an end at the right moment; that bedtime does not arrive in the middle of a chapter, or at the most exciting moment of a game. In such an event authority, which looks before and after, might see it’s way to allow five minutes’ grace, but would not see itself empowered to allow a child to dawdle about indefinitely before saying good-night.” School Education, pages 22-23
Related: A Year of Positive Habits for Mom
What Else Does Proactive Parenting Look Like?
“Nature then, strong as she is, is not invincible; and, at her best, Nature is not to be permitted to ride rampant. Bit and bridle, hand and voice, will get the utmost of endeavour out of her if her training be taken in hand in time; but let Nature run wild, like the forest ponies, and not spur nor whip will break her in.” Home Education, page 104
I’ve written a lot about helping our children develop positive habits, but this is probably the best way to be a proactive parent! Here are some habit-training resources:
- The Stages of Habit Formation
- Your Secret Weapon To Habit Training: Routines
- Habits for the Early Years: A Mother’s Journal
Being the Guardian
“Let the mother renew this charge with earnestness on the eve, say, of each birthday, giving the child to feel that by obedience in this matter he may glorify God with his body; let her keep watch against every approach of evil; and let her pray daily that each one of her children may be kept in purity for that day. To ignore the possibilities of evil in this kind is to expose the child to frightful risks. At the same time, be it remembered that words which were meant to hinder may themselves be the cause of evil, and that a life full of healthy interests and activities is amongst the surest preventives of secret vice.” Home Education, page 128
Really Knowing Our Children
If we take the time to really get to know and understand who our children are as persons, then it will be easier to foresee problems coming down the pipe. When I’m being proactive, I think of how my daughter will react before I open my mouth. This allows me to phrase things differently and reduce push back.
This comes in handy with E, too. E is drawn to electrical outlets. I know. It’s scary. But knowing this, I can plan ahead. I bring outlet covers to Grandma’s and choose a seat for him at the restaurant that’s far away from that tempting voltage in the wall.
Emotion coaching is a rather modern idea, and while it can waver on the side of new-agy, child-centered parenting, I can definitely see some value in it for Charlotte Mason families. Emotion coaching is talking your children through the emotions that they feel, or that they might feel. Instead of saying, “Stop doing that!” we can say, “I see that you’re feeling frustrated. What can I do to help?” This often nips tantrums in the bud, and if used long-term, can help our children work through their emotions. But beyond emotion coaching, there’s just plain old coaching. Charlotte Mason said that children can act out certain scenarios so that they can practice good manners, and this is perfect for the early years. When you’re about to enter a scenario and you question how your child will react to it, act it out with them, and coach them through certain situations. You might act out going to the store, flying on an airplane, or visiting a relative in the hospital.
Well, this is thing number 2,381 that I need to improve on as a parent 🙂 I think I personify the proverbial “two steps forward, one step back” idea. But at least I’m moving forward! I would love to hear how you use proactive parenting in your home! Leave a comment below.