“But, what do you do when they are screaming, and it's time to walk out the door?” a father asked me at a recent conference. “My strong willed three year old son is very difficult at those times.”
I looked at this wonderfully dedicated father, and felt his frustration. Who hasn't felt the anxiety build when a child has a tantrum right when you are leaving for church or leaving for work? Let's face it, there really are no convenient times for a child to have a temper tantrum. But, when a family is leaving it is one of the most inconvenient times to deal with a tantrum. The family is soon going to be with other people and they need to be ready to properly socialize. Starting a car trip with attitude problems and frustration can create other negative interactions with the people you are about to see.
When a family is trying to get everyone organized and out the door to an event there is often a higher level of stress in the home. When you feel rushed, you feel stressed. When a parents feel stressed and the children feel stressed, the possibility of having a melt down or a power struggle goes way way up.
I paused for a moment as I felt his concern. I desperately wanted to give him a “quick fix” trick that he could go home and use to make all his parenting problems go away. But, that would not be fair. This father wanted his children to really be okay and be calm, not just be fooled into good behavior a time or two.
“Well, my guess is that your three year old son doesn't know how to follow instructions, accept no answers, or disagree appropriately. If you took a little bit of time to teach him some respectful communication skills first, then when the morning rush happens you will have some learned vocabulary you can use to get the family focused, efficient, and self-governing.” I said.
“When you are in one of those crazy moments, and you're trying to invent a way to induce obedience you are doing reactive parenting. By contrast, when you teach the right skills ahead of time and remind the child what to do by using the familiar vocabulary and the already established skills, then you are doing proactive parenting.” I explained.
Some sort of light bulb went off in this father's head, because he smiled and said, “We are doing reactive parenting. It makes complete sense that we shouldn't expect behaviors we haven't really taught yet.”
A Loaded Front End
If you have ever made a business, or been part of putting on a community or church event, then you know there is always a tremendous amount of work that is done at the beginning. This work is often not even noticed by those using the business or attending the event. This large amount of work at the beginning is called the loaded front end.
A loaded front end is expected for beginning a business. By doing all this work at the beginning the owners of the business know that the work load will be less and more manageable later. The manageable time is the the back end. It is the time when things are running smoothly and efficiently. If a loaded front end is expected in business, why then do so many parents expect to have a do-nothing front end and get an easy back end with parenting?
The easy answer is that most parents don't look at themselves as business owners in the family business. People don't often see relationships as something you have to make an investment in. We take people for granted, and expect conflicts or struggles to almost work themselves out. In short, we detach from our responsibility to the relationships we have.
If there are problems in relationships, or you are finding behaviors surface which show lack of focus or self-control, then you can be sure that your family needs to do a lot of front end work. After taking some weeks or months to teach self-government skills, like accepting no answers and disagreeing appropriately, then the family will only need to be reminded in the moment when the skills are needed.
The End Result
Since our family has done a lot of front end work, we don't usually get stressed when it's time to go somewhere, and we are running late. Instead I give instructions and they are followed. Then we all file into the car calmly. We don't even argue about who gets to sit where anymore because we added how we would handle seating in the car to our front end work as well.
Our family is calm since we did a lot of work before there was a problem. The proactive planning we did gives us all confidence, useful vocabulary, life skills, and less anxiety in our days. Don't just react to what's happening anymore. If you do, your chances of power struggling significantly increase. Choose to do some front end work and learn self-government skills as a family before the next behavior problem occurs.