We’re all familiar with the concept of proactive versus reactive responses. A proactive approach anticipates and seeks to avoid potential problems or obstacles. A reactive approach waits for problems to arise and then deals with them as they occur. As it turns out, both can be beneficial, but while we can gain knowledge from mistakes and difficult processes, we can also reduce stress by avoiding them in the first place.
As we prepare for the start of a new school year, it’s important for parents to step in to help their kids with these concepts. Children are at a substantial disadvantage, as they have an undeveloped frontal lobe that hinders their ability to see long-term, to think about the consequences of their actions, or to plan ahead. That’s why we as parents often shake our heads and ask, “What were they thinking?” The answer? They weren’t. They haven’t learned to be proactive, to set goals for themselves, to consider that what they are doing now matters to their future.
Enter mom and dad. As adults, and as parents, you have a lifetime of experience and you’ve oftentimes wished you would have thought things through before making a big decision or taking an action you later regretted. You want your kids to benefit from your experience, especially since being proactive crosses many domains, including schoolwork, goal setting, and preparedness for activities, sports, and other extra-curriculars. It’s important that kids get it now, or they may face much unnecessary hardship down the road.
So how can you help your kids prepare for their futures? Think about this:
- Kids need to have goals. What’s the point? What are they working toward? Why are they participating? Do grades matter? Unbelievably, we fail to talk to kids about these big questions. We put them in activities, send them off to school, and encourage them to join clubs, but we never tell them how they’re going to benefit themselves or others through their participation. Kids need concrete examples to show how today’s behaviors affect their future. If they don’t, they will go into everything with a short-sighted attitude and therefore, a lack of internal motivation. They will question working hard on something, and making sacrifices for it, if they don’t see the value.
- Kids need to know that every action has a consequence. Science teaches us that for every action, there is a reaction. Every decision or indecision, both good and bad, leads to an outcome. Kids struggle with understanding this concept, even as they age and go on to college. Witness some of the behavior of young twenty-somethings and there’s no doubt that they still haven’t grasped the concept of consequences. But the sooner you talk to your kids about this, the better chance you have of getting through. Discuss how a decision about homework, or quitting a team, or running for office will have long-term implications. Have your kids walk through various scenarios and really think through each decision they make. This step is crucial. Kids need to be a part of the analysis – if you merely tell them what will happen, without helping them to see it for themselves, they are likely to ignore you.
- Kids need to realize that staying ahead of the game is easier than playing catch-up. Every person alive has let a job or responsibility slip and then scrambled at the last minute to try to minimize the damage. And every person alive has dealt with the repercussions of procrastination. Teaching your kids to work ahead and to plan their schedules will positively impact every area of their lives. Teach them the mantra “If you control your schedule, it won’t control you.”
- Kids need to experience how good it feels to be proactive. Once kids begin to plan, work toward goals, and think through decisions, they will see a noticeable change in their lives. They will experience less stress and their confidence will grow as they gain control of their responsibilities. Research shows that kids crave structure, rules, and boundaries. Recording homework in a school agenda, breaking large assignments down and working on them each night, and keeping a personal calendar of upcoming events are all ways kids create structure in their lives. Positive results breed internal motivation, so the more proactive kids are, the more motivated they become to take control of and responsibility for their decisions.