Proactive and Directive Parenting

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Proactive and Directive Parenting. How to direct your child to do right behavior before he or she chooses to do something they shouldn’t.

father and daughter hugging

In On Becoming Babywise II, we learn that parenting should be proactive and directive rather than reactive and restrictive (page 57). What this means is that you should direct your child in what is right to do before she does something she shouldn’t. When you wait until after she has done something she shouldn’t, then you have to restrict that behavior.

What is Proactive and Directive Parenting?

This doesn’t mean that for your 7 month old you sit down and give a lecture on what she can and cannot do. That would probably lead to you trying to delve into the moral reasoning behind a situation, which your 7 month old definitely is not ready to understand.

This means that you try to think of things she could do that she shouldn’t and train her to do something else that will prevent the behavior from happening. An example in the book is where to put hands during mealtime.

The proactive approach is to have a specific place for your child to put her hands.

The reactive approach is to let her put her hands wherever she wants to. When she then tries to put her hands in her food, the directive parent tells her that is a no and reminds her where her hands do belong. The reactive parent spends her time just trying to keep the hands out of the food without having somewhere for the hands to go. If she remembers the idea of putting hands on the tray, the child might be resistant to this new confinement after being able to put her hands wherever she wants to.

Child Response to Direction

Children respond much more successfully when you tell them what they can do rather than just what they can’t do. Just telling the child, “No hands in your food” leaves the world too wide open for them.

Even Brayden now, at 3.5 years old, responds much better to, “You can’t do X, but you can do Y or Z.” Children do not have the experiences that we do as adults to tell them, “If X is bad, then I shouldn’t do W either, but Y or Z should be acceptable.” They need to know what to do with themselves.

Proactive and Directive Parenting. How to direct your child to do right behavior before he or she chooses to do something they shouldn't.

Surprises from Kids

There are going to be times, despite your best efforts, that your child does something you never even considered a possibility. In that case, you will be taken by surprise and have to react to the situation.

If you have been directive where you can, then this shouldn’t be a huge problem. You might even be able to pull from other directives you have given and apply them to this surprise.

Even if the child isn’t your first child, subsequent children can take you by surprise. Each child has her own personality. But you do get better at spotting potential problems the longer you have been a parent.


I know it can seem crazy to direct a 7 month old in such a manner. She seems so young. But she isn’t too young to be trained and directed to behave in the right way. The more training you do early on, the less training you will have to do in those toddler years. Trust me that a 7 month old is much more compliant than a 17 month old.

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Valerie, also known as The Babywise Mom, is the mother to four children. She has been blogging on Babywise and general parenting since 2007. She has a degree in technical writing and loves using those skills to help parents be the best parents they can be! Read her book, The Babywise Mom Nap Guide, to get help on sleep from birth through the preschool years. You can also find her writing at, Today Parenting, and Her View From Home. Read more about Valerie and her family on the About page. Follow her on FacebookPinterest, and Instagram for more tips and helps.

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  1. The Traveling Turtle
    February 17, 2009 / 12:26 PM

    along the lines of eating and hand placement at meals….. what about finger foods? When they are learning to eat with their fingers like they are supposed to. Then they have all the fruit/vegetable juices all over their hands and touch their heads. My daughter leaves her hands down while we feed her from a spoon since that was directed by us at the start of spoon feeding, but now that she eats finger foods – there are times that she gets the food all in her hair. I don’t think she does it on purpose or is playing – sometimes it is just b/c her ears bother her when she is teething and she pushes on her head behind her ears. do you have advice on that? Also – at one, we are supposed to be weaning her off the bottle and going down to 16-20 ounces of milk a day. Does she just get 3 bottles at this time and then juice or water at other times when she is thirsty? I have always been confused about that. She currently takes about 32 ounces of formula a day in addition to a lot of food. is 16-20 ounces too drastic of a cut to make? I am going to try and make it there gradually. Oh – and I love the new layout. Very nice.

  2. Plowmanators
    February 20, 2009 / 2:34 PM

    Thanks! That is a good question.First, you have to realize that when they are learning to feed themeslves, they are going to get messy. This is a situation where you need to weight context carefully. If she is one who pulls on her ears when she is teething and in pain, you can’t really fairly expect her to keep her hands down at all times. So bear that in mind.You can, however, instruct her to not touch her hair and ears while she is eating. If she does so when teethng and in pain, just gently remnind her of the rules. So I would have the rule and instruction, but be patient with it since it would be something she does to try to comfort herself. You could either do three bottles or break them up into four. Then I would do water at other times if she needs a drink. If you want to do juice, save it for a snack or mealtime. You don’t want her sipping juice all day long.

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