Why it's better to be proactive than reactive as a parent

By Janis Meredith | Posted 5/24/2017

Every team needs offense and defense to win. The same is true with parenting. Unfortunately, many parents get trapped in defensive parenting and rarely operate on offense. Parenting wins happen when you can focus more on offense, rather than on defense. 

Parenting on Defense 

At some point, every parent finds themselves on defense, no matter how much you they to avoid it. When you do, it’s important that you push through until your job on defense is done. But parenting on the defense as a lifestyle is exhausting, and often feels futile, kinda like swimming upstream. 

Every football coach wants to get back to offense as quickly as they can, no coach wants his defense on the field for most of the game. 

If you constantly find yourself in the defense mode of parenting, it may look like this: 

• You don’t know about potential problems until they actually become problems. For instance, you have no idea who your child’s friends are until he/she gets into trouble with them. Or you don’t know that your child is struggling in school until he/she comes home with a note from the teacher. 

• As a parent on defense, you are usually reacting to situations, instead of jumping out in front of them and heading them off. For instance, your child starts to befriend a teammate who likes to bully other players on the team and instead of talking to him about handling bullies, you wait until he/she get in the middle of a bullying scandal. 

• Parents on defense are so busy cleaning up messes and solving problems, that they have little time or energy to focus on positive and fun experiences with their child. 

Parenting on Offense 

Although coaches want to be on offense because it gives them a chance to score, the fact is that offense is just as tiring as defense. The difference lies in that when you are on offense as a parent, you are not always reacting to problems and situations that your child throws at you, but you are doing things to ward off those situations and problems from ever happening. 

If you are on offense as a parent: 

• You take time to really know your kids, listening to them and seeking to understand what they face each day. That may mean that you make your house a place where kids love to come hang out or it may mean that you volunteer to drive your child’s team to games. I loved driving my kids’ teammates to sports events. The car is a great place to hear all kinds of interesting things! 

• You plan vacations, outings, or just hanging out time with your kids, with no agenda other than the fact that you just want to enjoy them. The more time you spend with them, the better you will see potential problems. 

• You get involved in their world: volunteer to help with a sports team or help in the classroom. Look for opportunities to see into their world--their classmates, teachers, coaches, other parents--and stay tuned in to the challenges that could be headed their way. 

• You have hard conversations with your kids when they are old enough to understand, but before you think they are really needed. You talk about the dangers of drugs and drinking and driving. You talk about sex, sexual abuse, and sexual harassment, so they are ready if faced with tough situations. 

• You look for teachable moments when your child is receptive to really hearing what you have to say. And when those moments show up, you stop what you are doing and speak truth into their lives. Those moments are golden. Don’t let them pass untapped. 

To focus on offense rather than defense as a parent may be a major mindshift for you. But every major change starts with little steps. Choose one of the areas I mentioned above and starting making new habits today. 

Check out USA Football's parents course for more parenting tips.

Janis B. Meredith is a sportsparenting blogger, podcaster, and life coach. She provides resources to help parents give their children a positive and growing youth sports experience. Her book 11 Habits for Happy & Positive Sports Parents is available on Amazon.