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Preventing risky behavior or problems before they arise

Seems easy enough. You "childproof" your house to make sure your crawling baby or toddler can't get into the cleaning products or electrical outlets. You catch your eight-year-old jumping on the bed and make her stop. You make your 12-year old wear his helmet when he rides his bike, no matter how "dumb" he thinks it makes him look.


But prevention goes beyond just saying "no" or "stop." There are two parts to prevention: 1) Spotting possible problems; and 2) Knowing how to work through the problem. Let's look at each one a little closer.

Spotting possible problems

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Consider these methods for spotting problems before they turn into full-blown crises:

  • Be actively involved in your child's life.
    This is important for all parents, no matter what the living arrangements. Knowing how your child usually thinks, feels, and acts will help you to notice when things begin to change. Some changes are part of your child's growing up, but others could be signs of trouble.
  • Set realistic limits and enforce them consistently.
    Be selective with your limits, by putting boundaries on the most important behaviors your child is engaged in. Make sure you and your child can “see” a limit clearly. If your child goes beyond the limit, deal with him or her in similar ways for similar situations. If you decide to punish your child, use the most effective methods, like restriction or time-outs. You could also make your child correct or make up for the outcome of his or her actions; make sure the harshness of the punishment fits your child's "crime." As your child learns how limits work and what happens when he or she goes past those limits, he or she will trust you to be fair.
  • Create healthy ways for your child to express emotions.
    Much "acting out" stems from children not knowing how to handle their emotions. Feelings can be so intense that usual methods of expressing them don't work. Or, because feelings like anger or sadness are viewed as "bad," your child may not want to express them openly. Encourage your child to express emotions in a healthy and positive way; let your child see you doing things to deal with your own emotions. Once these feelings are less powerful, talk to your child about how he or she feels and why. Make sure your child knows that all emotions are part of the person that he or she is, not just the "good" or happy ones. Once your child knows his or her range of emotions, he or she can start to learn how to handle them.

Knowing how to work through the problem

Because problems are quite different, how you solve them also differs. To solve tough problems, you may need more complex methods. Keep these things in mind when trying to solve a problem:

  • Know that you are not alone.
    Talk to other parents or a trusted friend or relative. Some of them might be dealing with or have dealt with similar things. They may have ideas on how to solve a problem in a way you haven't thought of. Or, they might share your feelings, which can also be a comfort.
  • Admit when a problem is bigger than you can handle alone or requires special expertise.
    No one expects you to solve every problem your family has by yourself. Some problems are just too big to handle alone, not because you're a "bad" parent, but simply because of the nature of the problem. Be realistic about what you can and can't do on your own.
  • Get outside help, if needed.
    There will be times when you just won't know how to help your child; other times, you truly won't be able to help your child. That's okay; someone else may know how to help. Use all the resources you have to solve a problem, including getting outside help when you need it. Remember that it's not important how a problem is solved, just that it is.
Where can I go for parenting help?

  • Other Parents
  • Family Members and Relatives
  • Friends
  • Pediatricians
  • School Nurses and Counselors

  • Social Workers and Agencies
  • Psychologists and Psychiatrists
  • Pastors, Priests, Rabbis and Ministers
  • Community Groups
  • Support and Self-Help Groups

If you'd like, turn to the section that matches your child's age to read more about how some parents have included preventing in their daily parenting routine. Or you can read on to learn about the M3 in RPM3.

The M3 in RPM3 describes three complex, but central principles of parenting: monitoring, mentoring, and modeling. Many people are confused by these words because they seem similar, but they are really very different. It might be easier to understand these ideas if you think of them this way:

  • Being a monitor
    means that you pay careful attention to your child and his or her surroundings, especially his or her groups of friends and peers and in getting used to school.
  • Being a mentor
    means that you actively help your child learn more about him or herself, how the world works, and his or her role in that world. As a mentor, you will also support your child as he or she learns.
  • Being a model
    means that you use your own words and actions as examples that show your beliefs, values, and attitudes in action for your child on a daily basis.

Now let's look at each one more closely. Monitoring your child seems straightforward, so let's start there.

Additional Resources

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