While parenting with a long-term view (“long-term parenting”) can completely transform a situation and a relationship, I’ve struggled for years (literally) with how to write about it.
I think it might sound a bit boring, and imply that one might not get immediate answers with its practice. Am I right?
I imagine readers asking,
- How will long-term parenting help me stop my child from rolling her eyes at me now?
- How will a long-term view help us get out the door on time today?
- Why read about the long term when I’m exhausted, I just want to go to sleep, and my child keeps pulling at my leg and begging for just one more story?
These questions don’t seem unreasonable, because I’ve asked them myself. Turns out, I struggle with delayed gratification just as much as children do. (Read more about delayed gratification and the “marshmallow test” with children here.)
There are times when I’m so frustrated with my children that I’m not sure I can survive the next minute, let alone the “long term.” So I yell. Or give in when I know I shouldn’t. Or I threaten with consequences. It all feels pretty good in the short term. But long-term? Not so much.
A handout I came across from the Positive Discipline Association (2009) compares short-term thinking against long-term thinking in parenting, and I’ve re-created it here with some additions of my own.
Questions for short-term results:
- How do I get my child to just do what I say?
- How do I make a child understand “no?”
- How do I make a child mind me?
- What will make a child stop their behavior immediately?
- How do I make this problem go away?
Questions for long-term results:
- What does a child need from me and from their environment in order to develop the skills, values, and characteristics they’ll need as an adult?
- How do I help a child become capable?
- How do I get into a child’s world and support their natural developmental process?
- What can I do to help a child feel a strong sense of belonging and significance so that they want to behave well?
- How do I help a child learn social and life skills like communication and problem-solving?
I’ll admit that, as a parent, my long-term view can sometimes be eclipsed by my short term needs. I know the long-term questions and try to keep them in mind, but sometimes I just can’t see that far. I want results…NOW.
But I’m working on it. And I know that both my children and I will be better off if I can keep the long view in mind more consistently.
Here are some examples of how a long-term view can transform behavior in everyday scenarios:
Scenario 1: Child hits sibling when sibling won’t share a cookie
Short-term questions: What punishment will be severe enough that my child will never hit again? How do I get my other child to stop being a selfish cookie monster?
Long-term questions: What skills do my children need so they can more constructively resolve conflicts in the future? How can I help them develop and practice those skills? How can I foster a culture of kindness and sharing in our home? What response right now will increase the odds of helpful conflict resolution and kindness the next time this happens?
Scenario 2: Child’s room is a disaster and refuses to clean it
Short-term questions: How can I make my child clean their room? What privilege or item should I threaten to take away so that they will do what I want them to do?
Long-term questions: What values are important to me? How can I share and demonstrate my values in a way that is open and inviting? What skills do I need to teach my child so they can take care of themselves one day?
Scenario 3: Child sneaks cell phone into bed at night even though it’s against family rules
Short-term questions: How long should I take away her phone this time? What punishment will be severe enough to stop her from doing this again?
Long-term questions: What is making it hard for my child to follow family rules? How can I get into her world and support her need to connect with friends and feel independent? What does she need from me or her environment to develop healthy sleep habits and self-regulation skills?
What do you notice about the difference between the short- and long-term questions? How do you feel? How might you respond differently when you have the long-term questions in mind? How might your child respond differently?
I think we all agree that we want our children to become resourceful, resilient, respectful, kind and happy adults who have good communication and problem-solving skills, and are motivated to contribute their talents to the world.
I think it’s also true that it takes a lot of time, practice, learning from mistakes, and trying again (and failing again, and learning again) in order to become that kind of adult. I mean, I’m still working on it, and I’m well past adolescence.
Developing social skills, habits, and behaviors that serve others and ourselves is a practice — a long-term one. So, while my daughter can’t always control her temper when she’s angry now, I can model what staying cool looks and sounds like; I can teach her tools for conflict resolution and emotional regulation; and we can practice together, so that she has the skills that she’ll need as an adult. And then, I can (try to) let go, and watch her become her own person.
I acknowledge that I’ve only scratched the surface of this profound topic today.
I’d love to hear how this article is landing for you: Does it make sense? What does parenting for the long-term mean to you? Can you share an example of when your parenting response was influenced more by long- than short-term thinking? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.
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