Friday, 12 September 2014

Long Term Vs Short Term Parenting

I've been thinking lately, about the difference between short term and long term parenting. Or, really, short term and long term anything. I think once you become a parent, you tend to start thinking more about long term than short term. You can't just live for today, spend up at the beginning of the month and run out of money by the 10th of the month - now you have someone else to consider. The majority of us, when we become parents, start to look at the bigger picture, the longer game.

As I've mentioned before (on social media as well as here), I've been reading ToddlerCalm, a fabulous book which I will be reviewing shortly.

The author of this book, Sarah Ockwell-Smith, has children of her own. She gives sound advice supported by evidence she can back up with reference to studies. Early on in the book, she makes a point about long term and short term parenting, which I found really resonated with me.

Here is an example: you are trying to cook tea/have a conversation with a friend/watch a TV show and your child keeps whining at you, trying to get your attention. You've told them "in a minute, mummy's busy" around five hundred times - but they keep on whining, and it's driving you round the bend.

The short term parenting response to this thinks only about the short term: I need this child to shut up before I go crazy! You might snap and tell them to shut up, you might even shout, pick them up and physically put them in front of the TV or a toy. Some parents may even get so stressed they lash out and hit their child.

The long term parenting response involves thinking about how you want your child to feel, how you want them to treat other people as they grow up, what you want them to be like when they grow up. So you would think, I don't want you to grow up thinking it's ok to snap or shout or call names or what have you, and you would find a more calm way to get the point across so that they learn the correct responses to situations.

Sometimes juggling between being a parent and doing other things is hard and we all make short term decisions to resolve immediate situations. I think the idea is that over time, you do more of the long term than the short term. 

This brings me on to my parenting pet hate: parenting "experts." I am a strong believer that there is no such thing as a genuine parenting expert. One thing that really stuck with me from Toddlercalm though, was the idea that the parenting "techniques" a lot of these people expound fall under the umbrella of short term parenting.

Someone like Supernanny has gained her "expert" label by being a nanny. When people hire a nanny, and when a TV show is only 46 minutes long, it's the quick fix that wins the points. Yes, sitting the child on the naughty step will stop that behaviour; as I've mentioned before, the response you get is a Pavlovian, behaviourist response similar to what you get when you tap a puppy's nose to stop it from biting. Supernanny does not need to care about the long term parenting of your child; by the time your child has grown into an adult who is perhaps not as caring or compassionate as you would hope, Supernanny (or any other parenting expert) will be paid and long gone.

Similarly, it doesn't make great TV to film the nanny getting down on the floor and trying to diffuse the situation by playing with the child, or by having a long, drawn out conversation about what the problem is, and do they want a cuddle and are they having a hard time coping with mummy going back to work and how can we make them feel more secure.  Shows like Supernanny are famed for getting quick results but I don't think quick results are necessarily the best.

I'm the first to admit I often fall back on the short-term parenting a bit too often; being a single parent, there's nobody else to take care of S when I'm feeling a little frayed around the edges. I just have to crack on as best I can, and try to take lots of deep breaths. Sometimes I do just let her have an ice pop when she's not had her tea yet. Sometimes I do let her go to bed late because I can't be bothered to wrestle her up the stairs before she's finished her puzzle. Sometimes she kicks me hard in the chest or face when I'm trying to put her pyjamas on, and she doesn't get a bed time story that night.

I am working on that though. I am working on taking the deep breaths, and on teaching my child the correct way to behave. Long term, I want her to know I love her unconditionally, whatever she does. I want her to know that if she's having trouble behaving in a socially acceptable way, or having a hard time generally, I will sit down and try to help her - even if that just means sitting next to her while she cries until she's calmed down enough for a cuddle. It's important to me, that she knows I will still be there for her, even if she doesn't want a cuddle right now.

To me, my child sometimes does the "wrong" thing but not because she's trying to be deliberately naughty or difficult. She's pushing her boundaries and establishing rules in her head. Short term, I could sit her on the naughty step until she calms down and is more subdued, but long term, I'd rather help her through her problems and have her know 100% that I will always be there - because there's nobody else for her to rely on.

Please note - as with all of my posts about parenting, this is my view, and my view only. I know that I am in the minority, and half the world now seems to think the naughty step is some sort of holy grail of parenting. I do not judge anyone's parenting choices; I have neither the time nor the inclination to pay that much attention to what anyone else is doing. My time and attention are taken up with my own child; as, I am sure, are yours.


  1. Ooo I loooove this post! I am just in the process of trying to think about the long term parenting, I have a short patience and I'm trying really hard not to snap at Zach or tell him off - rather try and talk to him and explain what it is he has done wrong. I'm actually really proud of myself as I think it's been about 3 days now where I have taken long breaths and really think before I act - even when he is flipping out while I'm trying to get him in his car seat!.

    Think I might have to check out that book :)

  2. Some elements I agree with but some I don't. We have three children aged 8, 6 and 2. I don't use a naughty step but do make them stand 'by the door' on certain occasions. I don't time it like Supernanny but find it a useful in diffusing a situation and giving the child/children involved time to calm down and think about what made them react in the way that made them have to stand by the door. It's more useful with the older two. As it's often because one of them has hurt another it gives me a chance to comfort or ask what happened to the one who has been hurt before I talk to the angrier child. With the 8 year old it's usually because she's been rude and it's a better way to deal with the situation when she's frustrating me and breaks the cycle of her answering back. It's never for 8 minutes.

    When you have more than one child it is difficult sometimes to give them all the chance to explain their feelings at the same time so for me it's about being able to give them all the right amount of focus in a stressful situation.

    I think flexibility is great, they love routine but if they need to finish that puzzle or help you with finishing a cake that's taken longer than planned then those experiences are surely more enriching long term than having a super strict bedtime.

    Love your attitude that no one is an expert. I hate it when people think they know it all. We're all different and there's nothing quite so isolating or patronising as some of the ridiculous parenting advice out there. With some people, as soon as they feel patronised or told off they will shut down on you anyway.

  3. Wonderful. Thanks for showing both sides.


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