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.

Vicky is a single mother, a blogger, a podcaster and a social media trainer. You can find her blogging, business and social media tips at VickyCharles.com.

1 Comment
  • Tim


    Personally, I'm a great believer in trying to treat causes rather than symptoms. So instead of just punishing the crime when one of our kids does something, I try to talk to them to understand why they're behaving in that way, explain to them the impact of their actions and encourage them to find a different way. Of course, there are occasions where you don't have the time, in which case a short, sharp telling-off is required so that you can be *only* ten minutes late for that appointment. And there have also been times when we have used the naughty step - but only as a last resort. On the rare occasions that occurs, are kids know that they're really in trouble. We're definitely lucky in that we have three pretty well-behaved children and it's impossible to tell how much of this is nature and how much is a product of their upbringing, but I really struggle with the concept of Pavlovian parenting being the standard way of doing things. Tim recently posted...Silent Sunday 28/9/14My Profile

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