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Play the Long Game

Why do we have such a hard time sticking with what we know will be better in the long run instead of sacrificing the greater good for a short term gain?

We cheat on our diets, we make the impulse buy, or we allow our child to watch TV for way too long because, frankly, there’s no other option.

In parenting, this shows up in a lot of places – discipline, moral development, spiritual development, helping them become adults, etc.  We know what we want, but we never quite get around to executing it like we would like to.  We have a vague vision of our hopes for the future, but we really are at a loss for what to do in the short term to get there.


Neuroscience lets us know that when we give in for a small gain in the short term we get a dopamine hit.  And it feels good.  Our biology likes it.  Sure, the greater good or level of intention or ultimate goal might have been sacrificed, but honestly if the bribe got me out of that embarrassing moment with my kid, I’ll deal with the consequences later (sound familiar to anyone?).   This is the curse of lawnmower parents – those that can’t stand to see their child experience anything negative in the short term, but don’t realize the way they are jeopardizing their child’s future.  But at least they got their dopamine fix!

Here’s the deal – our biology is not set up for success.  It’s just not.  It’s set up for survival.  Our biology is drawn to the dopamine drug we get when we do something in the short term that feels good.  We go back for more and  we cheat, we sacrifice, we compromise, we give in.   So, how do we break free from the survival mode our brains often are drawn to?


“Here’s the paradox:

Easy short term choices lead to difficult long term consequences.  Difficult short term choices lead to easy long term consequences.

But (those who have broken free) have realized that procrastination and indulgence are like these creditors that charge us interest…it ultimately creates the more difficult life.”


Rory Vaden – Take the Stairs


Again from Rory, “It’s not we struggle as much from a lack of discipline as much as it is we struggle from a lack of vision.  The amount of our endurance is directly proportionate to the clarity of our vision.”

In order to play the long game we have to have a vision of the future.  We use the phrase “imagine the end” to help with this process.  Imagine your child at 18.  If our goal is to create mature, Jesus-following adults by the time they leave our care, then that will require certain actions in the short term to create the desired outcome in the long term.  What do you hope they understand or who do you hope they are becoming?  Or maybe just imagine your child at the end of the current phase of life – who you hope they will be at the end of elementary or middle school years.  Whatever will help you create a vision.

Once the vision is there, we will have the endurance to stay the course and follow through in the difficult daily grind of parenting.  When we create the vision of the future, we realize the sacrifices of today move us toward the future we care about.   Our ability to be disciplined will kick in naturally and override those survival instincts.

So, here’s a simple invitation to take the time to “imagine the end”.  What is it you desire for your child?  What steps will it take to get there?  What small ways have you been sacrificing the long game for a short term fix?  How can you make some small, difficult decisions today that will lead to a better future?


Two Related Posts:  Don’t Give In!  and   Fight Your Instincts

So That’s What’s Going On!

“What is going on in that brain of yours?”

Why are kids/teens so difficult to understand sometimes?  It’s just a fact – kids do things that are simply frustrating to a parent.

The culprit to my frustration often, if I’m honest, is expectation.  I have an expectation of what should happen and that expectation is not met.  Perfect example – our newborn sleeps through the night one night, so we expect the a full night’s sleep the next.  When it doesn’t happen it’s all the more frustrating.  In reality, I should expect a newborn to be…well, a newborn.

But what about teens – what are your expectations in regards to your teenage son or daughter?

What if the unexpected is what we should expect or at least anticipate?
What if there are neurological reasons for that illogical behavior?
Could it really just be that their brains are “under construction”?

I found the below article and suggestions incredibly helpful.  I’d be curious if you feel these line up with the reality of your own son or daughter!

Your student is changing fast. Chances are this isn’t a surprise. Their classes are changing. Their friends are changing. Their bodies are definitely changing. But one change you may not see as quickly are the changes that are happening in your student’s brain.

As our students approach puberty, their brains are being physically rewired to function less like a child and more like an adult. New connections are forming. Old ones are collapsing. Parts of the brain are being reorganized. And with all of that activity, it’s no surprise that they may experience occasional “outages” or glitches in their judgment, their memory, and their emotional control.

That means…
** your straight-A scholar may suddenly forget their homework.

** your sweet, quiet child may now have teenage emotional outbursts.

** your reasonable, responsible student may have a few mindboggling lapses in judgment.

When that happens, our first reaction may be to panic and wonder, “What went wrong here?” But, most of the time, nothing is really wrong. Our students’ brains are simply under construction.

In their book, Teen Stages, authors Ken and Elizabeth Mellor describe this as a “cognitive rebirth” beginning around age 13 and continues into young adulthood. That means during middle school and high school, your student may show some behaviors reminding you a lot of their toddler and early elementary years. And…it’s perfectly normal.
While no two children are the same, and development is surely going to look different and take different amounts of time for each one, it may be helpful to look at the stages Mellor outlines to see where your student fits and what may be coming next.

As you check out the table below, find which descriptions best match your student and read to see what maybe coming in the next year. No matter what phase of rewiring your student is in, it’s important to remember that it’s only a phase. Enjoy them exactly as they are today and know that you play a key role, even during the later stages, in guiding them toward what’s next.



13   – The Baby Stage – Thirteen-year-olds experience increased child-like neediness (p. 85). Many things they previously understood very easily turn into unsolvable mysteries. Cause and effect no longer seem to exist. And they may go through times when they literally no longer understand no longer remember, no longer have a sense of the previous week, day, hour, or even minute (p. 87).

14 – The Dissenter Stage – (They) are reworking the two-year-old period. This is why so much of what they do seems so like the behavior of an angry toddler (p. 107).  At the end of this stage, young people are considerably more at peace…by the time they get to fifteen, they can think fairly clearly, plan well, and act appropriately even when they feel passionate about things (p. 104).



15 – The Fledgling Stage – This is one stage that most parents enjoy. It signals an end to the struggles, and it is a period of learning and curiosity about the world…Many aspects of this stage involve bonding with the adult world: fifteen-year-olds are ripe for this and our job is to ensure that we and other adults are available so they can bond with us (p. 123.)

16 – The Sweet and Sour Stage – Sixteen-year-olds start to challenge again, at home particularly. Through much of the year, they struggle with taking personal responsibility for themselves. With our persistence, they gradually soften and come to terms with their actual capacities and responsibilities. Our part is to learn to act with more detachment (p. 143).

17 – The Romantic Stage – Exercising responsibility for themselves is central. They organize themselves, make plans, and follow through on them, are increasingly considerate and sensitive to others, and fulfill their household and other duties. As they do, they learn the benefits and the consequences of taking personal responsibility. The increased autonomy of our seventeen-year-olds results in many wonderful ways of having fun. This is often a happy time, so many options open up naturally (pp. 164-165).

18 – The World Leader Stage – A desire to contribute to the world is very important. They generally do want to make a difference. They are understandably preoccupied with the practicalities of finishing school or getting on at work. Parents may now seem somewhat irrelevant emotionally as these young people start to commit to other people outside the family. Continuing as friendly consultants works particularly well if we cultivate respect for their privacy and their interests (p183).

©2015 The reThink Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

The Good News:  It’s Just a Phase!  It’s part of the process and the end goal is still intact.


Sometimes the scariest thing about our students’ wiring is that it comes from us. It’s tempting to focus all our attention on the traits in our students that make us cringe—especially when we know they learned it from us. But those aren’t the only traits we’ve passed down. If you think about it, there are also some pretty great things in your students’ wiring that came from you.

This week, take notice of one positive trait in your student that they inherited from you. (This can be something you can do as a step parent, adoptive parent or foster parent as well. Genetics may be responsible for some traits, but observation and learned behavior play an important role, too!)

Maybe you’re both good at math. Maybe your son is starting to show some of your great conversational skills. Or maybe your daughter is wired to be , just like you. No matter what it is, pay attention to the positive traits passed on to your student. Then, try something like the below.  Fill it out and leave it somewhere for your student this week.




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