Saturday, March 24, 2012

Love and Logic

There are so many struggles as a parent. We want them to do what we tell them. We want them to learn. We want them this way and that way. We want these certain results. We have battles for control, and our children are often very adept at figuring out how to get what they want while we lose our cool, grab control with an iron first, and then just feel guilty after.

Recently, I've been going through a Love and Logic course. Through my experience, the goal of Love and Logic is to teach parents to be the kind of parents we want to be. What we really want is what? Fewer head-to-head battles, no more yelling and spanking, and a way to effectively teach our children, while remaining "on the same team," so that they can grow up into responsible, self-thinking, inner-directed adults with good values and love for others.

We know the things that don't work, yet we still do them because we don't know what else to do and they seem, sometimes, to produce some kind of desired response (though perhaps out of fear or utter boredom). Lectures don't work. Yelling doesn't really work. We might get our kids to do what we want by using force and fear, but as soon as the fear of punishment is taken away they will do what they want. They aren't learning values for themselves -they are learning how to avoid punishment. And they aren't learning to think for themselves. And the attemps to force them to do things, the "I told you so's" when they screw up, and the battle for control produces a very unwanted result: they see us as against them rather than for them. The whole focus is put on our angry, controlling, lecturing reaction to their problem.

Love and Logic seeks to correct these parental problems by offering a few core principles, a basic pattern to follow, a number of practical tools, and a litany of examples.

If I may try to summarize the basic principles, I would say they can be listed as:

1. Children learn from the experience of their own consequences for their mistakes and failures much, much better and much deeper than through things like parental lectures and anger. Through this process they instill values and an inner-direction, an inner-voice, which helps them make their own wise decisions in the future.

2. Therefore, the goal of the parent is to facilitate this process and get out of its way. This means that that the child has the problem, and the parent's job is to make sure that the child's problem stays his problem. When the parent makes it a battle of wills, butting heads with his child, the child's problem has now become the parent's problem, and the parent mistakenly feels like it is his or her job to fix it. No, the child has the problem and mom and dad can help them solve their own problem or learn from their mistakes.

3. Therefore, rather than obsessively trying to keep the child from making mistakes and screwing up, the parent wants to facilitate the learning process by allowing their children to make small mistakes now, and learn from the consequences, so that they will not have to make the big mistakes later.

Next, the basic method of Love and Logic goes something like this:

1) Give an instruction to the child, something you know they are capable of doing. Maybe have the child describe in their own words what it will look like when the task is finished.

2) Hope that they screw it up. This does not mean eagle-eyeing them so you can put them down or mock them or attack them for not listening to you. It means you are thrilled that their failure will provide a real learning opportunity for them.

3) Use empathy and allow the consequences to teach, not your anger or your blabbering mouth. When you make it about you, you put yourself against them. When you use empathy and allow the consequences to teach, you get to still be on their side while allowing them the benefit of actually learning for themselves. Always deliver a strong dose of empathy before delivering the bad news about consequences (if necessary... some consequences are natural results and take no parental intervention). As it says in the workbook, "Empathy or sorrow reduces the chance that the child will spend time thinking about the adult's anger. The child's attention should be on his/her own life and decisions..."

4) Give the same task again. This implies to the child that they, like all people, can make mistakes, learn from them, and get back up and try again. "Failures" are ok and are simply a part of life.

Here's a fictitious example.  Your child wants to have a friend come over.  You tell him (once) that he needs to clean his room first before he can have any guests.  You talk to him like a human being and make sure he understands what that means.  Hours roll by.  He gets a snack.  He stands at the couch, watching television on his way out of the kitchen.  He sits in his room with the door shut, playing with legos.  More time rolls by.  Now, it is late.  You call him down for dinner.  At the dinner table he asks when his friend can come over.  You ask him about his room.  He confesses that although he started to clean it, he got side-tracked and it isn't done.  You take a peek into his room, and it looks like a bomb went off inside.  You say empathetically, "I'm sorry, buddy.  He won't be able to come over today."  "But, but... I can clean it up really fast!  I'll go up and do it right now!"  You reply, "No, that isn't going to happen tonight, because there are other things that need to be done now, too.  Ya know?"   "Like what?!"  "Well, you tell me... do you have any other chores you normally help us with?  What about things you have to get done for school?"  Again he sighs, "Yeah..."  "Ok, well we can try to have him over tomorrow."  "He can't.  Only today."  "Hmm... I'm sorry.  That stinks."  That night the boy ends up staying up late because he has to do dishes and homework.  Did he learn from this for himself?  I hope so.  If not, he will in time.  But he probably learned much more than he would have if you had nagged him or picked at him all day about all the time he was wasting.

Notice what didn't happen.  No getting angry.  No repeatedly checking on him to see if he is cleaning his room.  No nagging him over and over to "get it done."  No, "I told you so."  And no lectures about being responsible.  The boy, hopefully, gets to see, with as little interference as possible, that doddling and delaying his responsibilities means that he loses out on what he wants to do.
The goal is for the child to take ownership of their problem, for control to be "shared" between parent and child, and for the child (not the parent) to have an opportunity for thinking and decision making.

Here are some of the practical tools that I have really enjoyed:

1. Giving your child choices that you can live with. Give them options and let them make the decision. A side-benefit of this is that you can "cash-in" on bigger decisions. For example, if you've been letting them make the choices all day, even for minute things, you can cash in later and say, "Ok it's bed time." When they whine say, "Hey, you've been making all the choices all day long. Don't I get a turn, too?"

This tool is helpful is a number of different situations. The other day, we had chicken for dinner and my child did not want to eat her chicken. She wanted ice-cream, because she knew we had the option for dessert. The fussed and complained over and over. I said to her, "Honey, there are two things you can do here. You can finish your chicken and then have a nice bowl of ice-cream afterwards, or you can skip your chicken and wait to eat again in the morning when you have breakfast." She thought for a second, picked up her fork, and said, "I'll eat my chicken," and finished it, followed by a bowl of ice-cream.

To use another example, the other day the same little girl came into the office demanding that I get her a snack. You would think she was dying of starvation. She was nagging, and it was making it very hard to work. I started with an open statement about my feelings, "Honey, I'm working on something at the moment, and I would be much happier about it if you would leave so that I can finish." She started to walk out but then came back and nagged me some more. I then gave her a choice, "You have a choice. You try to argue with me and nag at me, and I'll still have to finish this after you are done, or you can leave and let me finish this now so that I can get up and get you a snack after. What do you think is a good choice?" She left.

Many times, this tool is great for just giving the child a sense of his own responsibility. "Would you like to brush your teeth now, or would you like to brush your teeth after the bed-time story?" "Would you like to get dressed now, or would you like to do it after you eat breakfast." Both options are things you can live with, and they learn to make decisions for themselves and see which one works better. Maybe brushing after the story isn't a good idea because you get too tired. That is something they can learn for themselves.

2. Using enforceable statements. Rather than doling our commands about what they should do, an enforceable statement is about what you, the parent, will do in some circumstance. Instead of, "You better clean your room!" an enforceable statement would be something like, "If your bedroom isn't clean by dinner time, I will not pick you up any dinner. I'm not cooking -we're having take-out tonight." It is similar to giving the child choices in that they really do have two options. One of the options, however, involves a consequence they will not like... something you will do. And because it is about what you will do, you can enforce that. You can't control another human being, but you can enforce your own words with your own actions.

3. Giving them something good to live up to. Instead of, "You had better be good for the babysitter while we are gone," how about, "Bye, honey. I know you'll be extra-sweet and good for the babysitter tonight." It makes a difference.


The content in the course is no "formula." It needs to be applied with wisdom. Other factors always need to be looked at. For example, if the child receives zero attention from mom and dad, then obviously they may be acting out just to get some. These techniques and tips are not a substitute for real time and one-on-one connection with the child.

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