Friday, January 7, 2011

Parenting with Love and Logic

Dorian loves his little brother. He loves to hold him, and pat him, and kiss him, and he is always sharing his cars with him. But. He doesn't love sharing his mom. Really hates it, in fact. He constantly wants me to play with him, hold him, carry him, help him....this from the kid who just a few months ago didn't want help with anything. My number one strategy for getting him to do what I wanted was, "do you want to do it by yourself, or do you want me to do it for you?" "By taself!" Fortunately this worked for my whole pregnancy, when I had zero energy—but it hardly ever works now, and really backfires when he wants me to carry him while I'm also carrying a baby in a carseat, a diaper bag, and everybody's jackets. Don't even get me started on the grocery store.

Combine this new-found clinginess with a defiant streak a mile wide, and an exhausted set of parents who are overwhelmed by the requirements of two children (how do people have more than 2? don't answer that)...and I finally decided to pull out Parenting with Love and Logic, which my sister Lorinda gave to me while I was pregnant with Dorian. I read it, liked it, and have been applying some of it with some success, but I need to think through it some more, and also summarize it for Russell so that he doesn't have to read it. :) So here are the main points, in case anyone else also doesn't want to read it (I'm trying hard not to write a book myself...sorry this is so long...):

Love and Logic is about allowing kids to experience the logical consequences of their behavior (as opposed to artificially imposed made-up consequences). This teaches kids responsibility because they learn to think for themselves instead of always being told what to do and how to act. They learn which behaviors are effective and which aren't, while gaining confidence in their own ability to choose and think.


We have 18 years to help our kids become responsible adults. We start by allowing them to learn to solve their own problems and take responsibility for their own choices. Obviously we can't let a 2-year old make every decision in his life, but we can let him make a lot of them. Which shirt would you like to wear? Do you want to wear a jacket? (he won't freeze to death if he doesn't, and you can bring it along in case he changes his mind—or not, to really drive the point home) What would you like for lunch? etc. More on choices later, but the point is that kids need lots of practice making choices so that when they get older and the choices get harder, they will be able to think for themselves in a mature and sensible way.

Two ineffective parenting styles:

Helicopter Parents: These parents hover over their children and rescue them from every problem. They feel like they are saving their children from unnecessary pain, but instead they are robbing their children of important learning experiences, and setting them up for a lot more pain when the learning experiences are a lot bigger later on. These kids are not prepared to meet the consequences of real life, and don't know how to cope without the help of their parents.

Drill Sargeant Parents: These parents feel that their job is to force their children to behave correctly, and that the children will continue to act right as adults out of habit. The problem is that since these children are never allowed to make any decisions for themselves, when they are presented with choices as teenagers and adults, they often make terrible decisions. They don't feel like they are thinking for themselves unless they make a decision that is completely opposite from what their parents would have decided for them.

We have to keep in mind that as we give our children the freedom to make choices and think for themselves, they will probably do things we don't approve of. I like this quote from page 27 of the book: "Just as God gave us a good mind and the ability to excel, He has given us the right, or at least the capability, to blow up the planet. However, a race capable of blowing up the planet is also capable of flying to Saturn. High success and high achievement carry with them the risks of abysmal losses. But the loving and concerned parents who allow for failure wind up with kids who tend to choose success."

Every learning experience a child is allowed to have today will save him from a more expensive learning experience tomorrow.


Responsible kids feel good about themselves, and kids who feel good about themselves tend to be more responsible. Here is a great article from on building a 2-year old's self esteem (since that is the age I am most concerned with right now...) Unfortunately, we sometimes send our kids negative messages about themselves without even intending to. When we say things like "why would you do that?" or "what were you thinking?", we are really sending an implied message to our kids that they are kind of dumb, and not very capable. Our kids deserve just as much respect as adults, and they will feel better about themselves if we treat them like they are competent and intelligent, and show them that we love them unconditionally. I love this idea from page 39: "kids can't get better until we prove to them, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that they're good enough the way they are." Kids need to know we love them.

If we are constantly telling our children what to do or how to feel ("put on your jacket," "eat your dinner," "you're not really hungry," etc.) we are sending them the message that they can't think for themselves, and they need us to do it for them. Instead, we need to send them the message that they have the skills they need to handle life, and that they can make their own decisions.

As a side note, the book points out that kids learn just about everything by modeling, including self image. They watch the way we (their parents) make decisions, handle arguments, and solve problems, and they model their behavior after ours. This means, among other things, that they need to see us taking care of ourselves, so that they will learn to take care of themselves. If we always put ourselves last, we may end up with kids who don't think very highly of themselves.

Mistakes as Opportunities

When we automatically jump to rescue our children from their mistakes, we rob them of the opportunity to learn responsibility. Or when we get angry over their mistakes, we teach them that the "logical consequence of messing up is making adults mad," (p. 49) which doesn't give them any responsibility for the real problem. "The best solution to any problem lives within the skin of the person who owns the problem." (p. 49) As a teacher I have learned that the more energy I expend to solve a problem in a lesson, the less the student will worry about solving it. If I sit back and allow them to work it out, they will take responsibility for it. "Kids who deal directly with their own problems are moved to solve them." (p. 50)

There are only 2 times when we should step in to help our kids solve their problems:

  1. When our children are in immediate physical danger.
  2. When the problem is really beyond the capacity of the child to deal with, and the consequences will be lifelong or otherwise too significant to simply teach a lesson. Be careful with this one, because "everything we fix for our kids, our kids will be unable to fix for themselves." (p. 51)

Separation of Problems

If the child's problem is causing a problem for us, then we need to deal with it (so our children see us standing up for ourselves). Not by solving the problem for the child, but by giving them ownership of the problem. For instance, if the child is not taking care of their pet, that becomes a problem for us, but rather than feeding it and cleaning its cage for them, we could take the pet away [arrange for it stay at a neighbor's house for a day?] while the child considers how much they really want to own a pet (this does require having good neighbors, but you can probably return the favor in some way).

Setting Limits with Thinking Words instead of Fighting Words

Kids need limits. They don't feel safe without them, and they will push against them until they know exactly where they are. We start building these limits for them from the time they are babies. These limits give them enough security to build self-confidence and deal effectively with their emotions. Children gain respect for parents who set and enforce good limits. However, if we attempt to set these limits with "fighting words" (i.e. "Stop whining!" or "Go practice the piano!") we are setting ourselves up for a control struggle. If we instead use "thinking words" (i.e. "You sound upset. I'll be glad to listen to you when your voice is calm like mine" or "Feel free to join us for dinner once your practicing is done"), we are still requiring respect and obedience, but also allowing our children the opportunity to think for themselves. Here is one of my favorite points in the book: "Fighting words invite disobedience. When we use them, we draw a line in the sand and dare them to cross it" (p. 65). And they will cross it.

Another way to use thinking words instead of fighting words is to use "yes" instead of "no" as often as possible. So rather than "no, you can't watch TV," say, "yes, you can watch TV as soon as your toys are picked up," etc. Then when the answer really is just "no," they are more likely to accept that as well.


Parents who want to control their children cannot win. The child will fight back. If the parent does manage to somehow retain control throughout the kid's childhood, that child will often make as many contrary decisions as possible once they are on their own. Control struggles leave parents feeling helpless, angry, and frustrated, and leave the child feeling defensive and unempowered. The way to avoid them is by offering choices—but this does require giving up some control. "We must give our children the control we don't need to keep the control we do" (p. 72). This doesn't mean giving your kids complete control (that creates brats), but it does mean recognizing which issues are yours to control and which aren't. Start by giving your toddlers a little control—over what to wear and how much of their dinner to eat. Give kids more and more control as they grow—which sport to play and how to spend their allowances. By the time they are graduating from high school, they should be responsible enough to be making basically every decision in their lives. As long as their control over their lives is always expanding, they will be satisfied with the control they have. If you give them too much at first and then have to reign them in, that will be painful for everyone. Here's a good article from babycenter on giving kids choices.

There are some things you just can't make a kid do. You can't make them eat, you can't make them sleep, you can't make them use the toilet. You can, however, give them opportunities to eat, sleep, and use the bathroom—and actually, the less control you try to exert in these situations, the more likely they are to do what you would like them to do (I've noticed this with Dorian at the dinner table—anytime he feels coerced to eat, he won't touch it, even if it's something I know he likes. But if I let him choose what goes on his plate, and if I don't make a big deal out of whether he eats it, he will usually eat, and even try something new).

You also can't make a child learn, and you can't make him believe what you believe. You can only give him opportunities to learn, and model how your beliefs make you happier. You can teach, but you can't force learning, and you can model, but you can't force belief.

Some points to remember:

  1. Make sure you are always prepared to follow through with the choices you offer (don't say "hurry up or we're leaving without you" unless you have a babysitter arranged--p.s. if the child chooses to stay with the babysitter, they need to understand that they are also choosing to pay the babysitter)
  2. There is always a third choice, which is that the parent will decide. The child needs to understand that this is what will happen if they don't choose for themselves.
  3. Don't worry about what other people think. If they're judging you, who cares? Is it more important to impress some random people at McDonald's, or to build a lasting relationship with your child that is based on trust and responsibility? It's not going to be easy; there will be resistance and opposition. Be ready for it, and don't get worked up about it.
  4. Don't turn the choice into a threat—"you can clean these toys up or you can have a timeout" is not the most effective choice. "Would you rather pick up the cars or trains first?" Or even, "would you rather pick up your own toys or hire me to do it?"
  5. Be positive in your delivery—"You're welcome to ______ or ______" or "Would you rather _______ or _______"
  6. Don't nag while the child is making up his mind. Don't remind him again and again what the consequences will be. Expect him to hear and understand the first time, and he will.
  7. Don't give warnings and second chances. Follow through the first time and every time on the consequences the child has chosen.


When you do have to enforce some less than pleasant consequences, don't lecture your kids; don't tell them what they just learned. They will learn it more effectively if they think through it themselves. As much as possible, let the natural consequences of their behavior teach the lesson (i.e. if they choose not to wear a jacket, let them realize how cold they are and they will probably decide to choose differently next time). But go ahead and offer empathy: "yeah, I'm cold too when I don't wear a jacket." And leave it at that.


Kristen Wilde said...

Thank you so much for this, Bonnie. Artificial consequences have been working pretty well for us lately, but I should rethink them. Good luck with all your challenges!

Janae said...

This is great. I found some love and logic tapes at the library a little while after Evelyn was born and they were very helpful. Having a second child has really helped me be a more conscious parent because it is easier to "wing it" with one.It has taken a year but I'm starting to feel like I'm getting a handle on the two kid thing. Thanks for this reminder to be more thoughtful about my parenting and its long-term consequences.

the lunch lady said...

I read this a loooong time ago and agree with a lot of what he says. but i'm too much of a whimp to do some of it .... but you did a great job summarizing it. maybe i'll have another go at it!

Quiltgirl said...

darn. read something good somewhere about this... can't retrieve. Reader's Digest? Oh... article in Readers Digest aboutthis Harvard Business Review article guy... Christensen. He talks about creating a family culture. Fascinating. Wish I could remember more. I'll look for it. :)

Cindy at LottieBird said...

Thanks for summarizing this, Bon. Our elementary school taught a parenting series on this and several of my friends have loved it. I confess that we were better at these principles with some of our children than others. I'm motivated to be more consistent again!