Parenting with Love & Logic

“Parenting with Love & Logic” hardly sounds like a controversial strategy, but the brand created by two fairly old-school men has plenty of detractors.  Though I wish the book had been more engagingly written (and could have done without the religious overtones), I must recommend it to parents as my top pick to date for practical childrearing suggestions (e.g., tell your kids that sweets are for people who brush their teeth).  If you approach the plethora of advice in a take-it-or-leave-it fashion, I’m fairly certain you’ll find a strategy or two worth the reading time.

Starting with an explanation of “Love & Logic” principles, Foster Cline and Jim Fay let drop that they actually coined the term “helicopter parent” in an early edition of this book in order to reject hovering and meddlesome parents along with “drill sergeants” in favor of a “consultant parenting style.”  The heralded “consultant” separates issues into those problems that affect only the child and those with externalities, and then provides “thoughtful guidance and firm, enforceable limits . . . based on . . . safety . . . and how the child’s behavior affects others,” while allowing the child “to fail, sometimes grandiosely” at a young age when the consequences (and price of learning to choose success) are small.  “When a child causes a problem, the adult shows empathy through sadness and sorrow and then lovingly hands the problem and its consequences back to the child.”  This wisdom is all pretty standard fare these days; for me, the value added of “Love & Logic” lies in the details.

In order to set limits, Cline and Fay recommend parents first ensure they are taking the minimum amount of control necessary away from their children and then use “[t]hinking words . . . in question form and expressed in enforceable statements [without showing anger, lecturing, or using threats to] . . . place the responsibility for thinking and decision making on the children.”  In other words, instead of ordering, “Put on your coat,” ask, “Would you rather carry a coat or wear one?”  (After all, who has the best information on whether the kid is cold, and what’s the harm in letting him shiver a bit before he decides to put on a coat he’s carrying?)  This “choices” strategy is nothing new, but clarification of the requirement that both choices be enforceable (i.e., don’t say, “Would you rather put on your coat or get left at home?”) and non-punitive (i.e., don’t say, “Would you rather put on your coat or go to timeout?”), helped me stem my backslide into authoritarianism.  I got another huge helping hand dealing with my “passive-resistive” toddler from the recommendation that parents give a time period for compliance (such as, “by the time of your next meal”) rather than expecting immediate obedience, whenever possible.  “Love & Logic” also seconded advice on letting go a little that I’ve picked up elsewhere, like minimizing use of the word “no” by giving a qualified “yes” and offering nonjudgmental encouragement in the form of questions rather than praise.

Additional tidbits of value to me include (1) a trick for delaying discussions to make them more productive (“‘[w]hen your voice sounds [calm] like mine, I’ll be glad to talk with you’”); (2) a new justification for parental sanity measures (“[the only way to] model responsible, healthy adult behavior . . . [is by] taking good care of ourselves”); (3) the advice to refrain from tying a child’s allowance to her chores; and (4) a strategy for responding to negative looks and body language (either ignore it or engage your child in a conversation about the underlying feelings by asking something like “what are you trying to say with your face right now?”).

This is not to say that I plan to treat “Love & Logic” like the Sermon on the Mount.  Plenty of Cline and Fay’s recommendations rub my maternal intuition the wrong way.  For example, the authors advise against letting kids see parental anger or frustration.  I happen to think it’s important for parents to model the ways in which one successfully grapples with and controls emotions, not to make restraint appear effortless for others.  I’ll leave that one.  But Lord knows there’s plenty of take homes to be had.

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