Sure, mornings start off good enough, until it’s time for my sixth-grader and me to leave for school. Despite my friendly reminders—Don’t forget your book bag. Do you have your instrument? Do you have enough lunch money?—my son inevitably forgets something, like the book bag, clarinet, or lunch money I asked about. What follows—(me) shouting and threatening punishments—never nets a different result the following morning, and by the time I pull up to my son’s school and drop him off at 8:30, I am flat-out exhausted, irritated and adamant that there has to be a better way!
It turns out, there is. It’s called parenting with Love and Logic, and it’s a philosophy of child rearing that was introduced by Jim Fay and Foster W. Cline, M.D. in 1977. The approach employs easy-to-use techniques that allow parents to be loving, but firm, while forcing children to accept responsibility for or suffer the consequences of, their actions. You could consider it the opposite of “helicopter parenting,” in which the parents “hover” in order to make sure that their child is doing everything right and perfectly all the time, and consequently zoom in and intervene if he doesn’t. The Love and Logic school of thought emphasizes that this approach denies the child the opportunity to take responsibility for himself, which will make it harder in life for him to make responsible choices. It also effectively ends many (or most) battles for control between parents and children, creating a space for a more harmonious relationship. In the end, children become more respectful and responsible and parents enjoy more fun and less stress in raising their kids.
Joy Conklin, LPC, NCC, NCSC, is a counselor at Burch Elementary School in Tyrone. She facilitated L&L programs in Fayette County schools and churches for seven years, and says the techniques are powerful because they’re practical. “We want kids to realize there are consequences. We have to allow them to deal with those consequences,” she says. “Love and Logic gives educators another tool to offer parents other than spanking and yelling, and it works. It really works.”
Lori Thomas, a teacher at Oak Grove Elementary in Peachtree City, knows first-hand what a difference L&L can make. She used the technique in parenting her own daughter, now 15. She recalls having bedtime power struggles with her then-three year-old child, before she’d ever heard of L&L. “I was struggling with getting her to go to bed. She would constantly get up in the middle of the night and say, ‘Mommy this,” or ‘Mommy that.’ For a working mom, that was stressful,” Thomas remembers. She learned about L&L from a school counselor and decided to try it for herself. “I couldn’t control when my daughter was tired, but I could control when she woke up. So, I explained that her bedroom light could stay on, but when she was tired, she needed to go to sleep. Each day at 6 a.m., breakfast was ready and she had to get up. After a few sluggish mornings, she realized very quickly on her own when it was time to go to bed. To this day, she’s a night owl, but I’ve never struggled with her getting up and getting ready early,” Thomas says.
Let my son stay up during school nights until he gets tired? No way will that happen, the control freak/helicopter parent in me protests. After all, he would be too tired and unable to focus on his schoolwork the next day, which means his grades might suffer. But, Thomas explains, my wanting to protect my son from experiencing any pain is precisely the reason I’m constantly so stressed out. “Kids learn pretty quickly that they are responsible for their own choices. The more you do for them, the less you’ll prepare them for the life in front of them. They have to realize, ‘Mom’s not going to save me,’” she says.
And it’s never too soon or too late for children to learn that lesson. According to the Love and Logic website, the best time to start using the techniques is before your child can walk. But the approach works, regardless of whether your child is a toddler or a teenager, L&L’s founders say. The key is to use empathy in disciplining your children. Love and Logic emphasizes having respect and dignity for your children, even while teaching them hard lessons. Thomas, who started using L&L when her daughter was three, learned this when the dinner table became a battleground. “She went through a phase when she didn’t want to eat dinner but she wanted snacks. I wouldn’t give her snacks, and she would be hungry. I would say, ‘I’m so sorry that you’re hungry. Breakfast is at 7 a.m. We’ll eat a good breakfast then, but until then, I’m sorry.’ I would feel so guilty, but I had to let it go. I had to walk away,” she says.
Conklin says Thomas took the right approach. “We want to protect them from hurt, but if you take it from the perspective that this is going to be much less painful for you and for them now than if they’re 20 facing felony charges, it’s easier,” she says.
Is it really that easy, I wonder? Determined to find out and have a stress-free, pleasant morning for once, I decide to try Love and Logic on my own child. One morning, after we finish breakfast and prepare to head out the door for school, I begin my routine of rapid-fire reminders: Got your instrument? Your lunch money? Your hat? “Check, check, check,” my son replies. And then, as we’re pulling out of the driveway en route to school, he says the words I’ve gotten so used to hearing: “Oh man! I forgot my clarinet and I have band practice today!” I take a deep breath, as my stomach knots up and I fight the urge to turn around and go back home so he can get his instrument. “I’m so sorry to hear that,” I say, as apologetically as I can muster. “I told you to lay everything out by the door last night so you wouldn’t forget. You’re going to have to sit through practice without it, because I’m just too busy to bring it to you today.”
My son sinks back into his seat, silent, no doubt wondering what punishment his band teacher will dole out. When I pull up to the curb at school, he gets out and I tell him I love him and to have a good day. I drive off and exhale loudly. Although it hurt me to see him head to class upset and worried, I take comfort, hoping this one little revolt on my part will help him to anticipate the consequences of his actions, sparing him much bigger shame or pain in the future and helping him grow into the responsible man that I want him to someday be.