My son, who recently turned four, has always been a really sweet kid. He likes helping set the table and cleaning up his toys; he’s a great big brother to his sister; and, most of his life, he’s wanted nothing more than to play with, go for a walk, or read books with us.
In the past month, though, he’s reacted badly to a lot of upheaval in our lives. He’s never been particularly good with transitions (lots of people aren’t), and we’ve never had so many big ones all in a row like we’ve had lately, but right now he’s been having fairly substantial tantrums when he doesn’t get his way.
It’s jarring because he didn’t have a lot of “Terrible Twos” behavior, but it’s also not so outside the norm for someone his age. Because he’s really verbal, he seems perfectly rational so much of the time … but he’s just four and so it’s important for us to remember that sometimes his little brain isn’t operating rationally at all.
I say all this because we’re trying to find good ways to head off those tantrums before they start. We’ve always used the Happiest Toddler on the Block model of parenting and have found it to be pretty effective, but because this behavior seemed not to be curbed by it as quickly as we hoped, we looked for other methods and were directed to Love and Logic Parenting (which seems to be fairly popular, especially insofar as the community here has classes and people seem generally to subscribe to it).
So, my wife and I bought Parenting with Love and Logic, and we read through it together. And, wow, we couldn’t have disagreed more with what we read. The two big ideas are to ensure that parents don’t respond emotionally to bad behavior from children — which makes good sense and isn’t unique to this approach — and to teach the children that their behavior has consequences and that the consequences aren’t given to the children by the parents but come directly from the behavior. On its face, this sound just right. But in practice, I can’t see how this would work in my house or how it wouldn’t actually make bad situations worse.
The two examples that really stuck out to me were these:
- A child is disobedient and his mom tells him to go to his room. Being disobedient, he refuses. She asks again and he again refuses. She tells him a few times that he is making a bad choice. Hours later, when his dad gets home and the family is having dinner, she explains what happened and then dad sends the kid up to his room. But not for a time out … because that would simply be delayed punishment. Instead, before the child can finish his dinner, the dad insists that the child go up and down the stairs twenty times. Because that, apparently, isn’t a completely nonsensical punishment but instead the natural consequence of not choosing to listen to his mom and go to his room earlier in the day.
- A child who is routinely late in getting ready for school misses the bus one morning and expects his mom to take him to school. She refuses and instead sends him to his room for the day. She tells him that he can come out to make himself lunch, but that she won’t engage with him until the time when he normally returns home from school. The next morning, the mom explains that she won’t write a note to excuse his absence from school and that he’ll have to accept whatever consequences come his way as a result of missing a day of school. The Love and Logic authors insist that this will show the child that his actions have consequences and they’re certain that a habitually tardy child won’t make the bad choice in the future. There’s no discussion of the fact that an entire day’s education was lost to make a point about being late for the bus and having unrealistic expectations about mom fixing the problem.
None of this seems even remotely connected to love or logic. And it’s not at all clear how a child is supposed to see these strategies as anything but punishments imposed by parents.
I have to imagine that the methods described in the book, and in the numerous subsequent books by the same authors, work really well for some people. Or else that they’ve been updated in some book that we didn’t buy or in the intensive Love and Logic classes that are offered to parents. To us, though, it just seemed like a complete set of bad ideas.
We went right back to Harvey Karp’s Happiest Toddler on the Block and put some of his “green light” strategies to work this morning. We successfully headed off a potential tantrum by giving both kids extra attention after breakfast, putting together a puzzle on the floor, and acting silly about the upcoming day instead of rushing to get them dressed, get their teeth brushed, and get them out the door to day care. I’m hopeful that we can avoid more tantrums by using “green light” strategies with more regularity and that a return to a more regular schedule will put them behind us soon. But, if not, I’m committed to putting Karp’s “yellow light” (clap-growl; kind ignoring) and “red light” (time out; losing privileges) strategies into effect because, unless I’ve totally missed the point of Parenting with Love and Logic, there’s just no way that we’ll discipline our kids with that sort of logic.