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Love and Logic Magic for Early Childhood: Practical Parenting from Birth to Six Years by Jim Fay & Charles Fay, Ph.D.

Generally, I tend towards an authoritarian style of parenting. It’s not something I decided on; it’s just my natural tendency. As a parent, I feel that if I tell my child to do something, they need to do it, promptly and without whining, fussing, arguing, or being told ten times. This is more for their own safety and for the order of the household than just so I can feel like the boss.

Having said that, however, I learned two things early on in my parenting journey. First, totally authoritarian parenting techniques do not work so well on a strong-willed child, and tend to engender animosity and anger between parent and child. Second, the goal of parenting is not to raise obedient children. Just think about it. A child who becomes an adult who always does exactly what he is told, without ever questioning it, is in for some real trouble. Think of the Nazi soldiers, or more recently the dog handler in the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, who uses as their defense “I was only following orders” to no avail. Rather, what we want for our children, and endeavor to teach them, is to be moral, kind, thoughtful people who can make decisions on their own. Who will not only obey a just authority but stand up to an unjust one, and have the knowledge and wisdom to know the difference.

Love and Logic gives parents tools to build “their children’s self-esteem, personal responsibility, and ability to make smart choices.” It is based on four principles:

1. Build the Self-concept (i.e. self-esteem). The idea here is that, instead of berating your child because he will not put on his shoes when you’ve told him for the third time, you help him think through why it would be a good idea to put on his shoes instead of, say, going out barefoot in the snow. My take on this: it is an appropriate technique in some, but not all situations. But the principle – letting a child know you believe he is smart enough to make right decisions – is a good one.

2. Share the Control. You give the child a choice about almost everything they do, almost to the point of ridiculousness. Just two choices, and if they do not choose within ten seconds, you choose for them. “Do you want the red cup, or the green cup?” “Do you want to leave the park now, or in five minutes?” “Do you want to pick your toys up, or let me pick them up?” (mommy gets to keep what she picks up). And so forth. By letting a child make many choices, the authors argue, parents make a “deposit” so that they can make a “withdrawal” – in situations where the child does not get a choice – when they need to. Personally, I think my brain would quickly run out of creativity if I had to think up choices to give them all day long.

3. Provide a Strong Dose of Empathy Before Delivering Consequences. Probably the best principle to come out of the Love & Logic philosophy is that of letting you children experience the natural consequences of their actions, to the extent it is safe to do so, while empathizing with them in a loving and non-sarcastic manner. They reason that a consequence delivered with threats or anger invokes the “flight-or-fight” response which “turns off” the reasoning, learning, part of the brain.

Something else about consequences: you want your teach your children to learn from their mistakes now, when the stakes are small, rather than when they grow up and the stakes are larger.

4. Share the Thinking. Allow your kids to make mistakes, and when they do, allow them to think about a solution.

Here’s an example:

We have a cat scratching post in the living room which is just a rope wound tightly around a pole. My kids were watching tv the other night, and I noticed that the younger one had started to unwind the rope. I told him to stop and leave it alone. When I came back into the room some minutes later, I saw that the older one was sitting in a huge pile of rope.

Me: “My goodness, what a mess.”
Him: “Uh huh” (or something like that)
Me: “How are you going to fix that?”
Him: “Huh?” (or something like that)
Me: “How are you going to fix that?” (pause) “Would you like some ideas?”
Him: “Yes”
Me: “You could fix it yourself. Or we could call Paw Paw [who built the post in the first place] and ask him to come over and fix it.”
Him: “Let’s call Paw Paw.”
So, I call Paw Paw, put DS on the phone, and let him ask Paw Paw to come fix the post. At one point, he asked me to call Paw Paw, but I refused, telling him, “you broke it, it’s you’re job to fix it.” It was not hard for me to stay calm throughout the process using this technique.

Well, that’s the basic gist of the Love & Logic approach. I do think there should have been a little more discussion in the book of how Love & Logic should be used specifically at different ages, and also with multiple children (what if you don't know who put the peanut butter on the cat?). I don’t think it’s necessarily right for all children in all situations, but this book does provide a lot of good tools for parents to use.


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