Thinking on Your Feet with Love and Logic (Ugh, Can’t We Just Lecture Them?)

Did anyone watch American Justice hosted by Bill Kurtis?

I used to be a true crime junkie.  I saw every episode of this program, and the voice of Bill Kurtis is burned in my brain.  Now, imagine this voice giving parenting advice, and try not to feel completely creeped out by the prospect.

Ok, Bill Curtis doesn’t actually narrate the cd version of “Parenting with Love and Logic.” Tim Kenney has that job.  But his voice bares a striking resemblance to that of Kurtis, and is equally chilling.

Maybe chilling is not the appropriate word.  When Kurtis describes the Hillside Stranglers, it is chilling.  Bad guys hear that voice and had better beware.  On the flipside, when Kenney uses his voice to model empathy, it seems as if he has no idea what the word means.  It comes across as condescending.  Listen to this clip.  See if when Kenney says “Bummer.  I wonder  how you are going to handle that situation,” if you can keep your eyes from rolling back in your head like a thirteen year old girl.

One of the major tenets of the Love and Logic philosophy is to show empathy when children face consequences for their actions.  By commiserating with the child, it shows an understanding of his struggle, and allows you to gain his trust.  But when I hear Kenney say “Bummer.  You must feel terrible.  I wonder what you are going to do to handle that problem,” I don’t so much feel empathy as much as I feel I want to punch him in the face.  Ok, perhaps I may not be an authority on empathy either.

So, ok, they could have hired a better narrator.  But am I going to ignore the message because I don’t like the messenger?

The truth is, there is a lot about the Love and Logic approach that makes sense to me.  Love and Logic seeks to teach children to be responsible and empowered to solve their own problems.  Parents model good behavior.  They provide children with choices they are willing to enforce, and let natural consequences guide behavior rather than punishment and lectures.

Some of the examples in the book go a bit far for me.  In one story, a mother takes her child’s dog to a friend’s house because the child is failing to feed and care for the dog properly.  When the child says “where’s fluffy?” (or whatever the dog’s name is) the mother responds that she gave the dog to her friend because she got tired of looking at a malnourished dog.  The mother says her friend loves the new dog, but that if the child wants the dog back, she has three days to collect the pet.

The child of course says “I want Fluffy back! Let’s go get her now!”

The mother replies “Well, I already had to drive Fluffy over there once and I don’t want to do it again.  You will have to figure out your own way to get Fluffy.”

The child calls a neighbor and asks for a ride (the book states that the mom had warned the neighbor of this possibility beforehand.)  The child retrieves the dog and learns a valuable lesson about caring for a pet.  The child also determines that her mother is an asshole.

I get it.  We have to prepare our kids for the harsh realities of life.  We are their parents, not their friends.  I just don’t know if we have to teach those lessons by pretending to do away with the pets.

So far, I’m not painting this Love and Logic stuff in a very good light.  But used with a softer touch, the approach seems to actually work.

The book cautioned that the program is a lot of knowledge to put into practice, and to take it slowly.  The authors advised to pick one area you want to see improvement on, and to focus on it.  For me, this is my kids asking for too many things, and me giving in to them.

When my boys were toddlers, I grasped on to the idea of redirection.  When they would begin to throw a toddler tantrum, I would point out some new, fun activity to distract them and focus their energy in a positive direction.  As they have gotten older, distraction has become a crutch, and given way to a lot of senseless bribery on my part.  The other day, Kellen wanted to stay in the car when I parked it in the garage.  It was a 110 degrees outside.  I didn’t want to stand around in the garage.  I insisted he come inside, and he started crying.  I said “Let’s go use some new stickers to make a picture.”  Lesson learned- crying gets you stickers.

I made a goal to stop doing this.

Liam came and asked me for a new Lego set.  One of the L&L tips is to ask thinking questions.  Instead of saying “no,” I inquired “Do you have the money to pay for this set?”

He affirmed that he did and went to get his wallet.  When he returned, he counted five dollars in his wallet.

“How much is the set?” I asked.

“I don’t know.”

“Do you think we could find out on the computer?”

“Yes.”  We found that the set cost twenty dollars.  I asked Liam how many more dollars he needed, and he correctly determined fifteen.  I asked him if he got five dollars a week in allowance, how many weeks it would take for him to earn the rest of the money.  He correctly determined three.

I asked if he wanted to make a chart, and he said no, he wanted to mark it on the calendar.  He also advised he wanted to print a picture of the item to tape on the calendar as well.  Yeah me!  I’m an awesome parent!

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Not so fast, sister.  It doesn’t always go that way.  L&L requires a new way of thinking- a process that doesn’t always come so easily when you in the middle of a situation.

Our family went out to dinner with my in-laws.  Kellen has taken to pretending he is Curious George, speaking in a series of ooo’s and aaaa’s.  I went to retrieve some napkins, and I hear my mother-in-law say something to Kellen along the lines of “I guess I’ll just talk to someone else then, someone who would like to talk to me.”  I surmise that Kellen is not acting so kind to his grandmother.

Against L&L advice, I lecture.

“Kellen, you need to be kind and show good manners to Granny.”

That’s when Curious George comes to the table.  Kellen begins acting up, pretending to be a monkey.  At first, I try to ignore it.  But he keeps up the act, and gets louder and louder.  I try to think of how to handle this L&L style, but my mind is drawing a blank.  I find myself trying to stay calm, but lecturing none the less.

“Kellen, I know you want to act like a monkey, but a restaurant is not the time to do that.  Please settle down and eat your dinner.”

Sounds polite enough, but it didn’t work.  He took the plea as a criticism and started wailing.  After five minutes of sitting on Daddy’s lap, he was finally calm enough to eat.

I started thinking about what I could have done differently.  I could have sat him in a chair at another table and said “You are welcome to join us when you are ready to show good manners at the table.” I could have asked a thinking question along the lines of “What do we do when we sit down to eat dinner?”  or “Where do our hands go when we sit at the table?”  I could have asked him to sympathize with his granny.  “How do you think Granny feels when you don’t talk nicely with her?” or “How do you feel when someone is being rude to you?”  I could have given him the choice of playing as a monkey before dinner for a minute, or after dinner for ten minutes.

Clearly, I needed a bit more practice at this.

Yesterday, a mother and son came to our house for a play date. Kellen had met the boy, Scott, once or twice, but was not very familiar with him.   When Scott began to play with dinosaurs, Kellen retreated to his room.

I encouraged Kellen to play with Scott, giving him scenarios in which they could play cars and dinosaurs could play together.  Kellen was not having it.  I waited a few minutes, and then tried the empathy approach.

“How would you feel if you went to someone’s house for a play date, and he didn’t want to play with you?”  Kellen let me know he would be perfectly fine in this scenario.

I was getting very frustrated.  But I remembered that L&L advises to not take responsibility for other people’s problems.  This wasn’t my problem.  Yes, I was embarrassed of my son’s behavior.  I wanted him to display proper manners with company.  I wanted the other mother to think I had raised a “good boy” and want to come play with us again.  But really, the problem was between Kellen and Scott.  Scott seemed happy playing with dinos.  Kellen seemed happy playing with cars.  Perhaps the only one who saw an issue was me.  I backed off.

And wouldn’t you know it, as soon as I left it alone, the problem took care of itself.  After about ten minutes, Kellen heard Scott, his mother, and I playing and came to see what we were doing.  Today, Kellen saw Scott at school, smiled and showed him his secret passageway behind the dumpster.

It’s a new approach and one that doesn’t always come readily to mind.  I typed myself a note, and put it on the fridge, hoping the reminder will transform the basics from novelty to natural.

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Would I consider myself a Love and Logic parent?  Not really.  I’m not ready to tattoo their principles on my chest, and start handing out pamphlets on the street.  But like anything else, you take away what works for you, and throw out the rest.  So far, I like the approach and feel like it is making me a more thoughtful parent.

Ok, enough babble.  I have a hankering for some empathy in the form of American Justice reruns.  Bill Kurtis, take me away.

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