Friday, January 4, 2013

A Little Love and a Little Logic

I've been pretty honest about how things are going with my oldest. He's currently in "behavioral therapy" to learn ways to understand his emotions and control his energy. He's not there because he's a "bad" kid. Ethan is quite the opposite. He's a great kid. A loving kid. A compassionate kid. A smart, funny, and confident kid. And I want him to stay this way. I just also want him to learn healthy ways to channel his energy.

Our job as parents is to make sure we provide our children with the tools they need to navigate this world once they leave the nest. Our hope (at least in this house) is that we raise thoughtful, independent, compassionate, empathetic, successful human beings that aren't afraid to chase their dreams and can do so with class rather than manipulation and backstabbing.

That's a huge responsibility, and considering that our children look to us to guide them and teach them and nurture....oh my goodness, that's a whole lot of pressure! So as we're walking through this process with Ethan, we're forced to take a really good look at the type of parents we are. While I can't speak for husband (I could but won't), I'll share my observations about myself.

I want to be a good parent, but the truth is, I don't have a toolbox full of "good" tools to pull from. I just didn't have that kind of life. And that's okay, but it makes it a lot harder for me when I look in that box and see all these old, broken tools that I know what work but it feels easier than searching outside the box for tools that will. It's a struggle I'm aware of, and I chastise myself every single time I pull out one of those broken tools. I want to throw them away, but it's all I have and then what would I use?

So I'm in the process of replacing them. And since we began this journey, I have been introduced to a new tool called Love & Logic. If you've heard of this, then you're way ahead of me. If you haven't and you have small children, it's worth a look. I assure you!

What is it?

It's a parenting style that teaches kids a critical thinking, consequence, and empathy. It comes chocked full of love and consistency. It provides stability while also teaching children that bad things can happen when we make bad choices without warning. In particular, it gives an example of someone driving down the road looking at his radio. A tire comes off the truck in front of him, and by the time he looks up, he has no time to react and wrecks his car. He states, no State Trooper pulled up beside him and said, "Hey, you should pay attention to the road." No sheriff late pulled him over and said, "So I was talking to the trooper and he said you weren't paying attention to the road. You might want to do that or something bad could happen."

Parents are often guilty of providing warning after warning after warning. How many times do I tell Ethan to get in the car in the morning? Too many.

It also discusses the difference between enforceable statements. I can tell Ethan to lower his voice all day long. I can't MAKE him do it. But I can say, I'll respond to your question when you use your inside voice. I can't MAKE him get dressed. But I can say, "The car leaves in 10 minutes. Do you want to go with your clothes on or do you want to take them in a bag?"

Notice that last little you want to go with your clothes on or do you want to take them in a bag? Because that is a huge part of this method. Giving kids choices. They LOVE to make choices. So instead of saying, it's time for bed, I ask, "Do you want to go to bed in 5 minutes or 2? He chooses 5, but it was his choice.

And so we're trying to implement this strategy. It's not easy because it requires that we change and change is never easy. It requires that I'm cognizant of how react to every situation. I must continuously remind myself to follow the basic rules of Love & Logic, and given I have no experience here, it's not intuitive. But I am hopeful that I will achieve this type of parenting because I do believe Ethan responds well to it and I do believe it will better prepare him for his future. And I can begin to institute it with Dylan now. He throw food, I say, "Oh, that's sad. Lunch is all done."

My goal for the next few weeks is to perfect the "Uh-oh song." This song is precedes an action. We're at dinner and Ethan is playing with his food. I say, "Ethan, it's not polite to play with your food." He continues to play with it anyway, I say, "Uh-oh, looks like you need some bedroom time." I take him to his room and say, "Do you want your door open or shut?" Considering this is Ethan, he'll say open and I'll leave. He'll immediately come out. I'll say, "Uh-oh, looks like I'm going to have to lock your door until you calm down and decide to listen." I put him back and lock his door. I stay close to make sure he's okay. When he calms down, I open the door, say, "That was so sad," hug him and we move on.

I also want to give lots of choices and notice things about him, which I've already started to institute. Here's how yesterday went:

I picked Ethan up. He asked if he could have ice cream that evening. Hearing that he was very good that day, I said yes.

On the way to therapy, I asked him, "Do you want your scoop of ice cream before or after dinner?"
At dinner, I say, "Do you want milk or water?" "Do you want a hot dog with mac and cheese or fish sticks with mac and cheese?" (Don't judge my dinner selection. Anything is better than MORE cereal).
At bath time, "Do you want to drink your tea before your bath or while you're in the tub?"
"Do you want to brush your teeth in the bathroom or in your closet?"
Before bed, "Do you want to put together a puzzle or play match?"

In between, I "noticed" things.
  • I noticed you really like your cars 2 cup
  • I noticed cereal is your favorite
  • I noticed you don't like to flush the toilet

When bed time finally came around, he was a little resistant, so I said, "Haven't I given you a lot of choices today?" I named a few. "That's a lot. You've made most of the choices, so now it's my turn to make one choice, and I say it's time for bed.

He asked if he could leave his light on. I told him just until his clock said 9. "Okay," he said. It was a little after 9 when he asked me if his flashcards were the kind of cards that he could use his dry erase markers on. I said no and then asked him what time it was. He looked and said, "After 9." We turned off the light. I told him he could take his cards into bed with him. I covered him with his blankies, and he asked, "Did you notice how much I love my yellow blankies?"

He told me goodnight and that he loves me. All very sweetly. And he went to sleep.

It was like magic. The whole night. I'm not silly enough to think there won't be setbacks. Things usually get worse before they get better, and I'm certainly going to slip up and lose my temper, but it's encouraging to see him respond. It's a pleasure to parent him when we're both in our element this way. And I'm certainly hoping to add this one to my go-to tool box!


  1. I am familiar with giving choices and that is how we parent - all the time. LOTS of choices because you are right - kids like choices and when THEY chose it gives them a sense of control. They like control. But at the same time YOU are giving them the choices and controlling the options.

    Life is SO much easier when the house is running smoothly and the kids are behaving. Right now, Harper is in her "smooth" cycle. She is behaving well and not being defiant. It's great. I don't think it will last though. In my experience, until they are older their good/naughty behavior ebbs and flows as they test their limits. Fortunately I've also found that as they get older their behavior stabilizes (in general). At almost 6, Hayden is pretty stable. He does have moments in which he is a little rude and not-nice. He will back-talk and just be whiny, but for me that's relatively easy to handle. He understands more and he is easier to manage.

    All that to say, good luck. I think it's wonderful you are getting these tools. It's going to help you and your whole family tremendously!!!!

  2. Wow, I am totally impressed. I wish I had this knowledge when my children were little. Maybe I can use some of this logic on my daughter since she is living here and likes to say "what's for dinner" which pisses me off. She is an adult afterall and I am no longer her maid. Maybe I could say I'll make this if you make so and so tomorrow :) My childhood was lovely but my mother drank and my dad was never home. I had no discipline at all but luckily I was a good kid. I always felt I didn't have the tools either. I'm still living and learning how to parent.

  3. I admire your mothering skills! You are a great and intelligent mother!