Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The scars of your love remind me of us

When I was pregnant, and when BabyT was tiny, I spent A LOT of time reading about parenting. That's how I react when I'm freaked out about a situation - I read as much as I can get my hands on so I can gain some confidence and feel "prepared". And of course, anyone who has actual children knows, there's nothing you can read that will adequately prepare you.

We received the book Love and Logic Magic for Early Childhood as a gift when T was born.  I started flipping through it, but it was clearly more for toddlers than babies. Their basic premise for babies was to reinforce trust by responding to their needs.  I figured I had read enough about that in tons of other places so I put the book back on the shelf to read when T was older.  Already annoyed by "experts" at that point, I was a little irritated by the patronizing tone in the book, but didn't think much more about it.

Around that time I posted my irritation on Facebook about why parenting books always claim that theirs is the One True Way (like hmm, what else, religion?), and seem to neglect the fact that kids are actually people with a high level of variability in the population. So instead of saying something like "here are some things you could try", they come out sounding like "I'm the expert, so this works and if you don't do it, your kid will be irrevocably damaged.  Also I have a PhD/MD/cryptic certification no one cares about so clearly I'm smarter than you." As you might imagine, this doesn't sit well with me.

About six months ago, my fabulous employer announced a free Love and Logic parenting series - the full meal deal, with 12+ monthly seminars taught by a certified instructor.  They were on Tuesdays during lunchtime, so it sounded perfect to me and I hurried to sign up before it filled up (and it did, in a matter of minutes).

But when I read the overview blurbs for each of the seminars, my mama-alarm started beeping, albeit quietly.  It sounded to me like it was teaching a "technique" to get compliance and good behavior, using some standard phrases that were variations of a script they provided.   You use "natural consequences" to make your point rather than punishment.  You stem arguments by saying stuff like "I love you too much to argue".

If you want the whole overview, check out the link to their site above, which is what I read to get more info about the class.  I also did a bit of Googling, and found both good and bad reviews on Amazon.   In the sea of "OMG this stuff is magic and works great" blog posts, I found a nicely written dis-recommendation by a mama in New York who put words to my vague unease about what I was reading.  Go read it - it's really good stuff.  (Thank you Nancy!)

I went home and pulled out the Love and Logic book we received and started flipping through it to the toddler sections, since T was nearly 2 and the advice was now more relevant.  And honestly, I just don't like it. 

Yes, some of it is good and universal parenting advice that is in line with my beliefs - give kids as much choice as you can so that they feel like they have some control over their day.  No spanking or putdowns. Teach them to make decisions for themselves rather than controlling them and telling them what to do.  Empathize when they are upset.  Use enforceable statements instead of warnings and threats.  Staying calm.  All goodness, right?

It's the "technique" part of this that bugs the heck out of me.  The scripted phrases you're supposed to use, like the aforementioned "I love you too much to argue." and the instruction to "go brain dead" when your kids are riled up.  The not-so-natural consequences presented in the examples in the book, like making kids do chores to earn back toys that weren't put away, or to replace the "energy drain" they caused by exhibiting "bad behavior" like making rude noises or calling someone a name. 

According to one of the Amazon reviews, a previous version of the book had an example where a kid forgot to feed the dog, and his mother decides since he can't handle the responsibility, they drop the dog off at a shelter.  The revised version of this "natural consequence" is that Mom says she can only feed two mouths at dinner, and now that the dog needs to eat, the kid doesn't get to.  Uh, WTH?

Other examples advocate for making other people part of your disciplinary strategy, like when Grandma is briefed in advance about bad behavior in the car on the way to her house.  When the kid gets there and looks for the treats Grandma always has for her, Grandma says she only gives treats to the nice kids.  When the preschool kid pitches a fit, Grandma says something sarcastic like "Nice tantrum, but I think you can do better." and then tells her to come and join the family when she can be calm.

The book says things like "you can use this technique when your kid is hassling you" and advocates making kids stay in their room until they're done with their tantrum/behaving appropriately, even if you need to remove the door handle, lock the door or keep sending them back in.

I could go on about the examples in the book, but don't want to violate copyright. The whole thing struck me as incredibly manipulative, the "empathy" disingenuous and just reinforces the whole authoritarian philosophy.   I don't doubt that it "works" if that means getting kids to be obedient and compliant.

I'm not saying that Love and Logic is bad, but articulating why it's not for us.  It doesn't foster the kind of relationship I want to have with my daughter, where I really, truly, empathize with her about how hard it is to be 2 (or 6 or 16!).  Where we work *together* to find solutions, and where she understands *why* we have certain ways of doing things.  (As a result, I wonder myself sometimes why I am enforcing x rule, and then decide it's not that important.  Feedback loop and all that.)

A couple of books I've been meaning to re-read are Faber and Mazlish's How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk and Kohn's Unconditional Parenting, which are more in line with the kind of parent I want to be. 

We have been blessed with an easygoing little girl, so we don't need "hardcore discipline techniques" just yet.  As long as we make sure she isn't tired or hungry, we get age-appropriate behavior.   We do not expect her to sit quietly through a 2.5 hour dinner at Canlis, or be quiet and still during a 75 minute church service.  Instead of disciplining her for these things, we either don't put her in the situation in the first place (dinner plans starting at her bedtime) or we remove ourselves from the situation (church service running past the expected hour).

Sometimes we'll be trapped during a meltdown (airplanes come to mind) but we prepare as well as we can and hope for the best.  We teach her how to use her words to describe what she's feeling, and we take a lot of deep breaths to keep our frustration in check (but of course sometimes we fail there, too.) 

I don't want to be an "impartial observer" like the Love and Logic folks advise, and let the "natural consequences" enforce the rules.  I want to understand my daughter better, have her know from an early age that I'm on her side (for real), and help her figure out how to live in this complicated world.  It'll likely be frustrating for both of us, but that's part of the deal, I think.

So I declined all the Love and Logic seminars.  And I feel good about it.


  1. Well you're doing something right because she's a GREAT kid so far. = ) Though the teenage years are coming!

  2. Good for you for listening to your mama-gut. I remember reading some books that sounded good, but there were little things that just didn't feel right - it can take a while to figure out just why you don't agree.

    One of my favorite books is "Everyday Blessings: The inner work of mindful parenting." It doesn't have a lot of techniques, but reading it puts me in a great frame of mind.

    For practical "what do I do now" help, I've heard great things about Positive Discipline. I haven't read the book, but I've listened to a podcast by a couple of Objectivist moms who have taken training from the author (I guess she has seminars or something). One of them has a blog here: http://rationaljenn.blogspot.com/)

    The podcast is called Cultivating the Virtues, and you can get it on iTunes. There are only 21 episodes released, but I've found them to be pretty great. The podcast has a blog too, but it looks like it doesn't have a ton of activity, either: http://cultivatingthevirtues.blogspot.com/

  3. @Jenn - thank you! it means a lot to hear that from someone without kids. I'll assure you we haven't done anything - she just has a chill personality and we're lucky ;)

    @Stephanie - THANK YOU!! You have given me such great advice in this area, and I really appreciate it. Now I need to figure out how to get podcasts on my fancy Android phone :)

  4. Fun post! Oh, those old "parenting techniques" :). Gee, wouldn't it be nice if there was some magical technique that worked for all kids? But of course, it doesn't. And what works for one of your kids doesn't always work for the other. Oh, and then you might get a kid whose brain is wired differently like I did, and then you have to figure it all out from scratch :). Read books if you like and take the parts that make sense, but in the end you will learn what works with your kid and you will have to trust your instincts. Which sounds like exactly what you are doing, and doing well :).

    I think L&L has some good basic ideas, as you say, but yeah I think the implementation is twisted. Like the natural consequences thing - how is it natural when you are giving what is really a punishment? What I might consider a natural consequence would be like what happens in our home. The kids know that bedtime is 8pm and so they have to do their bedtime routine stuff (brush teeth, clean up, etc) by a certain time. If they play around/act up and take too long, there is no time for stories. They understand that it is not a punishment, rather that they did not use their time wisely and time ran out. At least with my kids, it's usually helpful to talk about things in terms of the choices they make, and how those choices affect things and other people.

    Empathy is really key, IMO. Trying to validate feelings and understand WHY a behavior is happening is important, both for being able to stop unwanted behavior and for teaching them about feelings and the effect their actions have on others. When T gets a year or so older you'll see this more & more :). It doesn't mean you still don't discipline, but the discipline is usually more successful if empathy is present. It's the parent's job to set and be firm about rules (it's our job to raise responsible, caring people, not just be their friends) but it can be done in a non-authoritarian way where the kid can still feel like they are being heard.

  5. Really? Alfie Kohn? I think of him as worse than the Love and Logic folks in terms of the things you dislike about them. Except he doesn't actually have the credentials he pretends to have to back him up. Most of the people I know who spent 12 hours every Saturday doing Love and Logic classes quote him like he's God, along with Athea Solter. Their kids also tend to be little hellions that have to be followed every second so they don't brain the other kids with heavy objects.

    (Interestingly, when I mentioned this Alfie Kohn guy to my mom, she said, "Is HE still around? His crackpot theories almost destroyed an entire generation of inner-city kids back in the 70s" when she was working for Head Start. I'm not really sure what the history there is.) His stance on homework is also potentially dangerous. There's such a thing as too much homework, but there's also such a thing as too little!

    I think this article on Kohn sums up my feelings: http://www.britannica.com/blogs/2009/02/alfie-kohn-is-bad-for-you-and-dangerous-for-your-children/
    We know from actual research (Carol Dweck) that there's nothing inherently wrong with praise. What is important is that effort is what is praised and not innate intelligence. There's nothing inherently wrong with the idea of parent as arbiter of what is good, and there's nothing wrong with kids learning that parents have preferences too. This whole you can't say a picture is pretty you have to say the kid uses a lot of green... it's just garbage with no scientific basis to support it. Like most of Kohn's work-- he takes a tiny bit of research, stretches it to an extreme, and makes recommendations that make no sense.

    I've heard good things about how to talk so children will listen. From what I gather it's just respecting your kids and modeling the behavior you want them to show.

    My kid is perfect, so after I read Our Babies, Ourselves which told me that I could follow my instincts and everything would turn out fine (assuming I wasn't abused as a child), I stopped paying attention to parenting books. We did pick up a lot of useful techniques from daycare. Two daycares in fact, and we changed what we did based on which daycare he was at for consistency. Both sets of techniques worked just great, the individualistic Montessori ones and the collectivist religious preschool ones. (A difference would be in the previous the person playing with the toy first has property rights, in the second you need to share by taking turns, and there's praise for sharing.) A lot of what I do naturally I'm sure my mom learned at Head Start back in the day.

    We also watched a lot of supernanny before having kids, but from what I understand the Love and Logic/Kohn/Solter folks think her techniques are tantamount to child abuse. Fortunately for them we've only had to do about 5 time-outs in DC's life. But I doubt that having done more would have scarred him permanently.

    So I guess what I'm saying is, if it ain't broke, don't fix it. Me, I prefer research-based recommendations (like Dweck) or modeling behavior that I already see working (like with the wonderfully behaved kids at a great preschool).

  6. @Dre - I'm sure it only gets more complicated as they get older! I definitely think we need to have rules, but I think the "why" behind them is super-important.

    @nicoleandmaggie - you caught a typo I had in there - I meant to reference Kohn's 'Unconditional Parenting' - cut and paste error from Amazon, that I've fixed now :)
    I didn't make it through Kohn's book the first time I read it, and don't agree with all of it, but took away some things I liked, such as not having arbitrary punishments for bad behavior (like the example where his kid was being bratty about something, and he decided to still take her to the play they were going to see the next day rather than using that as the 'natural consequence'). And it's likely Carol Dweck's research, but the idea of not overpraising EVERY.TINY.LITTLE.THING they do, even though our kids are in fact, amazing and perfect :)

    Did you really mean to say that the Love and Logic folks LIKE Alfie Kohn? I would think he'd be the anti-Love and Logic because he's totally not about punishment or consequences, etc.

    I also really enjoyed reading NurtureShock.

    As a friend told me, no one will buy a book from someone who says "try these things, they might work, but they might not, and it depends on your kid" so I think these authors have to be crazy extreme to get a following.

    On a sort of related note, buying these books on my Kindle makes it hard for me to casually flip through them...

  7. Thanks for the Adele reference! Song of the year for sure. I must confess to knowing nothing about Love and Logic. I'm more of a Hate and Illogic person myself. And BTW "free seminars" are always a huge reg flag for me. ;)

    I clicked over to the dis-recommendation you linked to, and let's just say I was freaked out with the pro-L&L commenters on there. Sounds like your mama gut is working well.

  8. hehe @hush, Hate and Illogic ;)

    I think it's like any other parenting "philosophy", the "true followers" tend to travel in packs online and shout down the rest. I think it's true for a lot of different perspectives (like all those people who think formula is The Devil...)


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