The Joys of Parenting:
Turning Energy Drain into Gain
Need a few tips on how to stop getting so angry with your children? I needed some myself when my boys were young. Now I want to share what I learned with you.
Love and Logic
It doesn’t matter what ages your children are. If you learn to parent using “love and logic,” you can finally put the fun back into dysfunctional. In a nutshell, your goal is to allow your children to believe that they are sharing control. By allowing them to make choices, they will learn from their mistakes and become more responsible. You will also help to build their self-concept by offering them empathy when they face the consequences of their choices.
The love and logic concepts were defined by Foster Kline and Jim Fay in their wonderful series of books called Parenting with Love and Logic: Teaching Children Responsibility. While they can’t offer a money-back, guaranteed, fool-proof approach to raising great children, their ideas may raise the odds of helping your children to become more responsible.
We all tend to remember things best when we learn the hard way. The younger children are when they learn important lessons, the less significant are the consequences if they make a mistake. Also, the sooner they learn, the easier the transition is from toddler to teen. If you parent well during the first three to five years of your child’s life, you are likely to improve the chances that your teenager will be more responsible. Any unresolved issues from the early years tend to come back to haunt you during your child’s adolescence.
How Does It Work?
You consistently give your children choices while setting limits and offering empathy when they learn things the hard way and meet some discomfort.
Concept #1 Build Self-Concept
A low self-concept comes from parents who:
- Criticize and find fault
- Insist on doing everything for their children
- Don’t allow their children to experience the joy of independent success.
A high self-concept comes from parents who:
- Offer empathy, understanding, and unconditional love
- Allow their children to struggle and solve their own problems
- Encourage children to succeed through personal thinking and learning.
How do you put this into practice? Let’s say your child is taking too long to get dressed in the morning or is wearing inappropriate clothing. Instead of insisting that your child change his clothes, ask him: “How are the other kids going to respond when you come to school in pajamas?” or “What will your teacher say when you arrive late for his class?” If those don’t work, try: “How do you think it will feel when you go outside in your pajamas in this cold, rainy weather?”
In another example, your daughter left her toys on the floor. Instead of insisting that she clean up her toys, ask your child if she wants to pick up her Legos and put them away herself or if she wants Mommy to do it. Naturally, she will want Mommy to do it. However, the next time she wants her Legos, she will have to wait until Mommy feels like cleaning them up again. So it may be another day or two before she gets to play with her Legos. If and when she starts to weep or yell, then Mommy asks: “Well, maybe you need some quiet time in your room to think about things, and, if you want, I can give you a hug before you go. Next time, if you want to be in control of your toys, it may be better if you put them away yourself.”
Instead of criticism or insisting on doing everything for your children, allow them to struggle and think for themselves while offering empathy.
Concept #2 Share the Control within Firm Limits
Whenever you engage in any activity or make plans, try to allow your child to participate in making certain choices. For instance, ask whether he chooses to play on the swing or on the slide at the playground, if he wants to be pushed and how high, and even if he wants to leave now or wait fifteen more minutes. When the fifteen minutes is up and the child still isn’t ready to go, simply explain: “We gave you lots of choices and now it is our turn to make a choice. Thank you for letting us make this choice.” The key is to give away control when you don’t really need it so you can get it back when you do.
Examples: Do you want a story before bed or no story?
Are you going to wear your coat or just carry it?
Would you like milk or juice with lunch?
Are you going to go to bed now or in five minutes?
Concept #3 Provide Empathy before Delivering Consequences
The other important concept to help your children to succeed in life is to make sure they experience empathy and love without strings. Our praise and love must never be conditional on our child’s accomplishments. Praise, hugs, eye contact, and time invested in them will indicate that we believe our children are lovable and have what it takes to succeed just as they are. They are good enough the way they are. When this message is internalized, your children will want to prove you right.
Alternatively, when children misbehave, they need to learn that their behavior and its consequences are their choice. When they do, they will be less likely to misbehave. We as humans tend to learn better and faster when there is discomfort involved. You only need to touch a hot stove once. The pain of poor choices helps children to learn to avoid mistakes.
Examples of how to use empathy instead of anger:
“Stop spitting food or else!” versus “How sad . . . Dinner is over.”
“No! We are not going out for pizza!” versus “This is such a shame. We could have gone out for pizza but unfortunately we can’t because you might have a tantrum like the last time we went out.”
Sincere empathy will work wonders, but sarcasm will not.
Concept #4 Share the Thinking
Ask your child questions when he makes a mistake and let him come up with possible solutions, guiding him toward what might work best. It is important to allow him to think more about the solution than you do.
An example of putting this into practice:
A five-year-old gives his little brother a haircut, which is completely uneven and needs to be fixed. His mother asks him what he is going to do about it, and he replies that he doesn’t know. She asks if he would like to hear some ideas. She suggests that perhaps he could open his piggy bank to find enough money to pay a barber to trim up his brother’s hair. After looking in the piggy bank, they find $3.00 so the mother asks him what he thinks it will cost. The boy doesn’t know so she suggests that he call a barber shop to find out. She lets him push the buttons on the phone and then allows him to ask the barber what it would cost. It would be $8.00 so he is upset because he can’t afford it. The mother then asks what he will do. When he doesn’t know, she suggests another idea: he can help with her chores and she will pay him. He doesn’t like that idea so she suggests that he sell one of his favorite toys to cover the cost. He likes that idea even less so he decides to help her with the chores instead.
This example illustrates the love and logic concepts and how they can allow Mom to have some fun while parenting without getting angry. It also gives her son an opportunity to learn responsibility as well as to find solutions and think independently. Every opportunity to own and solve a problem enhances a child’s self-respect. It is best to give your child at least three ideas for solutions, but let him or her choose.
Consequences + Anger = More Anger
Consequences + Empathy = Learning
A final thought. When coping with a child who is lying, fighting, or whining, announce that she is causing you to have an “energy drain” and then ask her how she plans on putting energy back into her tired parent? When she doesn’t know, make some suggestions such as doing chores or taking a time out and then let her choose which way she prefers. Parenting doesn’t have to be a series of battles. It can be a joy if you remember to use love and logic. Once you get the hang of it, you can even turn your energy drain into a gain.