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Saturday, November 19, 2005

Applying Love and Logic

I have a very well-behaved two-year-old. She rarely has a tantrum, and when she does, she regroups quickly. She never hits, pinches, bites, etc. She follows directions quite well, except for the occasional typical two-year-old dawdling, goofing around, and when it's time to get dressed in the morning or diapered for nap or bedtime. Although Dear Daugter has been potty trained for nearly 6 months (since she was barely 22 months old) we have not pushed the issue of getting up during nap or bedtime to go. She is not able to get her pants up and down alone and I would rather her get her rest at naptime and for both she and I to get our rest at bedtime than be concerned with getting up and down for potty breaks. At those times we need to diaper her, Dear Daughter likes to get really silly and run around naked and ignore either/both parents instead of cooperating with getting her diaper on. Today I used a little Love and Logic on the issue, and it was HARD!

We have used Love and Logic with her before, but it hasn't been required much. The main incidents I can think of were requiring her to come inside because she wouldn't follow directions not to play in the water or some such thing. We have never needed to use much discipline with her.

Let me preface a bit. For those of you who do not know it, I have several years of professional training and experience specializing in working with behaviorally disordered children as well as conducting child and family therapy. I have seen A LOT of children and families with major problems that tend to most frequently present themselves when children are reaching that pre-adolescent age of 11 or 12, but I've worked with a lot of teenage kiddos and their families as well. The number one reason the families are such a mess and the kids are such menaces are due to poor parenting skills and/or lack of discipline. When parents learn how to be consistent with discipline, it's amazing how the kids thrive. However, the older the child and the longer standing the problem has been, the bigger the challenge. When I see kiddos that are pushing 17 years old and nearing the time of going out on their own in the world even though they cannot function responsibly, respectfully, and appropriately within their own families and limited social circles, I shudder. These are the ones who are at risk of ending up with legal problems, in jail, major drug and alcohol addictions, and passing all the problems on again to their own children. Then I will see their children in my office in a few years. It's an endless cycle. And it's MUCH MUCH easier to start doing it right when a child is a year old than when a child is 15 years old.

Let me also say that I am NOT a proponent of spanking. But I'm not inviting a big spanking debate. This is just my own opinion. I have worked with a lot of abused children who were spanked because parents simply had poor parenting skills and that was the "easiest" thing to do and was a release for parental anger and agression. And many of these kids were hit and physically abused and did not know the difference between getting beat up and being disciplined because the parents didn't know the different between "punishment" (which is often devoid of teaching) and "discipline" (which stems from the word "disciple" which means to teach). I don't believe pure punishment teaches better behavior. A child simply stops the negative behavior out of fear of being hit but doesn't develop internal thinking and problem solving skills, and so will often continue the negative behavior when the parent isn't looking.

The training and support I offer parents in therapy settings are based in Love and Logic theory, which is GREAT! If anyone is intrested, there are lots of Love and Logic training materials and books out there. My favorites are "Parenting with Love and Logic" (great ideas for teenagers) and "Love and Logic Magic for Early Childhood" (great ideas for toddlers and preschoolers, but also some stuff quite adaptable for pre-adolescents and teens).

Back to my personal story. At nap time today I decided that it was due time to apply Love and Logic to the problem of Dear Daughter refusing to "cooperate" with getting her "napping pants" on. So I told her that she could cooperate and get stories before nap time or not cooperate and not get stories before nap time. She continued to not cooperate. Keep in mind that Dear Daughter is very well aware of what is meant by cooperate. She has informed me a couple times that "Mommy is not cooperating" if I don't respond quickly enough to her requests.

Cardinal Rule for parents: Never say something you won't follow through with, and follow through with everything you say. I knew I had to be prepared to put Dear Daugther down for naptime without stories if I was going to offer the choice (which is the key to Love and Logic: always frame things as the child's choice. This helps the child learn to think for themselves, learn the fact of cause and effect related to their behavior, and not blame the parents for their own poor behavior/choices).

Dear Daughter cried and begged for stories and ran to turn the lamp back on and whines over and over "NO, cooperate!" and I had to gently and firmly tell her I love her and that little girls who cooperate get stories, but little girls who don't cooperate don't get stories. Then I had to place my sobbing daughter in her little bed and cover her up and walk out of the room. I wanted to cry myself as I shut her door. And I wanted to run back in and say, "I changed my mind! Let's read some stories, you sweet precious little darling!" But I knew that would be the kiss of death and all the pre-teen and teenage "monsters" I've worked with in my counseling career ran through my mind. I refuse to "ruin" my children like that. Then all the advice I've given parents ran through my head. Things like, "You gotta start when they are 1 and 2 years old, you've gotta follow through and follow through consistently" and the Cardinal Rule I mentioned above. Then I thought about the families I've worked with who could not manage their 2, 3, and 4 year olds and how many times I thought to myself when I had these families in my office, "Why are they letting their toddler run their homes and lives like this?" These are the families that come in with problems with their teenagers and have a toddler with them as well. The toddlers offer a great window of information as they tear my office apart and the parents say things like, "You better stop it! Get your butt over here! Do you want a spanking?" and on and on and on, raising their voice more loudly as the child gets more and more out of control. I have said to myself thousands of times over the past few years that I will NEVER be that parent because I will NEVER get into that situation.

So Dear Daughter had her nap without any stories. She stopped sobbing in less than a minute and talked to her stuffed animals for a few minutes and then took her nap. As soon as she got up from her nap she couldn't wait to "snuggle Mommy" and inform me that she was going to cooperate. I squeezed her close and told her I love her and that I was sad she decided not to cooperate earlier because I like to read her stories and that I know she will decide to cooperate and get stories next time.

Well, I didn't orignally intend this to be a "soap box" post. I originally intended to express that this parenting stuff is sure hard sometimes when you are focused on raising responsible, enjoyable children devoid of "spoiled brat syndrome."

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