Written by Kelley Wilkinson, Director of Stonebriar Community Church Preschool Pals. She is a certified trainer of Love and Logic through the Love and Logic Institute, and she uses these very same techniques to train her talented and loving team.
Close your eyes and let your mind go with me to a place where your child always behaves and responds immediately to your directions or requests. Each time you ask your child to do something, it is done with a “yes”, a smile, and no temper tantrums or questions. Take a deep breath and savor the moment. This is a very good place, isn’t it?!!
Sorry, but now you can open your eyes and we can return to reality. I know you wanted to stay there a little longer; I like that place, too. Your home might be close to our imaginary place, or your home could be the complete opposite. Everything is a battle, bribery is a way of life, and you struggle each day just to survive. You love your children very much, but those cute bundles of joy have taken over every aspect of your home, schedule, and lifestyle. It’s time for a change!
Let’s talk about a very practical way for you to move your relationship with your children and your home closer to our imaginary place. Our goal needs to be moving our children toward independence, good problem-solving skills, and solid decision-making adults. I hear you grumbling right now, “I can’t let my 18-month-old be independent, they would destroy my house or hurt themselves!” I am talking about age-appropriate ways to practice independence. If you don’t let them start with the small stuff now, then how can you expect them to take on the big adult stuff if they haven’t been practicing their whole life?
One of my favorite ways to help a child learn how to think for themselves and allow them to be part of their own life is by practicing Love and Logic. If a child can practice making choices in the early years of life then they have the tools they will need as adults. Also, by involving the child in the daily decision-making process, they feel more in control and will have less tendency to have temper-tantrums.
Love and Logic is about giving choices to children throughout the day and allowing them to have some control in their lives. Now here is the great part for you! You, the parent, will only give two choices, and both options are okay for you. Isn’t that great? So, no matter which one your child picks, you are happy. You set the boundaries of the choices, and you must allow them to pick their choice, and you are fine with it. You cannot attempt to persuade them after they made their choice to pick the other option. You must practice only giving two options and no more. Strong-willed children will try to negotiate a third option. You must be consistent with two choices only, those that leave you happy with either way they pick.
Let’s talk about what this would look like throughout your day. Here are some examples of choices you could provide.
Example 1: Picking breakfast. “We are having cereal for breakfast this morning. Would you like Cheerios or Raisin Bran? You also need to have some juice, so would you like apple or orange juice? Would you like butter only or peanut butter on your toast this morning? Okay, so you would like Cheerios, apple juice and peanut butter on your toast this morning. I will get that started for you.”
Your children just made three choices, and you would have been fine with any of their choices. Once they have made a choice, they do not get to make another after you have gotten their breakfast ready. They made their choice and must live with the natural consequences. In this example, they made their breakfast selection, and the natural consequence is they are going to eat that for breakfast. If they begin to fuss, remind them it was their choice and they will be hungry later. If they continue to fuss then you take away breakfast and they wait ’til lunch. There will be no long-term damage to not eating breakfast, but they will be hungry for lunch and will quickly understand that they made the choice of food and now they need to eat what they ordered.
Example 2: Getting dressed. “Today will be hot outside, and we have a lot of errands to do today. Would you like to wear your blue shirt or red shirt? Would you like to wear your jean shorts or khaki shorts? We will be walking a lot today, so would you be more comfortable in your tennis shoes or sandals?”
Again, they have practiced making choices, they are dressed appropriately for your daily schedule and the weather, and they will be happier because they picked out their outfit. The best part is there was no arguing about it, and you’re happy with their outfit, as well.
Example 3: Going to a store where the child usually wants or cries for everything. While you are in the car, talk about how you will go in to buy the items on your list. You will not be buying extra things today. You expect your child to be a good listener, not to ask for items to be purchased for them, and there will be no crying or temper tantrums. If any of these negative behaviors happen, then you will all leave the store, get back into the car, and go home. As the parent, you must be willing to leave the store without your items to teach the lesson. I know it’s extra work to go back to the store without your child and shop later, but it will be worth it in the long run!
In the store, give your child a copy of a list for them to hold and “read”. Have them mark off the items with a crayon as you put them in the cart.
Options to give in the store are: Would you like to get the fruit or veggies first? Would you like to get the meat or bread next? If they are involved and have a job of crossing off the list then they will spend less time looking for things they will want you to buy for them. You are well on the path to reduce or eliminate the problem.
Example 4: Eating at a restaurant. Again, on the way to the restaurant, you talk about appropriate behavior, setting the expectations for them and talking about what good choices and bad choices will be. Read the food options to your children and let them pick. Allow them to decide which drink they want. If they are old enough to talk, then let them tell the waiter their order. This practices eye contact with other people and helps develop self-esteem/confidence. If a tantrum begins, warn them they will have to sit in the car while the rest of the family finishes the meal. If the tantrum continues then take them to the car, buckle them in the car seat, and wait for the rest of the family to be done. If you are sitting in the car with a misbehaving child then that is all you are doing. Do not put on a video/movie, do not get any toys out or read books. This should be very boring so your children won’t want to repeat the process. Tell your children they had to leave because of their poor choice in behavior. That’s not an appropriate way to act, and they don’t get to be in the restaurant when they act that way. If you are the only adult there then you get your order to go.
Example 5: Cleaning up their toys at home. Your child has played with every toy in your house today- that’s great! However, they don’t want to clean up, but they want to watch TV or go outside now. You will tell them “I’m happy to take you to go play outside (or turn TV on) as soon as you clean up all your toys. We must put away our things before we can start something else.” You are telling them they can do what they want to after they do the right thing first. They can clean up quickly or pout about it and take too long and miss outside time, a natural consequence for your child.
The more choices you can give your child every day, the more it will help them grow in their decision-making skills and feel more independent. It will cut down on a lot of frustration in your house. There will be a time that you can’t give them a choice and you will have to say “no” to them. It might be a safety or financial thing. Using this approach, saying “no” is the exception and not the norm, and your child will understand and respect it with less arguing.
If your house currently uses bribery as the norm and you are focused on survival, try using Love and Logic to make a change. By making this change in your child’s behavior, things could get temporarily worse before they get better. Be strong and consistent and know it will get better for your whole family.
This is a small part of Love and Logic. If you are interested in learning more, you can purchase the book, Parenting with Love and Logic by Foster Cline and Jim Fay. There are also several age-specific Love and Logic resources if you are parenting tweens and teens. The parenting tools developed here can be applicable to a child of any age. More resources are also available through the Love and Logic Institute at https://www.loveandlogic.com/.
God gave these children to you to raise and parent them. We are to “train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.” -Proverbs 22:6. God did not intend for these little children to run any household, so it’s time for you to take back your role as the parent and be the leader of your house. If I can do this, I know you can, too.
We are so grateful to Kelley Wilkinson for taking the time to contribute today’s blog post. Kelley is Director of Preschool Pals here at Stonebriar Community Church. In addition to filling her days with preschoolers, parents, and teachers, she is the wife of Curtis and mother of three teenage boys. This broad experience, along with her certification as a teacher of Love and Logic® techniques, makes her a great resource for parents with children of all ages.