The Preschooler. Just the name strikes fear. Not unlike other “spirited” children (that’s what they’re calling them these days), he moves from lovable genius to wit-splitting maniacal madman with ease and fortitude. As one friend puts it, if you ask him to “do or die” he will die. Every single time. Over and over and over again.
And it’s true. The rules might have changed, after all. The risk of reward is sometimes worth the act of testing. And really, in nonpreschool humans, we value this trait. It’s the initiative and perseverance we revere in graduate students working on a thesis, medical researchers looking to cure cancer, and preachers attempting to convert the masses. This skill will inevitably serve him well – if only he can manage to live that long.
I confessed two weeks ago that I was going to break with tradition and seek the help of professionals. (No, not shrinks you buffoons, a self-help book.) I’m now happy to report on The Preschooler’s reluctant but miraculous turnabout.
Luckily, I re-cracked open the world’s greatest parenting book: Parenting with Love and Logic. No, I’m not being paid by these people and I wasn’t given a free copy of the book for review. I worship the ground they walk on for one reason and one reason only: they get it.
Here are the three major concepts:
(1) Let kids succeed by allowing them to experience the natural consequences of their choices while they are young and the consequences are small. It provides a framework for good decision-making as they mature. Your job as a parent is to empathize with them in a way that allows them to avoid blaming you for the consequence. This is unfortunate for me since sarcasm is one of my best parenting tools. I once answered The Preschooler’s query concerning favoritism with, “I obviously love your sister more than I love you, honey.”
Note: That one didn’t go over well. I don’t recommend it.
(2) Show basic human respect, and expect it in return. Kids are pretty smart. When we treat them like they’re dumb, they turn out that way. If you remind a kid ten times to do something, they are going to believe that you think they are really stupid and will follow the path of least resistance. You gain their respect with empathy and consistency, not demands or threats that you can’t back up. Again, I have had to recant one of my favorites, “If you break my house, I will break you.” Also, it sounds just a little child-abusey.
(3) Don’t fuel fights, fuel thinking. Changing how you speak completely changes how a child’s brain works. If you can get them thinking, they are chemically and biologically unable to engage their fighting brains. This amazing technique works like magic. I swear, it’s true, it’s pure magic, people! Well, it’s actually science, but since I don’t do math, let’s just treat it like math and call it “magic!”
Now, back to our regularly scheduled program. We used Love and Logic faithfully a couple of years ago when The Preschooler was going through his last unctuous stage. We fell out of practice, and I felt now was the perfect time for reimplementation.
Here’s how the parenting shenanigans went down:
I was busy with regular after dinner such and such, had finally cajoled the kids into their beds, and eventually made my way downstairs to assess the regular evening disaster. It was there, at the end of my very strenuous work day, still in my suit and heels, that I encountered the world’s largest explosion of post-Halloween mayhem any two kids have ever mercilessly spewed on any kitchen in the history of time (at least it felt pretty dramatic at the time). There were costumes, candy wrappers, school papers, neighborhood flyers, dress-up props, stuffed animals, dead glow-sticks, dirty dinner dishes, discarded batteries, pumpkin sludge, and even leftover food littering the counters and floors of my kitchen.
First, I restrained my desire to rip both kids by the elbow from their beds and scream at them, “What did I tell you to do?!” or “How many times have I asked you to clean up your own messes?!” or, the most well-used version, “I’m SICK and TIRED of cleaning up after you.”
Instead, I took a deep breath, got a glass of wine, sat down, and smiled.
That’s right. This was a good thing. This was going to be a wonderful learning opportunity in the morning. And so, I willingly left it there.
I blogged. I read the mail. I watched the news. I went to bed. It was a wonderful thing.
In the morning, I got to work immediately on Plan A: Mom On Strike. When we all got downstairs for breakfast, it was just horrible that I couldn’t find any counter space on which to fix breakfast! They shrugged and grabbed protein bars and headed to the car. But I had planned for this. If there was a Plan A, there was always a Plan B. I would now prepare for the next phase of battle, Plan B: Energy Drain.
I came home and commented on the condition of the kitchen. I mentioned that I was sure hungry and I told them I had an idea. They suspiciously asked me what it was. I said, “I can clean this up, or you can.” These were real choices. I was 100% OK with either answer, truly! Of course, there were natural consequences for each choice, and my kids knew it, because of their previous Love & Logic experiences. Mom cleaning it up would probably exhaust her, using up all her energy for the night. There would be no hot dinner, no homework help, no tuck-ins or story reading. I would be completely and totally drained. Exhausted. Kaput.
And you know what? It worked. I’ve never seen kids clean like this. Some serious child labor laws were broken here, people. One of them had the vacuum and the other had the granite polish. At five and seven, even with a two year Love & Logic hiatus, these kids knew immediately how to handle the mess they had literally gotten themselves into, but only after I gave them a chance to fix it. And let me tell you, these piles were not merely transplanted. They were not stacked on the stairs, crammed in their closets, or stashed under their beds. These treasures were put away, where they wouldn’t take any more of mom’s energy than absolutely necessary.
Oh sure, The Preschooler moaned and whined a few times, even ripped off his shirt and threw it on the floor at one point in disgust. But I went brain-dead and just repeated “I know” until he got tired of hearing me (“brain dead” is another fantastic L&L technique). And yeah, they screamed at each other about who was doing more work until I winced and covered my ears, indicating yet another potential loss of energy (also I charge $1 to listen to bickering). But after that stopped, by and large, I fixed a leisurely dinner to that beautiful sound, the one that makes all moms everywhere rejoice from their innermost core of motherhood: working children.
And then we all enjoyed a relaxing meal together. Nobody was mad. They were happy for hot food and I was happy for peace and quiet. And then, the most brilliant, amazing, astonishing thing happened. They cleared their plates, and they went upstairs – to bed. Because frankly, they were exhausted.
Love and Logic, I love you. Please don’t tell anyone, but I totally want to marry you.
NOW, you want some really good news? Love & Logic has a new MP3 download, “Love and Logic For Heroes: Practical Parenting for Military Families.” I’m going to listen to it tonight and give you my review. Again, I’m not paid to say this stuff, but let me just tease you a little … they HAVE offered to give a copy to all of you, my studio audience, for – wait for it – free!
This must be what it feels like to be Oprah.
So check back here tomorrow for more info and in the meantime, go get a copy of that book!