I have an extremely strong-willed second-grade boy we’ll call Twin2. The first six years of his life were fairly uneventful, and then, at age seven, Twin2 figured it out. Why were these tall people telling him what to do? Didn’t they realize he had been on this planet for seven whole years, and could dictate all the terms of his existence? Once his epiphany happened, everything became a battle: getting out of the door in the morning, brushing his teeth, getting him into bed. Feeling outmatched and not wanting to turn our house into a daily cage-fighting battle, I decided to take a parenting class.
The class was offered at our local community center and is based on the Love and Logic rules. You may have heard of them: inundate your child with choices, offer them empathy instead of telling them what to do, and give them independence without rescuing them. Parents had to set limits and hold kids accountable.
The day after our first class, Twin2 went into the basement to do his homework and yelled for me to bring down his spelling words. Let me also clarify: we don’t live in a castle or a manor. We live in a perfectly normal sized middle-income home with a basement. In addition, this request had an impression of fetch to it – the type of entreaty that would have had me reprimanded for days if I asked my parents to do it thirty years ago (once they finished laughing). So I held my ground and politely told him no, he could get his own spelling words.
Twin2 responded by screaming, crying, kicking his feet, dropping to the floor and feigning muscular paralysis. The class says that when your child is melting down as a response to these tactics, what they really feel is love. They know you love them enough to set limits. So, as all of this was taking place over the course of forty-five minutes, I tried to remind myself that even though he was threatening to leave the family, live on a train in Siberia by himself and never speak to us again, what he was really feeling inside was a profound sense of my love for him.
During the second class, we were told to stop nagging our kids. Nagging was taking responsibility away from them, robbing them of the ability to figure things out for themselves. This particularly resonated with me, because most mornings sound like this:
Me: Twin2, make sure you get dressed and eat your breakfast. We’re leaving in 10 minutes.
Me: Twin2, have you eaten your breakfast yet? Need to eat your breakfast. We’ve leaving in 8 minutes.
Me: Twin2, you need to eat your breakfast. Can you eat your breakfast please? We need to leave in 4 minutes.
Twin2: Umm, Mommy, what do you think it’s like on Saturn, and which planet is closest to the sun, Mars or Mercury?
Me: OH MY GOODNESS CHILD!! EAT YOUR BREAKFAST ALREADY! WE ARE LEAVING IN TWO MINUTES!!
Sitting in this class, I resolved that I wouldn’t nag Twin2 anymore. Instead I’d trust him to figure out what he needed to do.
So upon arriving home from class that night and seeing the time, I announced, “All kids who get into their pajamas right now and are back in the kitchen by 8:20 will get their milk.” Two of my kids ran upstairs and got into their pajamas. Twin2 hung around the foyer and examined his baseball cards, delivered a lengthy homily on the facial hair of the St. Louis Cardinals team and finally moseyed upstairs to get into his pajamas at 8:25. I bit my tongue but gave him no reminders or nagging.
“Can I have my milk?” he asked me at 8:30.
“I told you to be in the kitchen ten minutes ago. The window for milk has closed,” I responded.
Twin2’s world subsequently shattered. He dropped to the floor again, kicking, shouting, crying. I need to give him choices, I reminded myself.
“Twin2, shall I carry you to your room or will you walk?” I asked.
His response was, “I’M GOING TO STARVE WITHOUT MY MILK!” so I carried him into his bedroom.
I need to offer him empathy, I told myself. “Twin2, I know it’s frustrating when you don’t get what you want. But I love you too much to nag you.”
His response was, “YOU DON’T LOVE ME ENOUGH TO FEED ME!”
I left him in his bedroom and closed the door. For the next thirty minutes I could hear him shouting invectives and taking out his anger on his bed. But eventually he went to sleep and didn’t even starve overnight.
A recent article in Aha Parenting touted the virtues of raising a strong-willed child. The article claimed these kids are impervious to peer pressure and often become great leaders. It also mentioned the need for empathy, giving choices and setting limits – strategies that mirror what I’m learning in the class.
I’m not quite ready to say whether these tactics are working for Twin2 and me. I’m certainly seeing a difference – a large uptick in tantrums and meltdowns – but that’s most likely not the type of difference the instructors intended. My hope is that even though it’s hard now, it’ll get easier as I consistently follow these rules. Only time will tell.