Some time ago a couple came to me and described the trouble they used to have getting their four-year-old son, Liam, to brush his teeth. Each morning, one of them would turn to Liam and say, “Okay, we need to hurry. Please go brush your teeth.” “I don’t want to!” Liam would complain.
Frustrated, Dad would yell, “How many times do I have to ask you to brush your teeth? You get in that bathroom and brush your teeth!” Liam would shake his head, and say, “No!” What a frustrating ordeal for these parents. After the couple finished telling this part of their story, the mother smiled and said, “But we’ve been studying Love and Logic and a lot of this stuff has been making sense and working.”
It was a typical morning; Mom kneeled next to Liam and asked him, “Have you brushed your teeth?” Liam looked, began to nod, and said, “I did it, Mommy. Yes.” Suspicious, Mom walked upstairs, went to the sink, and felt his little toothbrush. Dry as a bone. He’d never lied about brushing, and she was temporarily thrown off balance.
Then, she remembered one comforting thought she’d learned from Love and Logic: “Anger and frustration feed misbehavior.” She also remembered a second thing she had learned from Love and Logic: “It’s okay to delay a consequence until I’m calm and have a plan.”
Mom walked over to Liam and said, “This is really sad. I need to know you will tell me the truth about things. I’ll have to do something about this, but not right now. Try not to worry about what’s going to happen.”
That evening, Liam gobbled down his macaroni and cheese and said, “I made a happy plate. I finished! I want my blue sucker — the one with gum inside.” Dad put on a sad face and said, “Mommy and I give treats to kids who protect their teeth by brushing.” Liam yelled, “I brushed ’em — I did it! I want my sucker! I hate you!”
Dad responded with empathy, “We still love you.” Liam continued with, “I want it, I want it, I want it.” Dad looked sad for Liam and sang, “Uh-ohhh, looks like a little bedroom time. This is so sad.” When the room became quiet, Dad opened the door to see Liam weeping softly on his bed. Dad sat down, hugged his little son, and said, “Let’s go read a book before bed.”
After the bedtime story, Mom asked, “Will you go brush your teeth, Liam?” He dropped to the floor. “I don’t want to, Mommy,” he whined. Dad turned to him, raised his eyebrows, and said, “Uh-ohhhhhh.” Liam’s eyebrows lifted a bit, too, as he ran into the bathroom, squeezed a dab of toothpaste on his little toothbrush, and went to work on his teeth.
Love and Logic parents learn to regain control in their homes by following two simple rules:
- Parents take good care of themselves by providing limits in a loving way.
- Parents replace punishment with equal parts of empathy and logical consequences.
The phrase “This is so sad” forced Liam to own the pain of his misbehavior rather than blaming it on his parents. Wouldn’t we all love to give our kids these gifts?
Find more solutions to help you with your little ones in the audio, Love and Logic Solutions for Early Childhood.