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Love and Logic refresher, part 2 — Giving up threats and punishments

In this refresher on the Love and Logic parenting method, Erin Stewart focuses on showing empathy along with giving up threats and punishments. One statement that helps her is "I give dessert to kids who finish their dinners."
In this refresher on the Love and Logic parenting method, Erin Stewart focuses on showing empathy along with giving up threats and punishments. One statement that helps her is "I give dessert to kids who finish their dinners."

Editor's note: This is the second in a series reviewing parenting tips from the Love and Logic program. See previous columns online at

After building up our relationship with our kids and mastering the technique of diffusing arguments (see last week’s article "Parenting skills refresher course — showing love and avoiding arguments" on we’re ready to move into the meat of parenting with the Love and Logic method: teaching responsibility without losing your child’s love.

Now many of you are rolling your eyes or shouting, “Blasphemy! The very nature of parenthood pits us against our children, and they will inevitably resent us for it!”

Perhaps. But Love and Logic says there is a happy medium between the parent who rules with the iron fist and the permissive parent who just wants to be their child’s friend. The ultimate role of parents is to be a guide, helping their child learn to be responsible for their own choices and the consequences life will inevitably hand them.

How do we do this?

First, parents empathize. Almost every skill in the Love and Logic program starts with empathy because it immediately puts us on the same side as our child. We understand their pain, their struggle, their anger. And when they feel our empathy, they go from immediately shutting us out to letting us in, along with the knowledge we are guiding them towards.

This doesn’t come naturally for me at all. I do not feel a ton of genuine empathy for lost shoes that should have been in the closet or late homework that should have been done instead of playing. So, I go the list of empathetic one-liners:

• This is so sad …

• That must be hard.

• Oh, man

• Ohhhh (sometimes this is the only response I can muster, a noise that sounds somewhat emphatic)

Then, when we have solidified in our child’s mind that we are on the same team, we move to the second step: allowing consequences to happen to our child. Often, these consequences are delayed and the child may not fully understand how their bad choice has impacted them yet.

But they will. And when they do, we give our empathetic response, and then stand back and allow our child the opportunity to feel the brunt of the consequence.

This could look something like this:

"This is so sad. You left your bike out all night and it got stolen. How are you planning to pay for another one?"

Or: "That must be really frustrating to have spilled your cereal all over the table. As soon as you clean up your mess, you can go play."

Sometimes, however, a natural consequence doesn’t present itself, and that’s when we make one for our child. Before my refresher course, this often came in the form of threats at our house. There were a lot of statements like “If you don’t do what I want, you’ll get such-and-such a punishment."

Love and Logic, however, offers a three-part formula to replace threats with “enforceable statements.”

1. Permission

2. Motivation

3. Expectation

So, one such statement we use often in our house is: "You may keep the toys you pick up." I give them permission (you may) to keep toys (motivation) that they clean up (expectation). And the rest? Well, any toys I clean up can be earned back through extra chores to repay me for my time and energy.

The same goes for statements like:

"I give dessert to kids who finish their dinners."

"Kids who are caught up on their chores and homework can spend their free time how they’d like."

When I started using this three-step formula, I realized that so much of my relationship with my children was built around negative and often empty threats. Now, I catch myself and switch the language, and it’s amazing to watch the change in my kids. Suddenly, they feel empowered to make good choices.

And after I’ve made the enforceable statement, I fight all of my natural urges to remind, warn or lecture. I simply follow through. Of course, there is often a lot of weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth when the child realizes the consequences of her choices, but then I go back to last week’s method of neutralizing the argument, deliver empathy and let the consequence happen.

Just like that, with a seemingly small change in language and attitude, I am not the bad guy anymore. Their poor choices are.

And really, that’s the whole idea. We don’t need to stand over our children as a taskmaster or between them and the reality of the world. Using both love and logic, we stand next to them, guiding them toward the responsible adults we know they can become.