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Love & Logic? A critique.

Dr. Laura,
I notice you don't recommend the Love and Logic books.  Just an oversight, or do you not like them?

Love and Logic was in the first wave of the anti-punishment books, more than twenty years ago.  Their view was that instead of punishing kids, which backfires, parents should use logical consequences.  This is also what Jane Nelsen, who wrote Positive Discipline, recommended at the time.  Which makes sense, except in practice using consequences often ends up looking like punishment to the child. There's a whole article about using consequences in this way on this website: What's wrong with using Consequences to teach kids lessons?

Jane Nelsen, who I interviewed on my radio show, told me that she no longer recommends using consequences because of this problem.  She has really developed the Positive Discipline approach over the years in a wonderful way.

My impression -- and I have not done more than go to the website once and read the Love and Logic book, so this is just my opinion -- is that Love and Logic has not done this. They do use consequences in a way that seems to me to be punishment.  For instance, the book gives an example where the kid is rude to the mom, so she sends him to his room.  He refuses to go.  So she doesn't spank him, but later he is not allowed to have dinner until he goes up the stairs to his room and back to the dinner table twenty times.

On the good side, the mom did not lose her temper, hit, or yell.  And the authors do say parents should be empathic as they give the consequences.  But I think that's a bit like "I love you, too bad I have to punish you, I know that makes you mad but you brought it on yourself."

I would add that the book doesn't pay any attention to how parents can actually manage their emotions so I am betting that most parents who try their techniques still seem very angry to their children, and end up getting into power struggles.

Finally, the book seems to take the perspective that all kids will get away with whatever they can, not because they're bad but because they're kids.  The authors don't evidence any curiosity about WHY kids do what they do.  I personally think we need to understand WHY if we are to address the problem at the core.  In other words, if the kid was rude to his mom, there's a reason -- he's hurting about something.  Sure, I can send him to his room, or make him go up and down the stairs twenty times, but I won't get to the root cause and prevent it happening again.  If my child were to be rude to me -- a very rare occurrence, when you raise kids to be emotionally intelligent (and I have two teenagers) -- I would certainly want to understand what made them feel so bad they would be willing to hurt my feelings. 

So in my view, Love and Logic doesn't support parents to help the child develop emotional intelligence or manage his own emotions.  Instead, the focus is on "teaching lessons" with "consequences" which are mostly punishments, supposedly delivered with kindness instead of anger. This kind of "teaching" is certainly better than spanking or yelling, but I do not believe it will not raise kids who understand and can manage their emotions. The research done by John Gottman, for instance, indicates that when parents set empathic limits, kids learn emotional intelligence.  The consequences approach is simply punishment, and there is a wealth of research showing that punishment backfires. (For a list of such studies, see Alfie Kohn's book Unconditional Parenting.)

What I do like about the Love and Logic book is the idea that parents can  help kids become responsible for themselves instead of nagging them.  But their method is just to stop telling the child what to do and let them suffer the consequences.  In one example, they don't fight about bedtime, they just let the kids stay up (in their example the kids are at least six years old) and then feel miserably tired the next day at school.  Could work.  But it is my experience that kids then find a happy medium -- midnight -- which means they are never in a good mood.  I just don't think letting a six year old set his own bedtime is exercising our parental responsibility.  And I can see that child getting into all kinds of trouble on the computer after the parents are asleep.  In my experience, there is a way to patiently help kids learn habits and skills without nagging AND without punishment AND without abandoning them to the consequences of their own choices before they are ready.

Here's another post I wrote on letting kids learn from consequences, which helps us look at this from another angle: The truth about consequences

I hope that's helpful.  There are many other authors whose books I would highly recommend, please see My very favorite Parenting Books.

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Anonymous commented on 14-Apr-2012 02:21 AM
Can you please cite the page in the book of the passage you are referencing here?
Laura Markham commented on 17-Apr-2012 01:11 PM
Sorry- I long ago passed that book on to the local library. There are so many wonderful parenting books that I refer to and that wasn't one of them, ever! But if you read the book, you'll find that story.

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