As a camp director who has worked with children at summer camp for 30 years, I’ve known intuitively and anecdotally what I heard last week at a keynote address of the Association of Independent Camps at the American Camp Association National Conference. Dr. Foster Cline, co-author of “Parenting With Love and Logic,” topped the hit parade of advice for parents who want to raise responsible, resilient, and respectful children. I listened intently as he distilled his entire approach to asking the right questions, using the appropriate tone, and disengaging from a problem that belongs to the child and not to the parent. The bottom line? “I love you too much to argue.”
My favorite question has become my own mantra in the week since I’ve returned from Denver, and it is effective even between adults: “So how’s that going for you?” Closely related to the nonjudgmental statement, “Good luck with that.” (The trick here is to say it without any hint of sarcasm; good luck with that!).
I assume that any parent who is reading this blog has a shared vision: take control of the home in loving ways. That said, allow me to elaborate on some of these amazing techniques. “What do you think will happen if…?” “Why are you telling me this?” “How are you intending to solve that problem?”
The best set of questions are the ones that ask the child to figure out the consequences or the outcome, especially when you aren’t so sure of the upshot yourself! From my experience, I can assure you that often what the child comes up with is more pertinent and more stringent than what you might choose! Try some of these: “And what am I expecting right now?” “What do you think I’m thinking right now?” “What do you think is an appropriate consequence for your mistake?” You’ll be enlightened by the answers!
And speaking of mistakes, change your filter. The philosophy of the Love and Logic Institute teaches parents how to hold their children accountable in a way that locks in “empathy, love, and understanding.” It is rooted in the undeniable reality that mistakes are how children learn. Best question in the world, reveals Cline, is, “What have you learned from this?” Another is, “Can you tell me your strategy for helping….?”
Self-confidence, you see, is acquired through struggle and achievement. So don’t rescue your child, or you will preclude him from developing his own internal voice which says, “I wonder how much pain I’m going to cause for myself with my next decision?”
Use empathy, advises Cline, to validate feelings. Master the one-liner: “That’s so sad.” “Nice try.” “Thanks for sharing your thoughts.” “What a bummer.” In essence, his guidance is, “Go brain dead!”
And make sure you remember whose problem it is you are dealing with! Counselors do it all the time – “If I see you behaving in a way that would stop your leadership potential, I’ll be honest with you.” “Here are my hopes for you.” “The way I work is….”
These are the steps to responsibility – pure questions without accusations, Cline summarizes. “What are you feeling?” “What was the choice you made?” “What are your thoughts now?” “Would you like to hear how others have handled it?” “What do you think you’ll do next time?” “How do you think that will work out for you?” And the classic, my very favorite, “Good luck with that.”
Oh, and one more thing, Cline suggests. Don’t feel that you have to come up with a consequence on the spot. Give your child a chance to ruminate on some of the possibilities while you take the time to cool down and reflect on a punishment that is logical and natural, not punitive and vindictive. Remember, it’s about the lesson, not retribution.
Helicopter parents, Cline opines, end up frustrated and with hostile, dependent children who can become resentful and rebellious. Rescue missions, for which both helicopters and helicopter parents are known, often end up with demands such as, “You’re going to have to….” Instead, keep your sense of humor (“I tried that years ago.”) And, above all, don’t take it personally. Think about acceptance without approval. Who owns the problem? Whose idea was this?
Your goal, the psychiatrist asserts and I have evidenced, is to get kids to lecture themselves!! It’s a wonderful tool that carries a lifelong lesson.