How I Became a Good Parent Without Losing My Mind

Adorable active children fighting for remote

A book called “Parenting With Love and Logic” changed my life. Before I can tell you about it, though, I have to go keep my house from falling apart. It’s chaos in the living room right now.

My children view control of the television the way Germany viewed the Rhineland in 1935: possession of the remote is a necessity to their very identity, and its absence is a moral affront. No one’s gone full Saving Private Ryan yet, but the melee threatens to turn into a bloodbath on the couch at any moment.

The couch is white. The bloodbath will definitely stain. I’m going to need to do something.

A few years ago, there would’ve been yelling. I’m pretty good at it. I’m a fairly bulky human and my day job is coaching high school athletes, which involves a fair amount of high-decibel communication. Today, however, there will be no yelling. I don’t know exactly what I’ll do yet, but I know the first step is to simply ask, “Hey guys, what do you think will happen if you keep this up?”

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This sentence is magic. Between my teaching job and my parenting life, I probably say it a hundred times a year. I don’t yell any much anymore, because this magic sentence somehow circumvents the script most kids automatically run by default: misbehavior to frustration to parental rage to impotent and ineffective discipline, rinse and repeat.

In business, this sort of question is called “thinking past the sale.” The technique involves forcing an assumption into the conversation without ever, technically, stating it. Here’s the assumption I’m making about my two youngest children (aged 11 and seven): they are rational beings, capable of understanding cause and effect.

I learned about The Official Magic Question from a book called “Teaching with Love and Logic,” which is a companion book to “Parenting with Love and Logic.” Perhaps the magic question will not work for everyone. Experience has proven that it works for me. We’ll have a discussion, everyone will agree on a fair distribution of magical HD pixels, and life will calm back down for a while.

It won’t work forever. No system is perfect, and any parenting book that makes such a claim should be burned as the black-magic voodoo it apparently is. But I’ve learned that this process, though not infallible, will typically restore calm. More importantly, it will reinforce to my kids the thing I want them to learn above all else: adults solve problems instead of creating them, and they only use force or volume when absolutely necessary.

Although this article deals specifically with the parenting book, both titles share the same assumptions and goals. The assumption, as stated above, is that human beings…

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