Thoughts About Love & Logic: Limitations of the Choices Technique

Thoughts About Love & Logic:
Limitations of the Choices Technique

In another article I described what I like about Love and Logic’s technique for offering a child choices that allow the parent to essentially give a command and/or pose the threat of a punishment in such a way that the child actually is responsible for making the choice, rather than the parent being responsible for imposing a command and a threat of punishment.

I like this technique a lot, and many parents in my classes have found it to be very useful, especially with younger children. It does provide children with a certain amount of “say” in the little everyday things that affect their lives (such as whether to eat what served or go to bed without eating till breakfast). Here I will describe the limitations of this technique. (See “Thoughts About Love & Logic: The Choices Technique” for a description of this technique.)

The First Limitation
First, the technique is, in a sense, a sleight-of-hand maneuver. It provides the parent with a tool for limiting the child’s behavioral options to those that are acceptable to the parent–including the use of punishment if the child makes a choice that is disagreeable to the parent (say, NOT picking up his toys, and then suffering the negative consequence of that choice). This is a not bad thing. It is an Old School power-and-control technique to get a child to do what the parent wants, and it can be effective and relatively painless for both parent and child.

However, if the child is able to see that in fact he has other choices available than what the parent offers, the technique can just as easily lead to a power struggle.
For example, Mom says, “Billy, would you rather come and have supper with us and then play outside for a while, OR would you rather not have supper with us and stay inside the rest of the night?” The formula is: “Would you rather A + B, OR would you rather C + D?” The child can foil the parent’s effort here by making a third choice, like: “I want to go outside and play instead of eating supper.” In effect, Billy is saying, “I want B + C,” which was not an option offered by the parent.
Mom in that situation could, of course, come up with another choice, and it might be effective. For example, she could say, “Okay, Billy, would you rather play outside now without supper (which is what Billy said he wants) and then go to bed hungry, OR would you rather eat supper first and then NOT have to go to bed hungry?” The implied threat is, “If you don’t eat supper now you won’t eat later; you’ll go to bed hungry.” Again, Billy could throw a monkey wrench into Mom’s effort by saying something like, “I want to go outside now and eat later.”
In this event, the parent is now likely to revert to the old power and control threat: “No, Billy. If you don’t eat with us now, you won’t be able to eat later, and you’ll just have to go to bed hungry.” Again, this is not a bad approach. After all, parents need to maintain some order in the household. It’s not a late night restaurant. But it puts the parent in the position of being the ogre, instead of putting the child in the driver’s seat of making his own choice to go to bed without supper if he goes against the parent’s wishes. And that is the whole intent of the Love and Logic “choices” technique.
The Second Limitation
The second, and perhaps far more important limitation on this method is a general limitation that characterizes all of Love and Logic’s techniques: it does not provide the parent with guidance on how to have a meaningful dialogue about the conflict she is having with her child. I think this is a serious lack with the L&L program, as it does not teach parents what I consider to be essential relationship skills that they need to resolve problems and strengthen the parent-child relationship.
For example, let’s say 17-year-old Jane wants to use the car on Friday night, but she has typically not come in before 11 o’clock curfew, and Dad is determined to put an end to this practice. So he says to Jane, using the Love and Logic “choices” technique: “Jane, would you rather agree to get home by the 11 o’clock curfew and be able to use the car again next time, OR would you rather just not make any agreement at all about the time you will be home and forfeit the use of the car for a week?”
This is a good formulation of a Love and Logic choice. Dad is offering Jane either option 1 (A + B), OR option 2 (C + D), hoping of course that she’ll choose option 1. However, Dad cannot give Jane a choice between these two options because she already has that choice: she has a free will, and no one can really give her a choice about anything. All Dad can do is offer her a choice between two options. And the problem arises if Jane, like Billy in the previous example, chooses option 3, one of her own making that Dad did not offer.
Let’s say she says, “I’ll come in when I want to, Dad. How come you don’t trust me and let me do what I want? I’m not a baby.” The Love and Logic “choices” technique has been blown to smitherines, and Dad is now faced with a real challenge. In my book, from a New School parenting perspective, this is a great opportunity for Dad to engage in a very meaningful dialogue with his daughter. How to do this in a way that conveys respect and teaches Jane to care and to cooperate may not be so easy for most parents. And unfortunately, Love and Logic does not offer much, if any, help in engaging in a meaningful, ongoing, problem-solving dialogue with a child–of any age. (And parents can, and should, have these kinds of dialogues with children of all ages, once they learn to communicate verbally, which in my book means when they learn to use the word “No!”)
In a New School approach (Love and Logic is essentially an Old School approach, almost in the exact middle of my continuum between Old and New Schools), the parent would listen first and talk second in the situation posed by Jane’s defiant rejection of Dad’s Love and Logic choice. Dad would be very interested in hearing lots of details about how Jane is thinking about the situation, about how she is being treated by Dad, about how she thinks she is capable of acting responsibly and safely, and how she feels about all of these things–including about Dad.
The Third Limitation
So this is the third, and perhaps the most serious, limitation of Love and Logic’s many techniques, including the “choices” technique (which I like very much). L&L does not teach parents how to deal respectfully and constructively with their children’s motivations for their behaviors: the motivations being what they think and how they feel. A New School approach, on the other hand, would place a premium on the motivating thoughts and feelings, and a secondary value on the behavior itself.
My New School approach assumes children always have choice, and will make the choice they think best serves them and their (self-centered) needs at the moment. Rather than primarily trying to limit the child’s behavior, like L&L and other Old School parenting approaches do, a New School approach bases its approach to discipline on the ideal of teaching children to CAIRE: that is, teaching children Cooperation, Accountability, Integrity, Responsibility, and Empathy. I have written more on this New School approach in many posts on this  website and in my ebook, Three Steps to Parent-Child Harmony.

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3 Steps to Parent-Child Harmony is my book  that describes in detail the differences between the Old School Parenting model and the New School Parenting model.  Please see these links if you are interested in more information or wish to purchase