I have had Parenting with Love and Logic recommended to me many times, so I was pretty excited to see it on the shelf at the library. (Because you know I don't buy stuff if I can get it for free.) I got through it in under 24 hours -- it's not a long or difficult read.
At first, in the theory section, I was saying "yes, yes, yes!" No wonder people have been recommending this book to me -- it jives very well with what I'm already doing. The basic idea is that instead of being "helicopter" parents who solve children's problems for them, or "drill sergeant" parents who make sure children never have problems by micromanaging them, we should step back a bit and let our kids experience the consequences of their actions for themselves. If they don't remember their schoolbooks, they have to deal with being at school unprepared. If they're bossy with their friends, their friends might not want to play with them anymore. There is no need to interfere.
However, in practice, it isn't just about natural consequences. The authors tell you to come up with logical consequences and then give your kids a choice. For instance, "You can clean your room now, or while the rest of the family is at the park." It is a parent-enforced punishment, whatever you call it. But you always make sure that you give options that are both acceptable to you -- not, for instance, "Clean up your room now or I'll stand over you and make you do it." That's a punishment for the parent, too, and it's what the kids are going to choose. You also have to let the kids know it's a real choice -- you are not going to make them pick one or the other, and you won't get mad at them or berate them if they choose the wrong one. You just let them choose one and if they find they don't like it, they can make the other choice next time. No nagging or shouting.
There are a lot of things that would work for, I suppose. But in the practical section of the book, I disagreed with a lot of the ideas. I know they're just ideas, and you could use the theories quite differently. But it seemed that so many of the consequences included not feeding your kids. For instance, you might tell the kids that their chores have to be done before dinner, and then if they don't do their chores, you don't serve them any. But you sympathize and say, "Well, you'll be pretty hungry tonight, but we'll have a big breakfast in the morning!" I just ... don't care for the idea of starving your kids to get results. I know I can't make it through to breakfast with no dinner, and I'm an adult!
Some were great, though, I have to say. For instance, tooth brushing. A natural consequence would be letting the child not brush his teeth and having him get cavities and get drilled ... but that's a very drastic, painful, and expensive way to learn the lesson. (Worked for me, incidentally: after getting my first cavity I got religious about tooth-brushing. It didn't help, sadly. I still have awful teeth.) But the logical consequence suggested in the book was a good one: next time you're handing out sweet treats to the kids, give them only to the ones who have been good with their brushing. "Here's one for you, Jeremy, but Joey, I don't think I can give you one. You haven't been so good about brushing your teeth, and I'm afraid you'll get cavities if I let you have any sugar." It's reasonable, it helps avoid cavities, and eventually the child will probably try to prove that he can be trusted to brush his teeth so he can get a cookie.
So many of the tips, though, were more about making up consequences for things rather than what the book originally suggested, letting kids discover consequences on their own. I know sometimes you do have to make up consequences for the good of the family -- like telling a crabby child to either shape up or go to his room where he isn't bothering anyone. Or telling children, "You don't have to go to sleep now, but this is Mom and Dad's alone time, so you have to stay in your rooms from eight p.m. on." In other words, we're not trying to force our kids to do what's best for them, but we do make them do what will be acceptable to us. It seemed fair to me. However, whenever possible, I do favor standing back altogether and letting kids figure things out for themselves. And I think the authors would generally agree with that: they recommend, once you think the child is old enough to decide for themselves, letting them decide how clean they want their rooms to be (provided they fit some minimum of sanitation) and when a good bedtime is to keep them from being tired in the morning (provided they stay out of our hair past eight or nine p.m., and they get up on time however tired they are). You set the limits in which your child can make decisions, and then let them at it.
The (very brief) bit about toddlers was the part I really didn't like. The authors just abandon the whole love-and-logic idea with toddlers and say you should spank them. Just so long as they're under three, it won't do any of the negative things (specifically, causing resentment because children feel pushed around) that they claim punishments do. I just don't buy that (and child psychologists claim we should never spank kids under two anyway, for what that's worth). I don't see what's so different between a two-year-old and a three-year-old that the one will resent you for pushing them around and the other one won't. Meanwhile he says you should never physically move your child or physically force them to do things ... because then they'll feel pushed around. Even if they're under three. I just don't get his reasoning there. How is it causing resentment to pick up your wailing two-year-old and buckle him into his carseat, but not to spank him until he goes willingly into his carseat? Both are coercion of some kind, if you want to think of it that way, but the former is less painful.
In my experience, a lot of the love-and-logic stuff works fine with a two-year-old. They don't even really have to be verbal. Marko knows perfectly well that he can play nicely with the dog, or not play with the dog; sit quietly on my lap, or get down; stroke my hair gently, or not get to touch my hair. Of course he experiments constantly because he is a toddler. But it's sinking in and I don't have to say or do much about it.
Most issues I have with him, though, aren't really "consequence" type things. The authors of the book mention tantrums as a major toddler issue and suggest various consequences to teach a child to go to his room and come out when he's calm. I don't really see that this is necessary. A tantrum is just the result of a child losing his cool because his feelings are bigger than his self-control. You don't really have to do anything about them, though talking to or comforting a child may help. I just don't see that isolating the child helps particularly. (It depends on your child, of course. Mine goes ballistic when isolated.) The same goes for having a consequence for a child waking up his parents at night for nightmares. The authors say he has to learn that this is unacceptable ... but why? There were a few times I remember climbing into bed with my mom after a nightmare, and it was the most comforting thing ever. She would talk me through the nightmare and help me realize it wasn't real and that I didn't have to be scared. No consequence is needed ... the child has a need and is addressing it in a normal way. There are ways to help teach a child to sleep better and alleviate nightmares, but just motivating a child to want to sleep through the night isn't going to cut it.
So, although I liked the general premise of the book, it wasn't that useful for a child the age of mine. Certainly the tips in there will come in a lot handier when my kids are older. In general, I love the idea of letting children discover for themselves the consequences of what they do. This is why I let Marko climb on things that he could fall off of, walk in the kitchen although the floor is slippery, or go barefoot when there are pokey things around. It is amazing how fast he learns to avoid hazards, and he learns in a natural way that doesn't involve me hovering over him or smacking him. And yet he isn't left to his own devices in a dangerous world -- I'm there making sure that he's only given as much responsibility as he can reasonably handle, stopping him from doing anything that might actually injure him. Over time, I can ease up and let him try more things, so that by the time he turns eighteen, nothing needs to change because he is already confidently making his own decisions, aware of how they will affect him.
And that's the real goal: raising kids who don't need us to tell them what to do. It's important to keep that in mind. They won't have us forever, so sooner or later we're going to have to give them freedom -- preferably with training wheels first.
I'd definitely recommend this book as an addition to your parenting library, if you have one. Stick it alongside my other favorites: The Baby Book, The No-Cry Sleep Solution, The Happiest Toddler on the Block, and Free-Range Kids.