Love and Logic: A Low-Stress Approach to Parenting

mom talking to sad daughter

Bringing up kids to become well-adjusted, highly effective people—and having fun while doing it—can be challenging, but also can benefit from a low-stress approach. This approach requires using, and teaching, the right balance of love and good judgment.

Nationally recognized psychologists and educators use modified versions of a "love and logic" parenting approach. Here are the basics of how this low-stress, firm-but-loving style works:

  • Begin from a place of understanding and love and truly listen to your child’s point of view.

  • Show respect for your child, reflecting back what he or she says before doling out consequences for the questionable behavior discussed.

  • Hold your child accountable for his or her actions in a firm, but respectful way.

  • Establish that you are the guide to lead your child in the right direction.

A Heaping Dose of Loving Kindness

One of the original versions of this parenting approach is the Love and Logic® philosophy, which was founded more than 35 years ago by Foster W. Cline, M.D., and Jim Fay, a parenting expert. This approach promotes love and encouragement from parents, while at the same time requiring that they hold their kids accountable for poor choices.

child pouting

As kids are growing and developing, they will make mistakes, and parents need to ensure their children take responsibility and learn from those mistakes. Parents can help guide children by teaching them to make better choices in most situations, and by explaining how poor choices lead to negative consequences. Many parents fail to discipline because they believe their children will think of them as the “bad guys.” Some take the seemingly easier route of excusing or ignoring bad behavior instead of holding their kids accountable. Many parents also neglect to model good behavior or teach the importance of making good decisions.

Fay advises parents (like himself) to “lock in our empathy, love, and understanding" before disciplining kids. This method helps to ensure that children view the parent as the “good guy” and the poor decision as “the bad guy.” Kids who are able to develop ways to make better decisions based on this form of discipline also are more apt to resist peer pressure to repeat bad behavior.

Dealing with Difficult Behavior

Another advocate of low-stress parenting with love is Dr. Ruth Peters. In her book Don't Be Afraid to Discipline, she points out tactics kids use to rouse parental guilt or to pit dad against mom. Her advice in handling difficult behavior aligns with the “love and logic” parenting approach:

  • Set up clear, consistent, and fair rules for parents and kids

  • Let children know what will take place when they don’t follow the set rules

  • Keep a “behavior chart,” suitable for the age of your child, to reinforce good choices

Kids Thrive on Taking Responsibility

Most child behavior experts agree that it is important to set limits (which gives kids a sense of security). Most experts also agree that kids need consequences for poor behavior.
Kids can develop perseverance and other skills when taking responsibility for their own behaviors. The experts suggest that parents:

  • Turn off technology to promote the improvement of social skills.

  • Give kids specific responsibilities, which can give them a sense of belonging and also the opportunity to learn how to solve problems, work hard and persevere.

dad talking to son

Mama Bear, Papa Bear and Baby Bear

Everyone is familiar with the popular fairy tale Goldilocks and the Three Bears (or The Story of the Three Bears). Parenting styles can be compared to the choices Goldilocks faces when she encounters the firmness of the bears’ beds. Some basic parenting styles are:

  • Too hard.Authoritarian” parents insist on strict obedience. They may use phrases like, “Because I said so.”

  • Too soft. “Permissive” parents give in to their kids’ demands, don’t ask them to do much, and hardly ever use any discipline.

  • Just right. “Authoritative” parents are both responsive and demanding. They establish and enforce rules—and they give the reasons for them. With older kids, the authoritative parent invites conversation and occasionally makes exceptions when setting up their rules.

The low-stress "love and logic" approach falls into the “just right” category. Studies found that kids with high self-esteem and social competence typically have loving, “authoritative” parents. The findings also revealed that children with permissive parents tend to be more aggressive and immature. Kids who have “authoritarian” parents lean toward lower self-esteem and often lack effective social skills.

Don’t Jump to Conclusions

According to the psychologist and author David G. Myers, Ph.D., it is important to remember that the association between parenting styles and certain childhood outcomes are correlational; there are likely other reasons for the parenting-competence link.

Dr. Myers points out that kids who are inherently agreeable may naturally elicit greater compassion from their parents, while stubborn or uncooperative kids may elicit less kindheartedness. There also may be underlying factors: socially competent kids might have genes from their parents that predetermine this ability.

If you’re struggling with conflicting advice and the pressures of child-rearing, keep in mind that all advice reflects the advice-givers' values. For instance, for those who honor unflinching obedience from a kid, an authoritarian style may have the effect they want. But for parents who value sociability or self-reliance, the authoritative (low-stress, “firm-but-open” style) may be a better approach.