Shutterstock
Erin Stewart shares how to give children control to make good choices.

Editor's note: This is the third in a series reviewing parenting tips from the Love and Logic program. See previous columns online at deseretnews.com/author/22147/Erin-Stewart.html

It’s official: I am a perfect parent. I finished a four-week parenting course and there is nothing left for me to learn.

Wouldn’t it be great if mastering parenting were that easy? But I can say with 100 percent honesty that after this Love and Logic course, I am far less frustrated, much more in control of my emotions and happily building relationships with my children that are not centered around nagging them to put away their shoes.

In fact, my 10-year-old daughter told me, “Mom, I thought this new parenting class was going to ruin my life. But actually, I’m a lot happier.”

I couldn’t agree more.

So here are the few final morsels of parenting genius I've learned (find the earlier columns on building a foundation of love and disciplining without threats on deseretnews.com). This final piece gets to the heart of parenting with love and logic: How do we prepare our kids to make good choices even when we aren’t around to nag or remind or save them?

The first step is for younger kids, who, let’s face it, have very little control over their lives. And sometimes, this lack of power manifests in the form of tantrums as they desperately try to hang on to any shred of control in their little lives.

Give choices

The answer? Love and Logic says give them the control. Not all of it, of course, and not all the time, but handing your children pieces of power over their lives is the starting point for raising good decision-makers.

Plus, much like depositing money into a bank account in small increments, giving your young child control over little things eventually lets you take back control when you need it. In those moments, you can say. “Don’t I let you make lots of choices? Well, this time it’s my turn to choose.”

Some examples of areas where parents can hand over control are:

“Would you rather take a bath now or in 15 minutes?”

“Are you going to do your homework or your chores first?”

“Do you want to go to sleep now or lay quietly in your bed for a little first?”

And, my personal favorite, foolproof go-to catchphrase: “Do you want to leave now, or in five minutes?”

The key is to follow these guidelines:

1. Only give choices that you can live with.

2. Give choices when things are going well.

3. Give only two options (both of which you like).

4. Don’t disguise threats as choices.

5. If your child doesn’t choose quickly, choose for them.

As your children grow, they will be comfortable making choices, and hopefully, not feel the need to clamor for control.

Hand the problem back

Then, when the stakes are higher, parents can give their children the gift of true problem-solving. I often fall into the trap of trying to “parent” my children by telling them the best way to do things. Why should they fail if I already know the answer?

But in doing so, I rob them of the chance to fail, as well as the pride of success. So when a child comes to a parent with a problem, the Love and Logic process goes something like this:

1. Deliver a strong dose of sincere empathy. This isn’t always easy because sometimes the “problem” seems ridiculous and the solution appears obvious. But these problems are serious, important and complicated to our children. Try something like, “That’s so sad. You’re really having a hard time.”

2. Hand the problem back. Ask the child, “What do you think you are going to do?”

3. Get permission before sharing your ideas. Ask, “Would you like to hear what some other kids have tried?” Avoid the temptation to speak from personal experience, as kids will usually resist this.

4. Give a few ideas of solutions and help them evaluate each one by asking, “How would that work for you?”

5. Allow them the final decision on which course to take. Tell them something like, “Well, I love you and I know you can figure this out. Can’t wait to hear how it works out.”

I’ve been trying this five-step method to problem-solving in my house and it’s been amazing to watch the pride my children have when they tackle their issues from strained friendships to chatting less during class. There have been some failures, but even those have been good learning experiences.

And if this Love and Logic course has taught me anything, it’s that the goal is not to raise perfect children (or to be a perfect parent). The goal is to raise confident children who can get back up when they fail and who understand that every choice has a consequence.

And while I dread the day when my children don’t need me anymore, I hope I’ll be sending children into the world who don’t need my voice in their head because they’ve learned to trust their own.