In this week's guest blog, Oliver James' discussses the ideas behind his new book Love Bombing: Reset Your Child's Emotional Thermostat, and explains how it could help with a variety of behavioural and emotional issues in children.
Love Bombing is a very simple technique for putting right stuff that may have gone wrong in children aged three to early puberty. Nearly all children have problems of some kind (as, of course, do adults!).
Love Bombing starts with a blank sheet of paper. Its premise is that nearly all parents do their very best for their children and that these problems are absolutely not anyone's fault. The book describing the method is at pains not to engage in Mummy Wars disputes (paid working vs unpaid at home mothering) or rancorous disputes about parenting techniques (Gina Ford vs feed on demand; naughty steps vs unconditional love). Many of the mothers who have done it worked from early in the lives of their children, but plenty did not. Some were Steve Biddulph fans, others Gina Ford afficianados.
It also offers a blank sheet in terms of your relationship with a child with whom you may be despairing, a new beginning. The idea is simple and need cost nothing, financially. It takes a bit of time, but often, no more than a weekend and a few half hours to top up the impact. I described the method in a recent Guardian article.
It entails a period of time alone with your child, offering him or her unlimited love and control. It works for a wide variety of common problems, severe or mild, from defiant, even violent aggression, to shyness, trouble sleeping or underperformance at school.
This is not the same as 'quality time', just hanging out with your child. When you love bomb, you create a special emotional zone wholly different from your normal life, with new rules. Over 100 families have now tried it, nearly all with positive results.
First, you explain to your child that sometime soon, the two of you are going to spend time together and are going to have a lot of fun. Your child is is going to decide what they want and when they want it, within reason. You give the message that this is going to be a Big Event: It's Coming Soon – How Exciting! Your child then draws up a list. It doesn't matter if that includes lots of watching Sponge Bob Squarepants: the key is that it is your child who has chosen it.
Throughout the experience you are trying, as much as possible, to give them the feeling of 'whatever I want, I get' – a very unusual one of being in control and of being gratified, as well as bombed with love.
You may be thinking, 'Are you mad? My child is already a tyrant – rewarding him like that is just going to make it even worse!' This is quite understandable. Love Bombing seems to fly in the face of conventional wisdom, which often recommends more control, not less, when a child is not complying, and stricter, firmer reactions to undesirable behaviour.
But the point is the Love Bomb zone is separate from ordinary life. Out of that zone, you continue trying to set boundaries, consistently and firmly. In fact, the Love Bombing experience will feed back in a very benign way, greatly reducing the amount of time you spend imposing limits, nagging and nattering – the 'Don't do that', 'I've told you before, put that down', 'Leave your sister alone' into which all parents get sucked sometimes. And it's worth doing with almost any child, even happy ones will benefit.
A key practical decision you need to make at the outset is the length of time you will spend in the zone and the frequency. At one extreme, you can take your child away from the family home for a couple of nights at a hotel or bed & breakfast (or rent a cheap gypsy caravan, as one mother did).
Alternatively, as many parents have done, the rest of your family can spend the weekend with relatives or friends, leaving you at home with your child. There is absolutely no necessity to spend any money to do Love Bombing. Many parents have done a day away from home, or just bursts of a few hours.
I have had reports of sustained success resulting from Love Bombing – followed up one to two years afterwards - from parents helping children with violent aggression, myriad anxiety problems, Attention Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), sleeplessness, perfectionism and even autism. In fact, I suspect almost all children would benefit from it.
In many cases, I suspect that the experience stabilizes levels of the fight-flight hormone Cortisol. If too high, the child can be manic or aggressive or anxious, if too low - blunted - the child may be listless or surly.
Even a brief experience of love and control seems to correct that. Recent evidence suggests that children are far more plastic than was once thought and that the way they are is not fixed, is largely not in our genes for the vast majority of problems.
Interestingly, most parents who have done it say it has changed how they are, at least in relation to the child. It may affect your thermostatic setting to, in this regard.
The book I have written about it largely consists of accounts of parents who have done it (nearly all of them mothers, I may say, but not because there is any necessity for that – fathers could do it too, but for some reason, that has not yet started happening).
I recommend that you look at the commentary which follows my Guardian article, it raises some interesting points. The great majority of the comments are favourable. However, several suggest the idea is nothing new, confusing it with some techniques that are actually quite different. It is a unique proposal to suggest that you take your child away from the family for sustained periods, and to bombard it with love whilst offering it the chance to feel completely in control.
A few readers imagine that the method in some ways advocates totally permissive parenting, ignoring the fact that the control and unconditional love is restricted to the period in the Love Bombing zone.
This is a method that almost anyone can do. I strongly recommend you give it a try. As I said at the end of my Guardian article, 'However you do Love bombing, there is nothing to lose. What's not to like about spending some time having fun with your child? If it transforms them and your relationship, so much the better, but the worst that can happen is you return from the zone having had a good time.'
Love Bombing – Reset Your Child's Emotional Thermostat is published by Karnac Books, £9.99. For more information go to www.lovebombing.info