We all have those months or weeks where our kids are acting out, melting down, or just plain being jerks. It can sometimes get really intense, and make every second of the day hard to get through. We desperately want to fix things now so we can breathe again, and our lives can get back to normal. But sometimes it feels like whatever we do to fix our kids’ behavior has zero effects, or only backfires in our faces.
Well, Oliver James, a psychologist from London, England just might have the answer we’ve all been looking for. He invented something called “love bombing,” and although it might sound outlandish or impractical to some of us, according to James, it works wonders, and can even help kids who are dealing with severe anxiety, depression, insomnia, or violent behavior.
What is “love bombing,” you might ask? As James explains in an article he wrote about it for The Guardian, it’s pretty simple, and involves spending a nice chunk of one-on-one time with your kid, showering them with love and affection—and most importantly, letting your child call all the shots.
“This is not the same as ‘quality time’ – just hanging out with your child,” James clarifies in the article. “When you love bomb, you create a special emotional zone wholly different from normal life, with new rules. More than 100 families have tried it, nearly all with positive results.”
Sounds pretty promising, right? Here’s how it works. Basically, you tell your child that soon you two are going to spend some one-on-one time together, and that your child gets to be in the driver’s seat, deciding what you do, and how you do it. It’s all within reason, of course (and within your budget), but the idea is to turn the control over to your child for this event.
Your child can make lists and brainstorm what they want to do, and it’s your job to go along with it, as long as what they ask for is basically doable. “Throughout the experience, you are trying, as much as possible, to give them the feeling of ‘whatever I want, I get’ – of being in control and of being gratified, as well as bombed with love,” says James.
What you do with your child during the “love bomb” is pretty open-ended, says James. He understands that while some families will be able to spend a weekend away with their child, for others this is totally impractical or impossible. Single mothers or fathers with multiple children, for example, just may not be able to pull something like this off at all.
But James says that doesn’t matter—as long as the intention is set, however you are able to make your “love bomb” happen will work.
“At one extreme, you can take your child away from home for a couple of nights at a hotel, bed and breakfast, etc.,” James explains. “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 no need to spend money. Many parents have done a day away or just bursts of a few hours.”
Okay, you might be thinking. Back up for a second. How on earth is this going to teach my out-of-control child anything? Isn’t this just spoiling them, or teaching them that acting out is rewarded?
James explains that you need to remember that all the boundaries and rules will be back in place after the “love bombing” is over, but that the purpose of it is to re-set your child, to remind them that they deserve attention and love—and that by doing that, you will actually end up with a better behaved, more grateful, compliant child.
“[T]he love bomb zone is separate from ordinary life,” James writes. “Outside the zone, you continue to set boundaries, consistently and firmly. In fact, the love bombing experience will feed back in a benign way, greatly reducing the 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.”
Interestingly, it’s not just the happy feelings and the idea of feeling loved that will help make this happen. James believes that children who are acting out or having behavior problems are often stuck in a loop of extreme anxiety, characterized by an uptick in stress hormones, and that “love bombing” actually can change their hormonal make-up.
“In many cases, I suspect that the experience stabilizes levels of the fight-flight hormone cortisol,” says James. “If too high, the child can be manic or aggressive or anxious. If too low – blunted – the child may be listless or surly.”
James adds that most children’s brains are more “plastic” than we realize—that their behaviors are not “fixed”—and that restorative experiences like “love bombing” can really have a positive and lasting impact on their growing bodies and minds.
After the “love bomb,” James guarantees that you should see immediate results—and that the results should endure as well. He recommends giving your child a souvenir from the “love bomb,” like a teddy bear or a special stone to remind them of the experience whenever that might be helpful. And of course, you can re-create or re-do a “love bomb” if the need arises.
But even more than the amazing impact “love bombs” can have on your kids, they can be totally transformative for us parents, too. “Often it is not just the child’s thermostat that is corrected, it is also the parent’s in relation to the child,” James explains. “After love bombing, many report that it has been the first time for months, or years, they have remembered how much they love their child.”
My kids have been on pretty decent behavior lately, but this whole thing makes me feel so warm and fuzzy inside that I want to go grab my kids, cover them in kisses, and take them out for hot cocoa and cake pops ASAP.
In total seriousness, though, if you are in a rough spot with your kids, “love bombing” might be just the thing that can get you both out of your funk, and even get your child’s behavior back on trick. And if it doesn’t work, you don’t have much to lose besides a few hours of hanging out with your kid, which can never really be a bad thing.