Love Bombing: Oliver James explains what it is and how it works

Perhaps your child is a bit troubled in just one respect, like a little shy or sometimes over-demanding. Maybe she has much more numerous and serious problems, like severe temper tantrums at the age of 10, or being paralysed by groundless fears. Either way, Love Bombing can help.

The child’s problem is almost never the fault of parents, who are only doing their best. Because of one misfortune or another, or a chain of them, the child’s basic brain chemistry is in need of adjustment, usually only a small one. One of the most astonishing and significant scientific discoveries of the last 10 years is that children’s brains are much more plastic – malleable – than previously believed. We have an emotional thermostat, and luckily it is a thermostat.

Just as you can alter the amount of heating or air-conditioning in your home, so you can adjust your child’s brain. Of course, making the change takes more effort than just turning a dial, which is where Love Bombing comes in: you do not have to agonise about what went wrong in the past or beat yourself up about that stuff – the joy of Love Bombing is that you can just get on with putting things right.

I developed Love Bombing to reset the emotional thermostats of children aged from 3 to puberty. It gives your child a very intense, condensed experience of feeling completely loved and completely in control. The period during which this is done can be 48 hours (two nights), 24 hours (one night), a single day, or shorter bursts. Whichever period you use, you subsequently rekindle that experience daily for half an hour.

It 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. During the time in this zone, the child is told he is in charge and can do almost whatever he likes. You also lavish love on him. It might sound bonkers to do that if your child is badly behaved or you are just sick of being messed about by his nastiness and wilfulness – like rewarding bad behaviour. But oddly enough, the 7,000 or so parents who have done various versions of it say otherwise. It has taken off worldwide.

Dramatic shifts in the child’s personality and behaviour result. In many cases, I suspect that the experience stabilises the level of the fight/flight hormone cortisol. If this is too high, the child can be manic or aggressive or anxious; if too low – blunted – the child may be listless or surly. When it comes to dealing with disobedient or shy or clingy or aggressive or impatient children, love and control, it seems, really are the answer. What is more, because so many parents are, or have had periods of, living very busy or miserable or complicated lives, most of us need to reconnect with our children from time to time. Love Bombing does the job. Parents report that it has radically favourable effects on their relationship with the ‘problem’ child.

How does Love Bombing Work?

First, you explain to your child that some time soon the two of you are going to spend time together and are going to have a lot of fun. Your child is going to decide what she wants and when she wants 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 SpongeBob SquarePants: the key is that it is your child who has chosen it.

Love Bombing need cost nothing, financially. In my book I describe many cases where people did it at home or found ingenious ways of doing it in short bursts. Some families choose to go away if they can, or have the rest of the family visit relatives while the Love Bombing happens at home.

Throughout the experience, you are trying, as much as possible, to give your child the feeling “Whatever I want, I get” – a very unusual one of being in control and of being gratified, as well as being bombed with love.

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 that 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.

Often it helps for the child to have a material object to remind him of the experience, such as a stone from a beach, or a teddy. Using this and the name to help as prompts, on returning from the zone parents are asked to try and carve out half an hour an evening when they can briefly re-enter the Love Bomb zone together, even if it’s only to watch some TV.

Oliver James is a chartered clinical psychologist. He lives in Oxfordshire with his wife and two children. His book Love Bombing: Reset Your Child’s Emotional Thermostat is published by Karnac Books. www.lovebombing.info (Accurate at the time this issue went to print).

Photograph by Judith Kuegler: www.judithkuegler.com

How Love Bombing worked for us

Andrea Wallman shares her experience

When my eldest son, Jake, was 5½ he became argumentative, fighting with his younger brother and always blaming someone else for anything that went wrong. I saw Oliver James speak at a BabyCalm conference and thought I’d give Love Bombing a go.

We decided on a day a few weeks beforehand and Jake called it his ‘special day’. Because of work commitments, we started it in the evening, so he spent the first night sleeping in our bed. Jake wanted Coco Pops for breakfast (not allowed normally) and a glass of Coke, and over the morning he consumed 20 mini-packets of sweets and a cheese sandwich. All he wanted to do was play Deadly 60 on CBBC. (He is not normally allowed on the laptop.) I was bored (and I had an awful cold) but he did not want me to engage apart from watching him play.

It was raining, so a planned trip to the park to play football was out. We went to the cinema, where he had more sweets and another fizzy drink. Thirty minutes into the film he said he felt sick so we dashed to the toilet, where he was sick. I felt slightly smug but managed not to say “That’s why you can’t eat sweets all day!” We left the film early, played a quick bit of football in the park and had more time with the computer when we got home, and Jake didn’t want any dinner because he still felt quite ill.

It wasn’t quite as I’d hoped, but Jake loved it, and still remembers his special time. He loved the power he had to do what he wanted. If we do it again I will definitely go away overnight; the urge for me to check my email or answer the phone was quite strong. I think it made Jake realise that he wasn’t powerless, and we felt more connected. He’s never been a big fan of his little brother, and I was working more evenings so I wasn’t home for bedtime – which used to be our ‘special time’. It also helped me break that cycle of seeing him as a problem child.

Andrea Wallman lives in Halifax, West Yorkshire. She is the mother of two boys, Jake, now aged 7, and Issac, aged 4, and is passionate about supporting other parents on their journey through her antenatal, BabyCalm and ToddlerCalm courses. www.thebeststart.co.uk (Accurate at the time this issue went to print).

First published in Issue 34 (Winter 2013) of JUNO:

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