Kids Are Worth It: Giving Your Child the Gift of Inner Discipline is important because of its message and ideas to produce responsible and independent human beings. It applies to children and I find it helpful for myself and my relations with adults (also in the workplace). Being a good father is one of my aspirational life goals . Reading books and implementing what I learn are some of my tools to become better.
The title immediately attracted as being more disciplined is something I’ve always struggled with.
I found this book thanks to an interesting interview in a podcast. Listening to Barbara Coloroso made me buy three books on the spot (I also got Bully, the Bullied, and the Not-So-Innocent Bystander and Just Because It Isn’t Wrong Doesn’t Make It Right: Teaching Kids To Think And Act Ethically). I found what she said and her view of parenting interesting, and it also struck a chord.
Let’s start with Kids Are Worth It.
Kids (and all other human beings) are worth it because they exist and deserved to be treated with dignity. We are worth it too.
The behavioral system of punishments and rewards comes at the expense of dignity and self worth of both child and parent.
There are three premises to Barbara’s system:
- Kids Are Worth It (your own and also those of others)
- I will not treat a child in a way I myself would not want to be treated
- If it works and it leaves the child’s and my own dignity intact, do it
It is not about control
It is not about controlling your children, but about helping them take their own decisions and act ethically. They need lots of information about themselves and the world. Kids have free will and are going to suffer peer pressure. We have to give them the tools to deal with this responsibly.
If they make mistakes when they are cheap, they will rarely make expensive ones later in life. They grow and learn from their mistakes. They learn how to think, not what to think.
You can guide kids through the process of making decisions without passing judgement. Responsibilities and decisions need to be age appropriate and meaningful. Some decisions are for the parents to make and responsibilities to have.
Control attempts to eliminate choice.
Control is often imposed via abuse. Abuse is not only physical. It also comes in the form of emotional battering and neglect. Constantly criticizing and putting down kids makes them see themselves as bad.
Rewards and bribes are another side of the same coin (a bribe is just a nicer sounding threat). You are just trying to control and you give the wrong message to kids that they should do things because of what’s in it for them, not because of values.
You want to teach children to think critically. You want them to be all that they can be, to act with integrity and to advocate for social justice.
Control tactics force kids to behave the way adults want. The result is often that they become submissive, obedient and compliant. Or that they go the other way and rebel against all authority.
The words you use matter. If you want your kids to be tolerant, accepting and kind you have to demonstrate the same in your words and your actions.
To empower your children you first have to give them a secure, safe and nurturing environment, with unconditional love and concern for their well being. In this environment they can make choices and mistakes, assume responsibilities and become involved family members. They can think critically and learn to be aware of the consequences of their actions. They can learn to accept responsibilities for the good and the bad they do. All this makes them more responsible, resilient, resourceful and compassionate. They learn to act in their own interest, to stand up for themselves, to exercise their rights, and to respect the rights and needs of others. We have to give ourselves and them opportunities to grow and learn.
Types of families
She uses three types of families to give examples. We are all a mix of the three:
- Brick wall families with a rigid structure used for control and power
- Jellyfish families with almost or no structure
- Backbone families structure is firm, flexible and functional. This is what you want to be (but it is not easy and you are not perfect, don’t beat yourself about it)
Kids need boundaries and guidelines, but it has to be flexible, open compassionate and adaptable to circumstances. They need a stable environment conducive to creative, constructive and responsible activity.
6 critical messages
As a backbone family you give a network of support to your children through six critical messages daily:
- I believe in you
- I trust you
- I know you can handle life situations
- You are listened to
- You are cared for
- You are very important to me
Rules and consequences
There are rules, and they should be stated clearly and simply. Kids learn democracy through their family experience. In their family they are motivated to be all they can be while accepting who they are. They are encouraged to be competent and cooperative. They receive lots of smiles, hugs and humor: love is unconditional.
Consequences to behaviour are natural or reasonable and kids get second chances. As a family you are willing to seek help. You are teaching your children to think and to have curiosity and a thirst for knowledge.
As long as the natural consequences are not life threatening, morally threatening or unhealthy it is good to let the child experience them.
For morally threatening consequences think Why can’t I?:
- Because it is unkind
- Because it is hurtful
- Because it is unfair
If consequences are reasonable for the child’s age and state of development, simple for them to have a plan to solve the problem, valuable as a learning tool, and practical they will invite responsible actions from your kids. If you can, come up with consequences with your child.
Kids have to learn to accept their own feelings, to express them and to act responsibly on those feelings based on their self-awareness.
These messages reinforce their self esteem:
- I like myself
- I can think for myself
- There is no problem so great that it can’t be solved
As a backbone parent you want to influence our children through encouragement (keep it true and non judgemental), feedback and discipline.
There are three kinds of feedback:
- Compliments (specific and directed at deed, not the children)
- Comments (neutral feedback intended to instruct, not attack)
- Constructive criticism (of the mistake or problem, never about the child. Focused on mistakes that can be fixed and actions that can be changed.)
Discipline takes time and it is not punishment. You want your kids to know that they need good plans for their problems, not excuses.
These are the four steps of discipline:
- Kids are shown what they have done wrong
- They are given ownership of the problem
- You help them find ways to solve the problem
- And you leave their dignity (and yours) intact
Restitution, resolution, reconciliation
Sometimes the four steps are not enough, especially if the child intentionally or unintentionally creates more serious problems. Then you have to add the three Rs to begin the healing process when material or personal harm occurs:
- Restitution (fixing the damage, repenting honestly and unconditionally, not an obliged apology, with a strong desire not to do it again and assuming responsibility for the damage)
- Resolution (figuring out ways to stop this from happening again and implementing them)
- Reconciliation (healing with the person you have harmed, they are not obliged to do anything for you)
Alternatives to saying no
Three alternatives to saying no all the time (you can say no, but it is not good to say it all the time):
- Yes, later
- Give me a minute
- Convince me
- You can do x as soon as you do y
When you say no to a big issue explain why.
- Mini lectures (kids need opportunities to solve problems but it helps to have the support of an adult that knows they can handle their problems)
- Questions with no right answers (statements are more productive)
- Questions with no options (commands disguised as requests)
- Questions that punish (like the ones that make the child feel guilty)
- Wishy-washy questions (Do you mind if I say something?)
- Empty threats
- Ultimatums (you lose power and leave the outcome to the child who also fears abandonment. It is better to take time to cool off and then come back with you need from them.)
- Put-downs: sarcasm, ridicule and embarrassment
- Be careful (disguised plea / command / directive. Better to discuss dangers and assert trust).
- Think for yourself but you better listen to me
What you can control
As a parent you can’t always control what happens, how you feel or how you respond to a situation. You can control how you use what is happening to you and what you are feeling.
The members of a backbone family:
- Acknowledge their own feelings and label them
- Admit they are angry, hurt, afraid, etc. and do something responsible and purposeful to address those feelings.
- Make assertive statements about yourselves
- Acknowledge your kid’s feelings as real and legitimate without passing judgment
- Teach your kids to assertively handle their own feelings
Conflict, anger and confrontation
The last thing an out of control child needs is an out of control parent.
Confrontation is necessary sometimes. You need to understand their anger to deal with it effectively:
- Where did anger come from?
- Is anger masking another feeling?
- Why be angry anyway?
Once the child’s anger is understood they are ready to confront the person they are angry with.
Children need to learn how to enter into conflict and deal with it nonviolently, constructively, creatively and responsibly.
Conflict is a challenge: embrace it as an opportunity to grow and change with nonviolent tools and assertive confrontation.
You can guide children towards a resolution, but you should not give them the solutions.
If one of the kids is hurting another, step in asap.
There are seven steps to construct a productive assertive confrontation:
- If you are upset or angry say so in an upset or angry voice
- Tell the other person about your feelings
- State your belief but avoid statements that attack the other person
- Give direct feedback on what has been done and do it as close to the deed as possible
- Say what you want from the other person
- Be open to the perspective of the other person about the situation
- Negotiate a mutually acceptable agreement and choose a time to get together and see how the plan is working
To keep a fair fight it is acceptable to:
- Call for a time out
- Refuse to take abuse
- Insist on fair treatment (honest, adequate and just)
Fair fighting enables all members of the family to use feelings positively to establish and maintain productive relationships.
There are six steps to solve problems:
- Identify and define the problem
- List viable solutions
- Evaluate the options
- Choose an option
- Make a plan and execute it
- Evaluate the problem and your solution
If the first option does not work, children have to understand that they have to go to the other options and see if one will work or explore new options.
To call a family meeting:
- The problem needs to be important and relevant to all participants
- Parents need to provide non judgemental leadership
- The environment needs to be conducive to sharing
You can guide children towards a resolution, but you should not give them the solutions.
If you lose your cool: “I’ve lost it. Give me five minutes to come up with something that makes sense. I’m open to suggestions.” Kids learn they can try again even if they lose it.
- Make them write together what happened. It will teach them to compromise and to see things from the other’s point of view
- Sit them in a couch and they can only get up if both give permission to each other (you can give them time to cool off individually before they sit together)
- You may sit in between to ensure no more fighting
Kids have to learn what to tell and who to tell it to.
Telling vs tattling:
- Tattling: will get the other child in trouble.
- Telling: it will get the other child out of trouble.
Tell me if it is telling, not if it is tattling.
Don’t demand apologies, they are an easy way out. Cooperation is the key. Apologies can be requested.
When kids are fighting, after they cool off they can:
- Both stop doing what they were doing and fighting about
- Come up with a plan of something they can do together
Don’t play judge. Don’t accuse kids falsely of doing something (better not to accuse them at all).
If a kid hits, a kid sits. Timeout to cool off. You can give them options to do it in three places (even walking or sitting). Calm down as long as needed to be able to go back to the situation and handle it responsibly. Then go back to resolution, restitution, reconciliation. It is ok to feel, not ok to hit.
You only control your part of the relationship but you can influence it by the way you ask for things.
No is a complete sentence.
A person that hurts another one deliberately and repeatedly is a bully. Punishing only teaches them to be more aggressive. Letting them get away is not better.
Tools to reform a bully are the three R and:
- Teach empathy and perspective taking
- Teach non aggressive and peaceful ways to get what he/she wants
- Create opportunities for the child to do good
- Engage in constructive, entertaining and energizing activities
Victims of bullying are often ashamed of speaking about it and afraid of retaliation. Look for telltale signs of bullying:
- Sudden lack of interest in school or refusal to go
- Drop in grades
- Wanting to be left alone and to withdraw from school and family activities
- Hungry after school (excuses may be that he/she was not hungry or that lost lunch)
- Missing money and not good explanations for where it went
- Torn or missing clothes
- Using demeaning/derogatory language about peers
- Not talking about everyday activities and peers
- Injuries not consistent with the explanation given
What to do if you suspect your child is being bullied:
- Inform school officials immediately
- Keep notes about the incidents: who, what, where, when, why, how.
- Keep notes of your conversations with the schools and parents and what they say they are going to do
- Follow up on the actions taken
- Help your child break away from the bully-victim relationship
- Respond to his/her fears with encouragement, support and love
- Make sure the child understands that he/she will be listened to and that nothing is too silly or bad to talk about
- Standing up to a bully may mean stand your own ground, walk away or run fast to the safest place or to a trusted adult
- Teach your kids to be assertive, to express their feelings clearly, to say no when pressured, to stand up without fighting, and to walk away in dangerous situations
- Add the same tools as to reform a bully
Aggression and passivity invite more aggression from the bully. Assertion can dissipate it.
The bully should be disciplined, not punished nor rescued.
Chores, relaxation, recreation and rebellion
Chores and leisure activities are important for strong personal and family relationships.
Welcome their help and make them understand that it is needed. Present chores in a way that makes them meaningful to the kid, useful for the family and part of the order of the house. They need to believe that they can contribute and make a difference.
Chores can help kids:
- Organize themselves and their own resources
- Experience closure on tasks
- Set goals and build skills
Don’t bribe them to do chores, they’ll learn to only act based on rewards and not intrinsic motivation.
Give them second opportunities after they have experienced the consequences.
To teach them skills:
- Demonstrate how to do it
- Teach them
- Guide them through it
- Let them do it on their own
Mistakes are for learning.
Encourage your kids to sit down, be quiet and get to like themselves (meditation).
Play is an opportunity to renew and recreate ourselves, to connect with others, cooperate and accept. Encourage your child to develop hobbies they can get lost in.
Go out with your kids just to enjoy each other’s company.
Kids need to see us take a stand for values and against injustice, to embody those values. Teach them to speak and do what is right, integrity, even if there’s a burden. Teach them that we care for their intent and their actions. Teach them to reflect on the impact of their actions and the other person’s point of view.
Useful to teach them to save, spend and give. They decide what to do.
Base the amount on what they need, how much they can handle, how much you can afford and how much you want to give.
It is the best time to teach kids about nutrition, preparing and buying food, having manners, and conversation.
Give choices that are practical and that you can live with (options with limits).
If you want to be the primary sexual educator of your children you have to have open and honest communications about sexuality as early as possible in your kids lives. Use the proper names for body parts.
Sexuality is a wonderful part of being, it is much more than sex. Help them understand their own sexuality.
Preteens need to know the detailed facts. When children reach puberty we have to move from parenting to mentoring.
Barbara Coloroso has written a great resource for parents that is worth reading. I agree with her ethics and philosophy, but I wish Kids Are Worth It had been shorter and more structured. It takes too long to read and to reach the actionable part, but it is worth the read.
There are useful examples, but not so many to apply to my current three year old crisis 🙂
A workbook or playbook would be a great addition to make it easier for parents to act and improve the education of their kids.
The bullying section really struck a chord and brought a lot of painful memories from my childhood. both as a victim and then as a bully myself (I’m not proud of it, but it has been part of my learning).
The phrase “two don’t fight if one does not want to” was thrown at me to many times by dismissive adults that:
- Punished me for being a victim
- Failed to understand that the missing part of their equation is taking a beating, not having a peaceful living
My school was too lenient on the bullies and punished the victims (in my case for insulting the bullies and defending myself). This is not right.
I’m very sensitive to bullying and harassment (also in the workplace) and Kids Are Worth It can also be helpful in this environment.
If you are curious about the books I’m reading, check out my Goodreads profile. There are already over a thousand books there.