Kids Are Worth It by Barbara Coloroso is the best parenting book I have read so far. Instead of teaching parents how to control our children’s behavior, Coloroso’s focus is on helping us teach our children to control their own behavior.
At the beginning the book, Coloroso describes three kinds of parents: brick walls, jelly fish, and backbones – these three categories are discussed in each chapter, as we learn how each parent reacts to various situations. Brick wall homes are full of rigid rules, strict consequences and no flexibility. Jellyfish families don’t have any rules at all, or if they do, they are enforced only sporadically. Finally, backbone parents are flexible, yet provide a strong foundation – they are the family to be, because their children are better adjusted, happier, and internally motivated to be the best people possible. These kids are less likely to be swayed by peer pressure or to get into trouble.
Backbone parenting is aptly termed – adopting this method for guiding our children means that we, too, must learn to stand strong against peer influences. When our children are having a tantrum in public, we must turn a deaf ear to other parents (including our own!) telling us to scold, spank, or put in time out. When siblings fight at the family reunion and are given a fun cooperative task to complete instead of being punished, we must ignore the dirty looks and verbal predictions that we are raising little hooligans.
The advice may be challenging to follow at times, but it makes a great deal of sense. Do we really want our children to be motivated to be good because they are fearful of punishment? Do we want them to only engage in activities to which a monetary (or other material) reward is attached? Wouldn’t it be better for them to be internally motivated? If our children have a strong work ethic, pride in their work (and in their efforts), we have helped them to be better people and increasing their chances of success in life.
This book turns a lot of popular parenting beliefs upside down. Because the emphasis is on helping children learn to control their own behavior, rewards and punishments are discouraged. Putting children in “timeout” and then demanding a “sincere” apology? Absurd. Taking away privileges such as family outings or computer time does not help children learn to manage their own behavior (in my opinion it probably just teaches them to avoid getting caught, as does spanking). Instead of handing out punishments, we should allow our children to experience real world consequences (except in cases where this might include something that is illegal, morally dangerous, or physically dangerous). For example, if a teenager runs the car into the garage, having her pay for the repairs on both the car and the garage door (yet letting her continue to drive the car) would be a better consequence than taking away her car privileges or grounding her for a month.
Possibly because Coloroso has worked with “troubled” children in the past, she heavily emphasizes the worst possible potential dangers of being either a brick wall or a jellyfish parent – if we have too many or too few rules, our children might end up turning to substance abuse, promiscuity, or even suicide as a result! Sometimes these warnings seem a bit far fetched to me, but maybe that’s because my parenting falls somewhere on the spectrum between the two extremes.
While this book has potentially revolutionized my future parenting, I do not agree with every suggestion. In my opinion, some backbones are more flexible than others, and sometimes it’s necessary to be a little bit more rigid than she might be. Somehow, though, I think Coloroso would agree with this opinion, since she suggests that certain policies must be personalized on an individual basis. For example, in the chapter on bedtime, she is clear that the suggestions she gives are what works for her family, and that they might not work the same for someone else’s.
Most of the advice in this book is likely geared toward parents with older children – it takes a great deal of creativity to teach real world consequences to preschoolers while still keeping them safe. This should not discourage newer parents, however – maybe by reading it early, you won’t have to apologize for all the useless timeouts (and you may be able to resist giving your children candy or stickers as a reward for using the potty properly, even though many potty training “experts” insist upon this technique). It might even make a perfect baby shower gift.
Scroll down for other posts about Kids Are Worth It:
Other posts about Kids Are Worth It:
Part 1: Kids Are Worth it, by Barbara Coloroso
Part 2: Do You Want to be a Butterfly?
Part 3: “Scratch-and-Sniff-Sticker and Star Syndrome”
Part 4: Real World Consequences
Part 5: We Don’t Do Sarcasm
Part 6: If You Have Strong-Willed Children, Lucky You
Part 7: Tantrums, Toddlers, and Teens
Part 8: Teach ‘Em a Lesson
Part 9: Sex, Drugs, and Teenagers
Part 10: Fighting like Cats and Dogs?
Part 11: Children as Professional Con Artists
Part 12: Money Doesn’t Grow on Trees
Part 13: I Love My Picky Eater(s)
Part 14: Please Baby, Sleep
Part 15: Big Kid Undies
Part 16: Birds and Bees