Thursday, March 3, 2011

Kids are worth it! part 1 of 2

Kids are worth it! Barbara Coloroso

As more people read my blog, more people suggest reading material (which I love, by the way). Someone has even given me a book and others have given me book vouchers – what a treat! A while ago a parent of teenagers suggested this book. It took me a while to find the revised edition, but I have done so and have finally read it.

Kids are worth it! (subtitled – giving your child the gift of inner discipline) by Barbara Coloroso has some great suggestions, ideas and principles.

Today I’m going to go through some of the main strengths of the book, and then tomorrow I’ll make some more general comments and mention some of my hesitations. I’ve spread it over two days so that the posts aren’t too long!

Her three overarching tenets for parenting techniques are as follows:
  • Kids are worth it (which includes all kids, not just your own)
  • I will not treat a child in a way I myself would not want to be treated
  • If it works, and leaves a child’s dignity and mine intact, do it. (p3-4)
The main area where I liked what she had to say was with discipline. It helped me to see a more helpful framework for considering discipline in our home. Her four steps of discipline are:
  1. Show children what they have done wrong
  2. Give them ownership of the problem
  3. Help them find ways of solving the problem
  4. Leave their dignity intact (p79)
She goes on to outline consequence – discipline involves ‘real-world consequences’. “It deals with the reality of the situation with the control of the adult” (p80). If real-world consequences are not life-threatening, morally threatening or unhealthy – her theory is let the child experience the real-world consequences. (eg. if a child spills their drink, they need to learn to clean it up and have a plastic cup, rather than be sent to their room. Or, if a teenager smashes the car, they need to organise and pay for the repair, and take the bus until repairs are made, rather than being grounded.)

However, sometimes the natural consequences aren’t there or they don’t add much to learning – so then it’s time to consider reasonable consequences. For this, she used RSVP as a way to check if a consequence is reasonable:
  • R – Is it reasonable? Does it make sense? A toddler couldn’t sweep up the broken glass, but she can get out a plastic one to use next time.
  • S – Is it simple? You don’t need detailed lists of rules – but rather the idea of ‘if you have a problem, you need to have a plan for solving it’.
  • V – It is valuable as a learning tool? Having to replace a damaged library book is more valuable that saying you can’t borrow books from the library any more.
  • P – Is it practical? Saying you can’t go to school until your bed is made isn’t practical. Saying you won’t be able to play after school until your bed is made is practical.

She finished the chapter on all this with this quote from James Hymes:
building a conscience is what discipline is about. The goal is for a youngster to end up believing in decency, and acting – whether anyone is watching or not – in helpful and kind and generous and thoughtful ways. (p89)

I found these principles helpful and they made me think about how we can choose natural and logical consequences for behaviour or other problems. Really helpful stuff.


Anonymous said...

Hi Wendy

This might be a question for a different post but I was wondering if you see a difference between discipline and punishment.

The discipline described here seems geared towards training a child to love what is right which seems great and I'm not questioning that. But I was just wondering whether you think there's a place for punishment as well?

One blog I read has suggested that because Jesus has taken our punishment, kids need only be disciplined not punished if parenting is to be grace based. ( What do you think about that?

Wendy said...


It's certainly a question that could open a whole can of worms, and is the subject of a number of books!

Briefly, I would say that discipline covers much of parenting - the teaching and training of our children to grow and develop into mature and godly adults. Part of that discipline may include punishment.

I see the point of the blog post you mentioned, and I particularly see her point that discipline and active training actually take more time, patience and energy than a simple punishment. That post seemed to have narrow definition of punishment, which makes it easier to disregard punishment at many points.

I would probably take a slightly broader view of punishment, if you suffer the natural consequences of an action, it could still be construed as a punishment, even it is also a logical consequence. eg. you smash the car, the natural consequence could be you pay for the repairs and cannot drive it again until repaired - in essence, that is a punishment too, it's just more logical (and costly!) than grounding. For a younger child, if you keep running away from Mum in the playground, the natural consequence is that you have to hold Mum's hand at all times and not leave her side - a natural consequence which accounts for safety, but definitely construed as a punishment by the child.

I think the point many are getting at when they try to distinguish between the two are punishments that do not fit a natural consequence - eg. spanking, time out/grounding, withdrawal of privileges. All of which may have a place in many homes as a method of punishment, but don't always teach about discipline. Being someone who could find it easy to simply punish (mainly with time in rooms and withdrawal of privileges), it is a constant challenge for me to continue to discipline with patience, grace and purpose. I think that is a challenge for many parents.

Does that help?


Anonymous said...

Yes, thanks Wendy. I think I was trying to work out the ethics of it. (Perhaps a result of not having kids is approaching this somewhat theoretically.) How much of punishment is for discipline and how much is for justice? It sounds like you're suggesting that that may be a false dichotomy.

I was trying to think of some examples from the Bible to bring to it. For example, experiencing consequences in Romans 1 seems to be geared more towards punishment than discipline. But discipline in Heb 12 isn't necessarily because we've done something wrong. Then again, perhaps these are different categories of discipline / punishment from parenting?