"KIDS ARE WORTH IT" by Barbara Coloroso 

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Additional thought of Graham White in highlights


True obedience is a matter of love, which makes it voluntary, not by fear or force.  - Dorothy Day

Recently I asked a group of first-year university students what field of study they would like to pursue, what their passion was.  Many literally shrugged their shoulders and said, "I don't know.  Whatever makes good money."  These children have never been taught HOW to think.

Do we want to influence and empower our children, or control them and make them mind?  We might not use brute force, but we tell our child to go stand in the corner when she hits her brother.  Obediently she goes and stands in the corner, or defiantly she refuses to stand in the corner, forcing us to resort to other punitive measures.  Either way, she has not learned to deal responsibly with her anger, and we still won't trust her alone with her younger brother.

Your habit of smoking a pack of cigarettes a day will not make your child smoke too, but your actions will definitely influence your child's behavior -- and definitely affect his physical health.  If you spend your weekends in outdoor activities with your children instead of sitting in front of the TV, the chances of your children becoming couch potatoes when they grow up are slim--not nonexistent, but slim.  

If your children witness you standing up for values you believe in and speaking out against injustices, they are more likely to transfer those lessons to their own everyday experiences than if you tell them they must never tell a lie or make them "share" with their sister with the threat of "or else."

In creating a warm, caring, nurturing environment for our children, we get no guarantee that they will become warm, caring, nurturing people, but in such an environment the possibility becomes much more likely.  Growing up in a hostile, cold, and punitive household will not eliminate the possibility of a child becoming a caring, nurturing person; however, such an environment will significantly reduce the chances of it happening.

It is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to empower our children if we have little or no flame ourselves.  If we are going to give our children the message that they are worth it, we first need to believe that we are worth it.  On a recent airline trip, the flight attendant giving pre-flight safety instructions added her own bit of wisdom to the usual announcement: "For those of you traveling with infants and children, consider your oxygen needs first before helping someone who may need your assistance.  It is critical that you secure your mask before helping someone who may need your assistance.  YOU WILL BE OF NO HELP TO ANYONE ELSE IF YOU ARE NOT BREATHING YOURSELF."


  • Brick Wall Family - A family controlled by rigid obedience, usually to Dad, but sometimes to both Mom & Dad.
  • Jellyfish Family - A family led by parents who refuse to lead.  Either they abdicate control to their children, or they're too busy dealing with their own lives to look after their children.
  • Backbone Family - Belief in each other, empathetic listening, build trust, develop character, supportive, dignified, democratic, open.


It is your responsibility to care for, love, teach and live an example for your children.  Your children are people, equal as people.  you are responsible to give them everything they need to become a success.  You are responsible to teach them the things they're going to need to know in order to be able to make wise choices when they're on their own.  You can't CONTROL your children into success, only GUIDE them.

YOU are accountable to your children!  They have no other mother and father they can turn to.  That is your awesome responsibility.  Children are a responsibility.

Learning takes place in an atmosphere of acceptance and high expectation.  When kids blow it, and they will, they are given a second opportunity to try again, after they have been given the opportunity to experience the consequences of blowing it the first time.  ("You can drive the car again after you have contacted the insurance company and made plans for repairing the damage done to the back fender.  Until then you will need to walk, ride your bike, or take the bus.")

Teach your children by:

  • Modeling what you want them to do
  • Supervise and assist them doing it together with you
  • Supervise as they do it by them self (be patient and go slow)
  • Be willing to allow them to succeed OR fail on their own
  • Assist them if they ask
  • Watch them succeed!

It's not about screaming at, or punishing your kids.  You actually need to put yourself out on a limb and love your children so much that you refuse to allow yourself to control them.  Parents need to be empathetic and emotionally available to their children.    

You need to love your children unconditionally.  This necessitates loving yourself first.

Teach your children HOW to think, not WHAT to think.

Don't deny or hide problems.  Recognize when you need to seek advice from elders or professionals and receive the advice with an open mind.

Being a strong, loving parent without being controlling isn't easy, but it can become a habit.


Just because a parenting tool works, or appears to work, that doesn't make it a good one.  An unintended consequence of using tools that control kids and make them mind is that "good behavior" is purchased at a terrible cost -- that is, at the expense of the dignity and self-worth of both the parent and the child.

Too often children are treated as the property of adults.  If we want to raise children who have a strong sense of inner discipline, who don't act merely to please someone or to avoid punishment, but who behave in a responsible and compassionate way toward themselves and others because it is the right thing to do, then we must abandon some tried and true" parenting tools of the past and reject some of the more recent alternatives, too.

Write the stories about the Mormon family at Boston Pizza and the Dad yelling at his boy at Maxwell Taylor's.

If I wouldn't want to be screamed at when I made a mistake, why would I scream at my child?  If I wouldn't want my skills to be compared with my neighbor's, why would I compare my child's school performance with his older siblings?

Physical punishment is an obvious form of abuse.  Not so obvious and often overlooked forms of abuse are emotional battering and neglect.  When children hear constant criticism and putdowns, they begin to see themselves as not good enough or just plain bad.  ("Can't you do anything right?  "You were an accident.  I wish you had never been born."  "Why can't you be more like your brother?")

Other children are neglected by their parents.  They may have all the material possessions they could want, but no nurturing, cuddling, or warm words of encouragement -- only coldness.  The deep sense of loss and grief doesn't show up in bruises or broken bones, but in a broken heart -- a helplessness and despair that affects their marriages, their connections as family, their work and their play.

Some tools that appear to be better than punishment are indeed merely the flip side of the same coin.  If we praise children instead of putting them down, reward them for good deeds instead of hitting them for mistakes or mischief, replace the paddle with an offer of a trip to the park if they don't hit their brother, we must ask ourselves if we aren't still trying to control our children and "make" them mind, just doing it in a "nicer" way.  What are the consequences to our children, our family, and our community if we raise children to "do to please," to do what they are told to do, and to help others only if there is something in it for them?  Does this parenting tool leave a child's dignity and your own intact?

It will not be simple to make the necessary changes.  There is strong opposition from those who believe children are property to be owned and controlled.  There is just as much opposition from people who believe that in order to "build character" they must dangle rewards in front of children to entice them to be responsible, trustworthy, generous, truthful and empathetic.  They will want to indoctrinate, rather than teach children how to think critically or engage in critical reflection; induce conformity, rather than invite children to be all they can be; and demand loyalty, rather than teach children to act with integrity and advocate for social justice.

I had thought one of my main responsibilities was to get my students "to mind?  A five-and-a-half-year-old taught me differently.  He would not sit in his seat.  I tried all the management tools I knew: "Jeff, please sit...Look How nicely Susie is sitting ...I'll give you five stars of you sit .... The principal is coming, please sit! ... SIT!"  Nothing worked, not even the direct approach.  He looked me straight in the eye and dared, "Make me!"  I walked over and forcefully sat him down; he leaped right back up.  I then do something I would never do today; in fact, I shudder to think that I ever did it I grabbed him and sat down, pulling him with me.  Laughing at me, he announced, "As soon as you get up, I'm getting up too."

I learned from him that I really couldn't control kids and make them mind.  Even with all of my behavioral tools I couldn't make them do something they chose not to do.  Not only did I feel foolish, but Jeff was still out of his seat, and neither of us had much dignity intact.

What Jeff was helping me learn firsthand was that powerful teachers and parents do not attempt to control their children with bribes, threats, punishments, or rewards -- all of which can backfire.  In fact, they don't attempt to control their children at all.  Control tactics compete or prevent actions and force kids to behave in an adult-approved way.  Often the result of control is either that the kids become submissive, obedient, and compliant, or they go to the opposite extreme and rebel against the authority.

I came to see that to be truly effective, I had to honor my belief that kids were worth it by treating them with the dignity and regard I wished for myself.  I could, and would, use only those techniques that left both of us with our dignity intact.

When my student's would ask, "What are you going to give me if I get my assignment done?"  My response was very different from what they were used to: "What you get is you get done, that's what you get."

It took a while to convince them that I believed in them, that I knew they were capable of doing the tasks they needed to do, and that they could solve their own problems.  Yes, their progress was charted, but they charted it themselves.  They started with three question:

  • Where am I at?
  • Where am I going?
  • What do I need to get there?

There were no stars at the end--just the satisfaction of knowing they had accomplished a task and the opportunity to go on to another skill.  And they trusted that they could master that one, too.

Discipline is not something we DO to children.  Discipline does four things that the act of punishment cannot do.  The steps 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 the dignity intact.

You can even have FUN when you are being disciplined!  This part bothers people who are into punishment.  "How dare a kid have a good time fixing a mess he made!"


You're not supposed to have fun if you're being punished, but it's all right to have fun if you're being disciplined!

Discipline takes time, punishment is so much swifter.  Our ability to delay our own gratification will determine how successful we are at using discipline vs. punishment.  If we are successful, our children will learn how to delay gratification them self.

Anytime a child's safety would be at risk, there is no question that a parent must intervene.  This is no time to teach a child a lesson.  All other events are opportunities to help teach and guide your child.


  • Reasonable
  • Simple
  • Valuable
  • Practical

Natural & Reasonable lessons:

  • If a child puts her shoes on the wrong feet, her feet hurt (natural)
  • If a child goes outside on a chilly day without a coat, he will get cold (natural)
  • If a teenager wrecks the car, she may use the car as soon as she has a plan for getting it repaired (reasonable)
  • If a twelve-year-old borrows your clothes and returns them torn, he needs to get them repaired (reasonable)
  • If he continues to ruin things he borrows, soon no one will loan him any more clothes (natural)
  • Coming home late for dinner might mean a child eats a cold supper (natural) or can heat it up (reasonable)


  • Yes, later.
  • Give me a minute to think about it.
  • Convince me I should.


What kids need instead of mini-lectures are opportunities to solve problems they are confronted with or have created.  If you let kids make choices and mistakes when they are cheap, they rarely make the expensive ones later.

DON'T confront your child's anger with your own!  It never leads to more dignity.  Allow them to cool off and then sit down and talk.

Aggression begets aggression.  Passivity invites it.  So what's left?  Assertion.  The beauty and power of assertion is that it can dissipate another person's aggression.

You need to respond quickly.  "You're angry.  It's okay to be angry.  It's not okay to (hit, yell, punch walls, swear).  You can calm down in your room, the basement, by taking a walk or here in my arms.  You pick.  (Give the child THREE options as a strong willed child will try to figure out which one you want her to pick and purposely choose the other.)  The purpose and the intended results are the same: to calm down and then work through the original problem or conflict.

FOR HOW LONG?  It's not a matter of a specific time, but as soon as they've calmed down.  That can be 1 minute or 1 hour, it doesn't matter, as long as they've calmed down.

1.  RESTITUTION: Once the child has calmed down, the first thing she needs to do is fix what she did.

2.  RESOLUTION: The second thing she needs to do is figure out how she can keep the incident from happening again.

DON'T demand an apology.  "I'm sorry" has to come from the heart, not the head.


Getting kids to do household chores can be a chore in itself.  Kids are more likely to do chores willingly if they feel that we truly need and welcome their help, that we are not simply giving them chores to teach them lessons or because we don't want to do the work ourselves.  That means we have to present ordinary chores in such a way that they are meaningful to a child, useful for the family, and part of the harmonious order of our home -- no easy task unless we ourselves begin to see ordinary chores in a different light.  If we find household chores onerous and complain about having to do them, our children will probably develop a similar attitude and response to the chores we ask them to do.  If we do our chores with a sense of commitment, patience, and humor, our children will have a model to do likewise.  In Tom Sawyer Mark Twain showed how Tom Sawyer made the job of whitewashing a fence look like so much fun that he got other boys to pay him to let them do some of the work.  But what is usually forgotten about this story is that the other boys actually did have fun!

Many of us have a tendency to run our homes as if it is my home: we are going to run it in my way on mytimetable.  Here we are, trying to teach our children to share and yet robbing them of a perfect opportunity to do just that; share in the responsibilities of running a household.  It is important to remember that it is our home: we can run it in our time and in our way.

You want the trash to be taken out before dinner so that the dinner trash will fit in the can.  Christopher is watching a program and wants to finish watching it before he takes out the trash.  You know you need it before dinner and clan plan accordingly.


It is unrealistic to teach children that the harder they work, the more money they will earn.  It's just not true.  We all know people who work half as hard as we do and make twice as much money, and some do no work at all and have lots of money.  What is important for kids to learn is that no matter how much money they have, earn, win, or inherit, they need to know how to spend it, save it, donate it and invest it.

When you give your child money, remind him that some of it must go into savings, some to charity, some to what they have borrowed (if you have allowed them to borrow, charge high interest, if they save, PAY high interest) and the rest may be spent on whatever they want (with the provision that they are not life-threatening, morally threatening, or unhealthy.)  They decide how to do all three and how much to devote to each.  Give advice and guidance, not lectures and orders.

Many children today don't want for anything.  Their parents make sure they have everything they ask for.  Given the choice, children who don't want for anything will not save.  This is a sure-fire way to teach your children that money has no value.


How do kids learn to give some of their money to those who have less?  As an aspect of your financial structure, they must give some money to a charitable group or a person in need.  When the child is a toddler, you determine the charity, but she gets to decide how much.  When she is older, she can determine both.  When all the "give-to" letters arrive in the mail, you can hand some of these to her, help her understand what each one is about, and let her choose which one to give to.

Another way kids learn, as in all aspects of behavior, is by their parents' modeling.  But in this case the modeling may not be obvious or natural.  a lot of us may contribute regularly to a religious organization or charitable causes we believe in without our kids even being aware of it.  So when you are sitting down to that wonderful activity of paying bills, call your kid over and let her know what you are doing.  "I'm paying for the telephone here, for the heat and electricity here.  And here I'm giving some money to a cause I care about a lot."  Tell her about why you believe in the cause and why they need your help, whether it's a children's relief fund, an environmental organization, or a religious group.  If the child is too young to understand what checks are, you can make sure she sees you occasionally giving a little cash to someone at a shopping mall collecting donations for a charitable cause.

When charitable giving in the form of money becomes a habit, kids can then become aware of giving of their time and their talents as well.


When do you increase the allowance?  Simple -- when your kids can convince you that they need a bigger allowance.


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