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Kids Are Worth It!

Thoughts to share with you from Barbara Coloroso’s book, kids are worth it! Giving Your Child the Gift of Inner Discipline.  Revised edition, ©2002, Harper Collins, ISBN# 978-0-06-001431-5.


Coloroso created short bullet points then spent time elaborating on each point.  It was a very easy to read, common sense filled, and offered a well-grounded message (that echoed Alfie Kohn, so – bias alert – I bought in rather quickly).  Also I loved the sound-bites (quotes from others) that she sprinkled through the whole book.


Passages I found especially good:


NOTE: Most of these phrases are direct quotes.  I have put page numbers for your reference.  Phrases in italics are my comments.


Something didn’t seem right about manipulating rats and kids with rewards and punishments, threats and bribes, but I couldn’t put into words the discomfort I was feeling, and besides I didn’t know what to use in their place. (intro)


When I began my teaching career, I tried to reconcile the teaching methods with my philosophical tenants, but that didn’t work either. (intro)


And using techniques that left their dignity and my dignity intact didn’t connect with withholding food from rats or kids. (intro)


If a tool doesn’t fit with our philosophy, regardless of who said it or what kind of research is behind it, we can choose not to use it. (pg 3)


  • Don’t treat our children in a way you (we) would not want to be treated
  • Keep dignity intact

(pgs 3/4)


Then she elaborated on what these two points MEAN.


What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow man.  That is the entire law. The rest is commentary. –Judaism

(pg 6)


I also know that those of us committed to making a change must fight the demons from within, for we carry in our mental toolboxes destructive tools that are well-worn family heirlooms, passed on from generation to generation. (pg 11)


She is NOT a fan of rewards and stickers and IS a fan of controlling the environment.  I enjoyed adding her name to my mental list of philosophical colleagues!


(pgs 24-41) She then introduced her Three Types of Families, which if you have read any of her other books, make appearances there as well.  In the book she goes into in-depth detail about these characteristics and styles.





Hierarchy of control

Litany of strict rules

Punctuality, cleanliness and order

Rigid enforcement of rules by means of actual, threatened or imagined violence

Attempts to break the child’s will and spirit with fear and punishment

Rigid rituals and rote learning


Threats and bribes

Heavy reliance on competition

Learning takes place in an atmosphere of fear

Love is highly conditional

Separate strictly enforced roles

Teach what to think, not how to think

Risk of sexual promiscuity, drug abuse and suicide

Refuses to acknowledge the need to get help




Two Types:


Jellyfish A Families are parents who typically came from a BRICKWALL family and have swung in the opposite direction when it comes to raising their own children.  They have a hard time determining a need vs. a want.  When chaos ensues, they revert to the brick wall style of parenting they received growing up.


Jellyfish B Families are parents that have personal problems that keep the parents entirely centered on themselves. It can be emotional issues or even extreme workaholic-ism.  They are potentially incapable of caring for the children and the children are often left to fend for themselves.



Anarchy and chaos in the physical and emotional environment

No recognizable rules, structure or guidelines

Arbitrary punishment and rewards

Mini-lectures and put-downs

Second chances are rarely given

Threats and bribes are commonplace

Everything takes place in an environment of chaos

Emotions rule the behavior of parents and children

Children are taught that love is highly conditional

Children are easily led by their peers

Risk of sexual promiscuity, drug abuse and suicide

Parents are oblivious to major family problems and fail to recognize the need to seek help



Is of course what we all strive to be!

Coloroso stated that backbone families can be described by what they are NOT: hierarchical, bureaucratic or violent.



Parents develop for their children a network of support through 6 critical messages given to the kids each day:

  1. I believe in you
  2. I trust you
  3. I know you can handle life situations
  4. You are listened to
  5. You are cared for
  6. You are very important to me

Democracy is learned through experience

An environment is created that is conducive to creative constructive and responsible activity

Rules are simple and clearly stated

Consequences for irresponsible behavior are either natural or reasonable

Discipline is handled with authority that gives life to children’s learning

Children are motivated to be all they can be

Children receive lots of hugs, smiles and humor

Children get second opportunities

Children learn to accept their own feelings and to act responsibility on those feelings through a strong sense of self-awareness

Competency and cooperation are modeled and encouraged

Love is unconditional

Children are taught how to think

Children are buffered from sexual promiscuity, drug abuse and suicide by the daily reinforcement of messages that foster self-esteem:

  1. I like myself
  2. I can think for myself
  3. There is no problem so great it can’t be solved

The family is willing to seek help



Threats, punishments, bribes and rewards do work. They also keep a child dependent and fearful. They work when our goal is to get children to do what we want them to do. If however, our goal is different, these tools do not work.  (pgs 42/43)


Children cannot develop a sense of inner discipline if all of the control comes from the outside. (pg 43)


She then broke down and elaborated on threats, punishments, bribes and rewards and how they are used in the 3 families.


External motivation (goodies, stickers, bribes, etc.) does not inspire anyone to be compassionate, honest, trustworthy or fair. It manipulates a child into performing a specific task. (pg 64)


(pg 79)

The process of discipline:

Four Steps:


Show them what they have done wrong

Give them ownership of the problem

Help them find ways of solving the problem

Leave their dignity intact


(pg 80) Consequences: real world consequences either happen naturally or are reasonable consequences that are intrinsically related to the child’s actions. (she gives examples)


Parents must intervene if it is a potentially life threatening consequence (pg 81)


Morally threatening consequences can be framed in the following way:  when a child asks, “Why can’t I?”


Because it is unkind

Because it is hurtful

Because it is unfair

Because it is dishonest


(again, she gives examples)


If a situation is not life threatening, morally threatening or unhealthy, ask yourself if the natural consequence of what your child is doing would give life to your child’s learning.


RSVP four clues to reasonable consequences (pgs 83-85)


Is it Reasonable?

Is it Simple?

Is it a Valuable learning tool?

Is it Practical?


(again, she gives examples)



Three Alternatives to “No!”

(pgs 90-94)


How often do we say NOPE NO WAY NEVER


Save your NO for the big issues.  The rest of the time, as the NO begins to form on your lips (I love that visual!) ask yourself if one of the following will serve you both better:


First alternative, Yes, later.

Second alternative, Give me a minute.

Third alternative, Convince me.



Questions that get us nowhere fast:

(pgs 95-96)


Questions with no right answers:



Questions with no options:



Questions that punish:



Questions that are wishy-washy:




Fair treatment is not always equal, identical treatment, but it is honest, adequate and just. (pg 134)


(Pg 150) Six Steps to Problem Solving:

  1. Identify and define the problem
  2. List viable options for solving the problem
  3. Evaluate the options – explore the pluses and minus for each option
  4. Choose an option
  5. Make a plan and DO IT
  6. Evaluate the problem and the solution.

What brought the problem about?

Could a similar problem be prevented in the future?

How was the present problem solved?


Through the rest of the book she tackles lots of common issues and scenarios and runs them through the Three Families.  She gives TONS of common sense advice and encouragement as to how to start being more of the BACKBONE style.


Although she gives input on day to day issue such as potty training, tantrums, bedtime, tattling and chores, Coloroso doesn’t shy away from some of the biggies we all hope we never have to deal with: drugs, suicide, getting your kid out of jail, bullying, etc.






-Lisa Murphy

August 21, 2011

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