The first parenting book I ever read was “Kids Are Worth It!” by Barbara Coloroso. It was recommended to me by one of my children’s teachers, and while it didn’t solve all my parenting problems, it was a powerful first step.
As a former Franciscan nun, a mother of three and a teacher with a background in sociology, special education, philosophy and theology, Coloroso brings a wealth of experience and knowledge to compassionate, unconditional parenting.
In this book, Coloroso describes three types of parents – brick wall, jellyfish and backbone.
Brick wall families are authoritarian, rules-based, rigid and inflexible and strictly hierarchical.
The tools of a brick wall family include punishment, coercion, bribes, threats, humiliation and highly conditional love. Children in brick wall families are expected to be obedient and are taught what to think, not how to think.
In the jellyfish (or permissive) family, there are no boundaries, little or no structure around meals, chores, homework, hygiene or bedtime, and children are often left to fend for themselves.
The behaviour of parents and children are ruled by emotion, everything takes place in an environment of chaos and anarchy and punishments and rewards are arbitrary, immediate and unpredictable.
Children from both brick wall and jellyfish families are easily led by their peers and are at higher risk for sexual promiscuity, drug abuse and suicide.
Backbone parents, on the other hand, are not hierarchical, bureaucratic or violent. They don’t demand respect; they demonstrate and teach it.
Children of backbone families are taught to question, and they learn that they can listen and be listened to, and that they can be respectful and be respected. And because they are treated with compassion, they learn compassion and empathy for others.
She lists these six basic characteristics of a backbone family: I believe in you; I trust you; I know you can handle life situations; you are listened to; you are cared for; and you are very important to me.
What about reality, mistakes and problems? Reality is something we can’t do anything about – like the weather. Mistakes are learning opportunities. And problems are something that, with proper planning and execution, we can do something about. And it’s important to know which is which.
Coloroso stresses that discipline is not synonymous with punishment, but is giving life to learning. She says that discipline shows kids what they have done, gives them ownership of the problem, gives them options for solving the problem and leaves their dignity intact.
She emphasizes that real-world, natural consequences are best because they are intrinsically related to the child’s actions – for example, going outside on a chilly day without a coat means the child will be cold.
The only time a parent must intervene is when the consequences are life-threatening, morally threatening or unhealthy.
If you’re new to parenting books, there are few that are a better start.
Want to know more about Choice Theory? Email me at email@example.com and I’ll send you PDFs of the booklet Who’s Driving YOUR Car? and the handout Six Things: How to create healthy boundaries. And as always, I welcome your questions.