Honey, I Wrecked the Kids: a guide to democratic parenting

Linda Stone recently handed me a copy of Honey, I Wrecked the Kids: When Yelling, Screaming, Threats, Bribes, Time-outs, Sticker Charts and Removing Privileges All Don't Work, a 2009 book by Adlerian family therapist Alyson Schafer.

Honey, I Wrecked the Kids is a book about parenting without bribes or punishments. Schafer says that training kids to respond to either form of coercion puts them at risk of growing up to be pushovers or bullies, and suggests that the real trick to happy parenting is to find ways of working with your kids that get them to want to "behave" at home and school.

(Incidentally, Linda told me that she mostly hands out copies of this book to managers who are struggling to deal with their employees, as a way to getting people motivated without threatening or bribing them)

I found the book to be genuinely inspiring. Though Schafer's writing style is given to flourishes that I didn't think much of (she has an unfortunate tendency to sprinkle in vernacular flourishes that come across as hokey to my eye), her advice couldn't be better or more clearly stated.

First, she sets out a system for interpreting "misbehavior" and understanding whether your kid is upset because she wants attention, revenge, confidence, or to hide away from things. Interestingly, the method for figuring out what's going on mostly involves examining your reaction, as a parent -- the unconscious patterns that you fall into when your kids do things that upset you tells you a lot about what reaction they're hoping to elicit.

Next, she sets out a course of behaviors for defusing bad behaviors and inspiring good ones: allowing your kids to make mistakes and learn from the natural consequences of risky behavior, creating logical consequences for other behaviors (no dinner if you won't sit down at dinner time, but not because we're punishing you -- because that's when dinner is), and turning confrontations into negotiations.

Finally, Schafer describes a kind of democratic routine for kids and parents that encourages group decision-making and compromise. Starting from a very early age, she advocates quick weekly family meetings, with formal agendas (at first, the agenda is just, "What was great this week" and "What fun thing should we do this weekend?" but it builds to encompass old business, new business, major projects, chore allocation, etc), chaired by kids and adults. I grew up in free schools and open summer camps where this kind of quick and friendly meeting was a regular touchstone, and I find I miss it. I'm looking forward to trying this at home.

Honey, I Wrecked the Kids: When Yelling, Screaming, Threats, Bribes, Time-outs, Sticker Charts and Removing Privileges All Don't Work


  1. This is a really great book. My girlfriend is a Governess and has been using similar methods of negotiation with her charges for years, to great impact.

    The idea of logical consequences is the one I adore. Working as a YA librarian I never raise my voice, get snippy or short with kids who are getting out of hand. I let them know what the consequences are to certain actions. When push comes to shove, you’re not surprising the child with some arbitrary or over-the-top punishment out of anger.

    The best part is, kids come to respect that. They learn to behave not out of fear or to get a rise out of you, but because they know what happens if they don’t. A nice introduction to the social compact.

    Schafer gets the core idea that you’re not raising children to be obedient, servile children, but to be capable, rational adults. The more adults who don’t rely on scaring people or live timidly in fear of punishment the better for everyone!

  2. This sounds like the same philosophy as Unconditional Parenting by Alfie Kohn.

    I found that book to be well researched and reasonably persuasive about why bribes and punishments are problematic, but lacking in concrete suggestions for alternatives.

    So I may just have to pick this up as a companion reader….

    Then again, I say “reasonably” persuasive because in conversations with a friend who is a neuroscience guru, she was very skeptical of this approach based on her knowledge of the brain. She tells me that the behavioral centers of the brain (which respond to things like bribes and punishments) are MUCH larger and more powerful than the empathy centers of the brain (which parenting experts like Kohn and, based solely on this review, Schafer seem to advocate stimulating). I suspect the Kohn/Schaefer response would be that the long-term benefits of unconditional/democratic parenting outweigh the short-term benefits of a behavioralist approach.

    But I ramble…

    Thanks for pointing this out, Cory.

    1. I have read all of Alfie’s work. We are of a very similar mindset. He is probably a bit more “touchy-feely” child-centred than the Adlerian perspective I speak from. But not by too much.

      I gotta say – the pragmatic application is EVERYTHING in my mind. I had all this theory, would go to Barbara Colorossa talks and I always left feeling that it was all too “meta”. How the heck do you “do it” ?

      Parents have told me that usually when they attend parenting talks, they leave feeling WORSE! The bar has been raised. They have learned more about their short comings.

      Cory said the book left him feeling inspired. YES! That is what my goal is: to help parents understand their children and child guidance so they have confidence and tools to know they are on the right path and being effective. Its really “how to” with dirty details of how people commonly make application mistakes etc.

      I hope you pick it up and let me know what you think!


  3. I ‘ll be sure to read this, but at first glance it looks like a watered down version of the principles of William Glasser, Alfie Kohn, and Diane Gossen. My mother teaches parenting classes in Gossen’s methods ( somewhat off-puttingly called Restitution Therapy and Control Theory) and I use them in the classroom as a middle school teacher, and with my own daughter. I think if you’re interested in learning about no punishment/reward systems you will be interested in Restitution. It’s a way to teach kids to be self motivated, mindful, and to have good communication skills, which all lead to happy kids who are invested in their family/classroom. It also works really well with tiny kids when you are teaching them how to be self aware and socially aware. The books are not hip, but they help you develop healthy, respectful and loving parenting skills. It’s a user friendly Alfie Kohn. You can find parent resources through this site, if you’re interested:

    1. I can’t wait to check out the real restitution approach. William Glasser and I are both Adlerian, so yes – you will find we have similar ideas about child guidance techniques.

  4. Adlerian psychology is such a beautiful and powerful way of understanding the development of human personality. It’s also very grounded in evolutionary theory. In short, Adler was way ahead of his time… and still is apparently as way too few people are aware of his revelations about child development and human nature.

  5. Another book that turns kids into little adults. Why should a 40 year old ever “negotiate” anything with a six year old? The big problem with this method is it creates people who believe their opinion matters in every scenario (hint: it doesn’t).

  6. Wow, I wish my parents had a book like this when they were raising me. They were the screaming/shaking by the shoulders/harsh punishment types. I did everything out of fear and really never even considered whether I wanted to do something or not, I was just scared of being screamed at or grounded for a year. Now, at 40 I’m a complete pushover with no decision making skills, I’m terrified of displeasing anyone and I will literally clamp my hands over my ears if I witness a fight or argument.
    Thanks mom and dad!

  7. “Schafer says that training kids to respond to either form of coercion puts them at risk of growing up to be pushovers or bullies”

    Even though the majority of people raised in such ways *haven’t* become bullies or pushovers. I see.

    1. Key phrase: “at risk”

      Driving while intoxicated puts you “at risk” of having an accident. Not everyone who drives while intoxicated has an accident; nor is everyone who has an accident, intoxicated.

  8. I use the positive re-enforcement approach to parenting.
    Bad behaviour is a cry for attention, so bad behaviour is ignored while good behaviour is re-enforced with plenty of attention.

    It’s easy.

    Well, actually it’s not that easy ignoring someone who’s smashing you in the face with a fire engine, but I’m working on it.

  9. Or – and this is just a thought – one could actually BE a parent and run a benevolent dictatorship.

    If you have to bribe a child, you simply are doing it wrong. If you do not start establishing discipline at six months, you have a lost cause on your hands.

    I know of whence I speak, having a child who :

    • in a mere two weeks will be an adult
    • is respectful of her elders to a fault
    • has never partaken of an illegal or intoxicating substance
    • has maintained her purity against the siren call of the world
    • is considerate of everyone around her

    And the only ‘tactic’ we used in raising her was quite simple : we never, ever told her anything we did not mean, not even once in 18 years. You would not believe how gratifying it is to have the only child in a retail store where every customer doesn’t know her name, nor even know she exists. Or to have a child that believes as sure as the rises that no does, in fact, mean no and it doesn’t mean to ask one hundred more times.

    Yes, we also spanked. But I can count on one hand the number of times we had to do so, and the last time was during our child’s second year of life. It was always announced, and it was never a surprise or spontaneous.

    As a matter of fact, our “draconian” discipline allowed me to take my daughter to a client’s home and put her in one spot with the command – yes, command – not to move from that spot and to amuse herself playing with her toys. I could be perfectly comfortable leaving her for an hour knowing she simply couldn’t conceive of disobeying because she knew – with every fiber of her being – there would be consequences should she disobey.

    This all comes from never, ever giving in – not even once. No matter how inconvenient, no matter how our plans would get dashed against the rocks of reality. if there was a problem, we stated so and stated there would be negative consequences that far outweighed any possible benefit our child could receive and then we followed through. Even if this meant canceling our plans, we carried out every statement we ever made to our child. Period. End of Story. Full stop.

    There simply was nothing more important to us than never inflicting our child on society. To this end, my wife and I were always a unified front and always handled disagreements out of our child’s sight and hearing. Are we perfect? Hell no. We just have never tried to be our daughter’s best friend, ever. We have first and foremost been parents, twenty-four-by-seven, and that is what EVERY parent should do.

    1. How do you know these two statements are absolutely true?

      “has never partaken of an illegal or intoxicating substance”

      “has maintained her purity against the siren call of the world”

      My mom would have said the same thing about me regarding substances when I was 18, but she would have been lying. I’m not saying that your child has or hasn’t done either of those, but unless you’re literally with her 24/7 for her entire life, that’s just something you’re not going to know for sure.

      It sounds like you’ve raised her in a way that would be devastating to her if she had to admit she wasn’t perfect.

    2. Sounds like you’re a pretty consistent behavioralist. I respect that, as there is no question that your approach is a very powerful one (see my comments above about my neuroscientist friend’s views), but a lot of the studies that folks like Alfie Kohn cite suggest that there are long-term negatives associated with that approach.

      What these books are advocating is not becoming your child’s best friend (that would indeed be bad parenting), but instilling values of empathy, respect for others and independent thinking above and beyond strict obedience to authority.

      I’m not so concerned that my kid will become a pushover or a bully. My concern is that I don’t want him focused on how he will be immediately rewarded/punished for his actions. I want him to think about how his actions affect others and his own long-term well-being. I want him to refrain from doing bad things because he understands why they are bad, not because he is afraid of getting caught and punished. And I want him to do good things because he understands why they are good, not because he will get a prize or a pat on the back.

      Perhaps this is a misplaced focus and our kids will simply grow up without discipline. But the long-term psychological research seems to suggest otherwise.

      1. “Perhaps this is a misplaced focus and our kids will simply grow up without discipline. But the long-term psychological research seems to suggest otherwise.”

        Actually, focusing on connection, understanding and support has been proven to promote self-discipline, as in enduring discomfort when pursuing a goal. “Discipline” or punishment/torture of children with the goal to instill obedience through fear does promote, well, obedience and the beliefs that 1. violence works (best) and 2. that one is only safe when pleasing authority /the parent. Very simple, really.

        I happen to teach unconditional parenting classes in Westside Los Angeles. Parents often say “I was spanked as a child and turned out OK” to which I reply “You were spanked as a child and turned out to believe that spanking is OK.”

        Behaviorist approach works well with animals and when training behaviors in humans with mental disabilities.
        Children are here to unfold rather than be molded.

        A book I recommend to anyone who is ready to end the cycle of violence and ignorance and approach parenting as an opportunity to heal their childhood and open up to service and wisdom, is Naomi Aldort’s “Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves.”

        And, if you are in L.A., check http://www.thejoyofparenting.com for upcoming classes.

    3. I think it’s a bit important to establish the idea that no one makes any child do anything. The child must choose to be obedient. Rewards, punishment, and negotiation are all tools for helping your kid learn to make the choice to listen to you. Which is part of why the advice in this book to have solid, predictable consequences for actions is pretty good: it lets the kid know that they have a choice, and encourages, through reward, punishment, and negotiation, the choice that the parent would like (and, likely, the one that will help the kid get to adulthood in a safe, sane manner, and, hopefully, the one that will help them in adulthood to be positive members of society).

      No one controls their kids. At best, you get your kid to agree with what you’re saying.

      Parental authority is not inherently given. It must be earned, over and over again. You must show that you are one of the best leaders for that kid, that your words should be believed, that your advice is wise. Because if you’re not a good leader, you can’t expect your kid to follow you, or listen to you, or tolerate your begging.

      1. Thanks for that addition to the conversation.

        I keep saying I am “Adlerian” ( as in following the theory of Alfred Adler) but maybe I should start saying I am “Darwinian”.

        Our offspring what to follow the “human code” for getting along and being a member of a social unit” as much as polar bear cubs do.

        Leadership is all respected will be followed. The power of influence is so HUGE and parents throw it away by being “A-holes” to their kidsand disenfranchising them. WHAT A WASTE!

        I should call my parenting theory – ” the lazy way” – because once you meet a few basic requirements, kids engage and give you all the co-operation needed. But they have to respect you – AND respect others, and a need for order.


        1. Hey– your stealing my byline! The lazy in my “name” is about my resistance to drop everything to cater to my children, the cheap is about not believing in buying my children’s affection or good behavior or stimulation. We are a family and everyone’s needs have to be balanced. You make an excellent point about the natural influence that parents have. Children want to be loved and admired by their parents above all else. The crazy love affair that hits parents definitely goes both ways. But young children can be demanding and needy and clueless and frustrated parents can spend most of their time wrestling with their kids. The desire to control children’s behavior (as opposed to guide or influence) is great.

    4. I’m dubious of the objective truth of your post. Sorry, but there it is.

      One thing you said I really, strongly agree with. “we never, ever told her anything we did not mean, not even once in 18 years.” I quite agree that that is a really fine thing to do as a parent. It’s also really difficult. We try to do that, too.

      However, it seems to me that as a single rule to parent by it’s a bit lacking. Clearly if I said “eat your greens or you will be sleeping in the cellar”, and meant it, I would not be a good parent.

      I suspect we would disagree on a lot of the detail you missed out from your post.

    5. You’ve terrorized your child into submission for your own convenience. That’s utterly despicable. She’s a person, not your property.

    6. You are aware that sex and drugs are often a fun and fulfilling part of life, right?

    7. Looks like this thread got jacked :)

      1macgeek, I would propose that your style worked on your daughter, because of how her unique brain works.
      One kid is a bad sample, and DNA really does have an effect on behavior.

    8. >> Yes, we also spanked.

      Automatic fail.

      Parents who impose this “solution” often pride themselves on the submissiveness and lack of “trouble” (as they define it) of their child. Or conversely they justify the hitting by claiming their child is “wild” and will not respond to “reason.” Funny how many of those “wild” children also seem to be paired up with “wild” parents.

      Installed timidity through violence is not good parenting. Likewise, a child may become increasingly belligerent the more you try to convince them that hitting = love. Hitting a child usually results in a child who is obedient out of fear and intimidation or who is aggressive, resentful, and bitter. Or alternately, all of the above.

      Any parent who hits their child, even once, has already lost. And no, I don’t care if you carefully and thoughtfully sat down and “explained” why you were going to hit them. I don’t care if you were “consistent” or however it tends to be rationalized. In fact, I find it more disturbing that parents hug their child before hitting them, and then hug them again after. “I hit you because I love you.” A disturbing and sick message indeed. And made even more disturbing when that message is placed in a religious context, i.e. “I hit you because the invisible man is watching and he wants to keep you from hell fire.”

      Don’t hit.

      That’s pretty basic.

      1. I agree. The “hitting because I love you” thing is dangerously close to an abusive relationship, ex: “You left the mop out! Why do you make me do this to you?! Now get me a beer!”

  10. I agree with the suggestion of Alfie Kohn and _Unconditional_Parenting_. He has a similar perspective and a lot of research to back it up. One difference, based on this review, is that he doesn’t support “natural” consequences created by the parent. As a kid who was subject to such consequences, it was pretty clear that they were actually punishments, with similar effects. One guideline that some people suggest is to ask yourself whether you would treat your spouse or friend like you treat your child – for example, refusing to give them any food because they didn’t feel like eating at dinner time (obviously there are some times when there are compelling reasons to treat kids differently than adults, for example if they’re unaware of a serious danger, but those times are surprisingly few and far between).

    On the other hand, pointing out the actual natural consequences of choices and actions is hard to argue with, IMO.

    1. “One difference, based on this review, is that he doesn’t support “natural” consequences created by the parent. As a kid who was subject to such consequences, it was pretty clear that they were actually punishments, with similar effects.”

      Exactly. My parents believed in this stuff. I didn’t. I wished they would stop pretending and just admit they were punishing me, like other parents, because I knew the “logic” was often enough just in their minds. My parents did a really good job overall, but is was a thing I never really bought. Not at five years old, and not today at twenty-five, either.

  11. Even though the majority of people raised in such ways *haven’t* become bullies or pushovers.

    Citation needed.

    I know of whence I speak, having a child who :

    • in a mere two weeks will be an adult
    • is respectful of her elders to a fault
    • has never partaken of an illegal or intoxicating substance
    • has maintained her purity against the siren call of the world
    • is considerate of everyone around her

    But are they resourceful, skilled, creative, sceptical, and able to change to meet shifting requirements? You appear to be measuring some very selective traits here. Certainly they would make a good garden gnome this way, but I am unconvinced that this is sufficient.

    1. Asked : “But are they resourceful, skilled, creative, sceptical, and able to change to meet shifting requirements?”

      Answered : Yes.

      The benefit to raising a child this way was in getting her to *think* about what she was doing. She was nobody’s fool to begin with, but we also taught her that nobody – NOBODY – on this planet would place any value on her if she did not do so first herself.

      In short, we instructed her that if she dressed like a bum it shouldn’t come as a shock that people would treat her like one as well. Action, meet consequence. We had clearly defined expectations of her, and the rest was up to her as to how she got there. We are not in the micromanaging game; we are parents, not wardens.

      And to the nay-sayers who disbelieve she has yet to touch a drop of alcohol or an illegal drug : believe it. Part of the work of being a parent is always being in control of your child. ALWAYS. She has never left our sight unless she was in the custody of a responsible adult in whom we had complete trust. Again, that’s your job as a parent, not as a friend. Each and every time, all the time.

      Without exception we knew who, what, where, when and everyone she would come in contact with – there were no surprises. If you will, she was free to do anything she desired so long as we talked to the parents first, and she filed a ‘flight plan’ with us. Any deviation from that plan without a phone call meant there would be consequences. So long as she touched base about deviations, freedom was hers.

      And that has payed off in spades now that she has entered into the work force. Her boss is salivating for her to turn 18 so she can be promoted into management. She has an incredible work ethic way beyond her years due to the discipline, and she can *GASP* think on her feet ! She shows up to work and never calls in because of “Concert-itis”. As we taught her we said what we meant, and meant every word of what we said so now does she; and her employer loves her for it.

      We prepared her to take on the world, being ever-mindful the world will give her no quarter. I pity the poor slob that goes up against her in a job interview. She will take no prisoners. ;-)

      1. I love the idea that a Mac Geeks idea of perfect parenting is like the concept of Macs in general.
        They work because they keep you in a beautiful cage.
        Sorry Mac geek, my kid’s a little more open source.
        That means a few bugs have to be worked out but her potential is unlimited.
        Please don’t take this as a comment about your daughter, it is a comment about you.

      2. Your story makes me feel really sad, both for you and your kid. I really hope everything works out ok for her, because the attitude and philosophy you’re expressing matches almost exactly the upbringing some of the more screwed up young adults I know.

      3. She has never left our sight unless she was in the custody of a responsible adult in whom we had complete trust.

        How is that even possible? How does someone cope with being alone if they’ve never been alone?

      4. Good for you for being honest with your daughter. I don’t doubt your claim about drugs, alcohol, and sex- that isn’t as unusual as TV would have us think. Still, if this is true, “She has never left our sight unless she was in the custody of a responsible adult in whom we had complete trust,” then realize that this girl, however smart and resourceful she may be, has never been tested. She has never had the opportunity to make moral choices for herself. Frankly, that was irresponsible of you. Most children get to learn to make their own judgments while they still depend on their parents. If they get it wrong, there’s a responsible adult waiting to help them learn from it. She may not have that chance, and if I were her, I certainly wouldn’t tell *you* about any questions/problems I had.

        1. then realize that this girl, however smart and resourceful she may be, has never been tested. She has never had the opportunity to make moral choices for herself.

          Wow. Let’s clear up a misunderstanding here – when did I ever say she didn’t have the freedom to make mistakes? Think of us (her parents) as an automatic set of training wheels that only deploys when there is the possibility of a catastrophic accident. We are always there, true, but that doesn’t mean we are shackled to her. It is said the best security force is the one you can’t see, and that is how we tried to be. For the most part, I believe we succeeded.

          Raising a child to *think* means they tend not to make mistakes because they are looking at all the outcomes and picking the ones in their own best self-interest. But this is not to say they don’t ever make mistakes at all. That’s part of learning and gaining experience.

          Believe me, she has been tested such as by attracting an on-line predator; we did have to step in after she got in over her head. But the point is she enjoyed the freedom to get herself in trouble, and learned from what she did wrong so that it never happened again. I guess the part I am happiest with is that she came to us when there was trouble. As I said, she was nobody’s fool to begin with and only becomes less so by the day. I believe that can be chalked up to teaching her to think, and teaching her that she has an inherent worth as an intelligent woman. She doesn’t demand your respect, but she earns it in a pretty big hurry.

          1. I find your comments interesting.

            Your parenting style seems to have the following facets:
            an emphasis on an undefined “Purity”
            Absolute prohibition of any “bad” substances
            Physical punishment if she steps out of line
            Massive retaliation in response to any disobedience
            Her invisibility as a positive trait
            Refusing to allow her to be unaccompanied at any time.


            Given these other comments of yours, I have to say-
            I don’t know why there’s any debate about your parenting methods. No clue at all.

  12. No dinner unless you sit down at dinner? What about leftovers? Do they throw them away? They say they’re not punishing, but if they throw away leftovers shows intent. So you’re basically lying to your kid when you say that you are not punishing them? “Hey, why did you start throwing away your coveted leftovers when this new rule started?”

  13. ҉ۢ has never partaken of an illegal or intoxicating substance
    • has maintained her purity against the siren call of the world”

    I’m not sure what these accomplishments represent, and I wouldn’t say they necessarily are indications of parental “success.”

    I find it interesting you consider abstinence the top goal here, and not thoughtful, responsible management of drugs or sex (I’m presuming that’s what you mean by “purity against siren call”), whether that be partaking or not partaking.

    A young woman approaching adulthood is probably just as well-adjusted and capable, if not more, having sex and taking drugs as one who does not at all, *if* she does so with consideration for possible consequences and her own emotional and physical capacities.

  14. You know it’s either caffeine time or nap time when you read: “Honey I wrecked the kids: a guide to demonic parenting”.


    Fascinating stuff, once I figured out what I was *really* reading about.

  15. In my job as a governess, I recently had the opportunity to take care of 6 children in Austria. Their father was a former naval captain who had become cold and distant since the death of his wife. He ran the house like a ship, including using a whistle to call the children! When I first met them they were very hostile, playing all sorts of pranks on me and making my life miserable. But with some singing, cuddling in bed during a thunderstorm, dancing on a hilltop, and berry picking they all came around. I recommend these methods to all parents and am considering making a movie about my success.

  16. Her boss is salivating for her to turn 18 so she can be promoted into management.

    Who gives 18-year-olds management jobs? Heck, who has age limits on management jobs? Sounds dubious to me.

    As we taught her we said what we meant, and meant every word of what we said so now does she; and her employer loves her for it.

    I have never met any career manager or salesdroid who considered this a virtue. Lies are their trade. Nobody will buy your product if you tell them the truth about it, they’ll go to the next guy who tells pretty lies.

  17. Ohhh, so that’s what happend! I was a sticker chart kid too. I always said it was stupid but noooo, and NOW look how I turned out! Thanks, Sticker chart! Phooey!

  18. Sounds a lot like how my own mother raised me. From the get-go, the system was very simple: She respected my needs, was fair about honest mistakes and I had more freedom than any other kid I knew. But she also made it clear that I was smart enough not to be an ass and that life was happier when we were both reasonable and civil. There was no endless screaming, threats or even time-outs. She used The Gaze (the one that indicated she was not impressed and that could melt lead) a few times but that was all that was ever needed.

    I think it also helped that I was an only child. Since I was mostly surrounded by adults, there was nobody to get whipped into a hyper frenzy with. Being collected was the normal, preferable state as far as I knew.

  19. Disclaimer: I am not a parent, and don’t want to be.

    I am in awe of my sister, who has two sons, one six month old and the other just turned three. She is always calm and never raises her voice with the three year old. She never, ever smacks him, and she never will. When he gets overexcited and does the inevitably annoying things that three year olds do, she tells him he needs to calm his body down, and that it’s his choice – either he does that, or they have to stop whatever it was they were doing. It’s an amazing thing to watch, and he is a really fantastic kid. The genius of it, as far as I can see, is that while she acts as arbiter, she is giving him choices to make for himself, and he rapidly learns that some outcomes of those choices are way more fun than others. She also has a seemingly infinite supply of patience, which must help. As a result, he’s also very confident in social settings – he’ll go off and play happily on his own in playgrounds with kids who are much older than him, and just checks back occasionally to make sure mum is still there.

    As an aside, parents smacking children is unnecessary and counterproductive, and it’s a lazy and nasty way of getting the child to behave themselves. And what you teach the child is to flinch from human contact. Good plan. I was raised without being smacked, and none of my family in Denmark would ever smack their kids – they don’t need to, and in fact, by law, aren’t allowed to.

  20. There was a fantastic study of varying policies at schools to improve performance that showed well designed bribes to be better and more cost effective than smaller classes, a variety of different teaching methods and more teaching training that received a lot of press lately.

    Everyone focussed on the notion of bribes as being useful. However, part of the “well designed” aspect was zero parent involvement. The systems that worked were all primarily equivalent to performance bonuses for employees. The one experiment with parental involvement in the bribes was a failure.

  21. Treat your child how you would wish to be treated, with respect and maturity. You can admit your faults and the faults of the world to a child. They should learn that nothing and no one is ideal.

    Never lie to them. Kids have a better bullshit filter than most adults, don’t let their lack of experience fool you. As they grow they will reflect back on your half truths as lies rather than you shielding them from facts for their benefit.

    Always follow through on your promises. You would expect the same from them. If you aren’t 100% sure than you can, don’t promise in the first place.

    When they stray from the path (they will stray from the path) offer amnesty in exchange for honesty. Talking through bad choices and their repercussions is much more productive than screaming at someone.

    When you do have to punish them let the punishment fit the crime. Sending someone to their room doesn’t accomplish anything. If nothing fits, default to community service. Every time my son lies to me, the Food Bank gets a Saturday morning volunteer.

    Involve them in family decisions and tell them why you made the decisions you make. Especially financial decisions.

    Kids are innovative thinkers, encourage them have a voice. It can get tricky with teenagers as they can mistake having a voice as being in charge. Whether they know it or not they need limits.

  22. I’m not a parent, but this kind of parenting style worked pretty well for my parents when they were raising me. My sister and I were rarely formally punished or rewarded for anything. We wanted to please our parents, and their disapproval was the natural consequence of misbehaving. And when they were unhappy with us, we didn’t get permission to do so many fun things. Pretty simple and natural. As an adult, when I piss someone off, they’re not going to help me out either.

    My sister smoked lots of pot, got caught shoplifting, I got increasingly bad grades in high school. We weren’t some sort of Stepford family. But I have a successful career in the high tech industry, she’s figured out what she really wants to study and is excelling in school, we both LIKE our parents and willingly spend time with them and share our lives honestly. I have a happier relationship with my parents than any other adult I know. We’re not emotionally damaged by our upbringing like so many of my friends. And that counts for a lot.

  23. Also give them an allowance. A real allowance. My deal with my son is that I provide food, shelter, clothing and gifts on his birthday and Christmas. Anything else he wants, that’s what allowance is for. If it is too much to save for, find work. It cuts the “can I have” questions to none.

  24. Whoa… I made the mistake of watching the Winnebago Man trailer right before reading this thread so 1MacGeek is looking and sounding a whole lot like Jack Rebney in my head (sans the cursing). This cross-pollinizing of BoingBoing posts may keep me up tonight.

    @febryle– thanks for the laugh

    I am a mother of 3 girls and the thing I find maddening about being the parent of some highly skilled, healthy, smart, dynamic kids is that it is really difficult to pin point what it is about one’s parenting style that has helped form them. I mean really. I get to take some credit, but how much. Clearly I am blessed. And there’s the whole DNA thing. But how much has been my loving devotion, the breastfeeding, the home cooked meals, the active listening, the crafting? We have very few rules. I tell them when their behavior is unpleasant or unacceptable. I don’t hold a grudge. I admit when I am wrong and I apologize when I make a mistake. I try to be the sort of person I would like them to become– open, respectful, caring, resourceful. And I try to communicate through words and actions how much I enjoy being with them. But the question remains– am I good parent because they make it easy? Or are they so delightful because I’m a good parent? It’s the chicken and egg all over again.

  25. At first glance, the cover of the book reveals to me that children using artistic expression on drywall, primed & painted, is a result of bad parenting (intended for the target audience/market). But wait, no, the fact that the kid is standing on a cheap Ikea futon is the foreshadowing symbol of bad parenting. Or is Schafer implying bad parenting is the result of exploiting your children as models for book covers for financial gain? Or is bad parenting the copy editor/alcoholic neglecting his/her child correcting the typos (who ironically has a middle class home furnished with Ikea time bombs)?

    It is an absolute insult that this person hands out this book to mangers. If my manger handed me this book, I’d pee on the watercooler and join the circus.

    Alternative titles:
    -“A Behavioral Approach to Stifling Creativity”
    -“Civil and Domestic Obedience”
    -“Perpetuating the Bourgeoisie: Project Management for Future Dummies”
    -“I Want my Kiddo to be Dross and Pragmatic”
    -“Another Self-Help Book Because You Can’t Think for Yourself (Be Sure to Drop by the Starbucks Kiosk for Your Grande Double Chocolaty Chip Frappuccino)”
    -“Meta Confessions of a Narcissist: My Child is MY Child!”
    And perhaps the follow-up to her book: “A Retrospective: My Children Have no Friends; my Bad”

  26. But Cory, this way how can you beat the evil out of Poesy before she becomes a wretched woman?

    (Actually this seems already very much how I’m raising my daughter Ada, and it’s working out pretty well. I also wrote this: http://www.quinnnorton.com/said/?p=284 building on what is for me the same philosophy, extended to public space. At its heart I believe that it’s about treating children as the competent and full people we want them to become.

    Also, making her a wretched and evil woman like her mother.)

  27. Redirecting Children’s Behavior: Discipline That Builds Self-Esteem by Kathryn Kvols (1993) uses the same ideas described in the reviewed book.
    Now that our kids are older teens and they see how their friends are being raised, we’ve had the odd experience of being thanked for being good parents. We’ve thanked them many times for being great people, so it shouldn’t surprise us too much. Positive parenting is the basis of this method, the parents are the authority until the kids are ready for responsibility, which they get at age appropriate times.
    We did our best to notice them doing something right or be positive in our communication. Even if we wanted to say “STOP SCREAMING NOW!”, we’d say something like “I can hear you better when you use your normal voice.”
    I hope these methods catch on because it is hard being the rare parent who uses them, other parents think you’re insane when you
    1) don’t agree with “truths” like “boys will be boys”, which I always saw as parents throwing up their hands at horrible behavior
    2) give a 3 yo choices (and a little control over their life).
    3) tell a child “You know how to keep yourself safe.” rather than “Don’t get hurt.” I’d still be attentive but the responsibility for safety was shared.
    One grand parent really disliked the idea that an entire carload of people waited for our very stubborn 3 yo to agree to get in her car seat. Rather than bully her, we told her we’d go when she was ready. From past experience, she knew this was a genuine handing over of power to her. The adults and kids chatted about other things while we waited. Less than a minute later she was ready: no tantrum, no pouting. She felt respected and didn’t need to misbehave to feel powerful.
    For some reason, a very large fraction of parents I come across think their memories of being raised are enough to help them figure out how to raise kids. These folks often have a very tough time with modern parenting techniques, even though our society is very different than it was 40 years ago. Unfortunately these Republicans also seem to feel threatened by other people doing something different and will defend their own methods with their dying breaths.

  28. It puzzles me that people want to raise children solely based on airy philosophies, ignoring not only fundamental principles of physics, mammalian physiology, and animal behaviour, but also a thousand years of historical documentation.

    It also puzzles me that anyone would think any single system could possibly be applicable to all situations and people. I doubt there is any single method of raising children that will work for every single child.

  29. …an entire carload of people waited for our very stubborn 3 yo to agree to get in her car seat. Rather than bully her, we told her we’d go when she was ready. From past experience, she knew this was a genuine handing over of power to her. The adults and kids chatted about other things while we waited. Less than a minute later she was ready: no tantrum, no pouting. She felt respected and didn’t need to misbehave to feel powerful.

    That phrase you used, “very stubborn” – I don’t think it means what you think it means.

    One of my kids, at three years old, was capable of screaming continuously for up to six hours in situations like that. And you could not stop her, in the sense that if she could breathe she would scream. We had to keep earplugs in the car for long trips.

    She was LOUD, too.

  30. Cory,

    Thanks for reading and reviewing my book. What better endorsement could I ask for than you sharing with your readership: “her advice couldn’t be better or more clearly stated”.

    If you need any help implementing any of the strategies, please contact me and I’ll happily offer complimentary coaching so you can really get the full impact of this rich theory. Only so much you can explain in a paper back.

    I was raised by Adlerian parents, studied at the masters level, but NOTHING taught me as much as working with experienced (30 + yrs) teachers in an Adlerian nursery school who actually implemented strategies daily. If I can pass any of that wisdom on, I am thrilled.

    I am eager to jump in to reply to some of the comments.

    Parenting seems to stir up something in everyone eh?

    Again – thanks!


  31. Boy, if only all our parents and their grandparents had read this book, we wouldn’t all be such completely dysfunctional, quasi-sociopathic basket cases.

  32. Looks like an excellent book. I taught parenting classes for years using the Active Parenting and Love & Logic curriculum, and both advocated allowing children to make decisions and mistakes, even at ages where most people think children are not capable of making choices. I am a huge advocate of the democratic/group process being a part of family life. I can’t tell you how many parents were able to resolve their most frustrating battles with their kids (dinnertime was a HUGE one for a lot of the parents in my classes) by involving their kids in decisions when appropriate, and talking to them about things that they weren’t allowed to help decide.

  33. I can’t be the only person here who’s more than a little creeped out by a parent who discusses their almost-adult-child’s sex life, or lack of one.

  34. This sounds like the way to make your kid into the biggest tight-ass ever.. Kids SHOULD get into trouble and act up. Weekly family meetings with agendas? Is this a business or a family?

    I’m a scientist, and all my friends who are absolutely brilliant all got in trouble as kids. Heck, I was suspended from school at least once a year my last 4 years of HS. My other friends were told by teachers they were going to end up in jail. There are people who were perfect kids, but they are noticeably less creative and innovative than the rest of us. Raising kids is not about making them obedient, its about making them smart, so they can determine whats best. A smart kid will understand why being obedient is necessary in some situations and not in others.

    I mean look at this list one commenter gave about their kids traits:

    • is respectful of her elders to a fault

    Is this something you want? Faultful respect for elders? Sounds pretty authoritarian. Does someone deserve respect merely due to their age?

    • has never partaken of an illegal or intoxicating substance

    Not very experimental eh?

    • has maintained her purity against the siren call of the world

    This sounds creepily religious.

    • is considerate of everyone around her

    This is of course, wonderful.

    My point though is, raise your kid to be human, not to be a sheep.

  35. I didn’t think he was very subtle. Got Antinous going, though, so maybe I’m wrong ;)

  36. As the father of fraternal twins my experience is that parenting is essentially irrelevant. My sons couldn’t be more different in behavior and personality despite their having an essentially identical upbringings. I am increasingly convinced that I have very little to do with how they turn out.

    But its fun to take credit for everything positive about them so I often do despite my suspicions. All the negative stuff I blame on popular culture.

  37. I’m thinking the book’s title is a turn off. I could use some help, but I don’t think I’ve wrecked any of my kids.

  38. >> Part of the work of being a parent is always being in control of your child. ALWAYS.

    This is precisely the opposite of what being a parent is about.

    The duty of a parent is to allow a human to transition from dependence to independence. To gradually provide a healthy, encouraging context to allow them to devise successful solutions to dilemmas and challenges that we all face in traveling from cradle to grave.

    If you can’t trust your child when out of your range of supervision, you don’t have a child, you have a tamagotchi. A fembot. A Stepford kid.

    Parents who maintain control from day 1 until 18 years, in my experience, usually find that their child will go to great lengths to remove themselves from their influence, usually geographically as soon as possible. It may take several years for this to become apparent to you, because your child will need to store up necessary resources to attain independence — you might not see it until after college — but ultimately, you will wonder why he or she never calls, and the closeness you thought you once enjoyed does not exist.

    A successful parent ought to perceive their child as a proto-adult long about age 12. And the next six years should be a gradual easing of restrictions and guidance to allow the child to gain confidence and necessary life skills.

    What emerges at age 18 ought to be a fully independent, compassionate, just, mentally and emotionally stable adult.

    In fact, a parent who feels that at age 17, for example, that if they let their guard down for the slightest moment, their child will engage in group sex, binge drinking, or other dangerous activities has demonstrated that they have made poor use of their time and that child will likely, once released to the outside world, resemble in no way the compressed and controlled child-bot they so carefully nurtured.

    And one thing that is absolutely cast in stone, as old as our species, is that the parents who are the most certain they know the mind and motivation of their progeny and are so completely confident in their control are often the last to know.

  39. “If nothing fits, default to community service. Every time my son lies to me, the Food Bank gets a Saturday morning volunteer.”

    While I understand this may feel like great parenting, I’ve run a volunteer-based non-profit for years and I’d like to point out why this is not a great idea: for the most part, parents who do this are punishing the Food Bank with a surly, uninspired volunteer who views community service as menial punishment instead of something worth doing well and part of being a good citizen. The overworked staff of non-profits don’t need babysitting charges who are unhappy to be there, we need energetic, enthusiastic hands.

  40. Sounds like “Positive Discipline” a great book by Jane Nelson, Ed.D.

    Positive Discipline has a been the corner stone of our family’s style for 25 years.


  41. Take responsibility for the world as it is, and use force on other people only when you believe it is necessary. If it’s never necessary with your children, then you are either the lucky winner of the DNA lottery or the parent of a sadly spiritless child.

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