Give Poor Parenting a Time-Out

U.S. Catholic, May 2002 | Go to article overview

Give Poor Parenting a Time-Out


Barbara Coloroso holds kids in high esteem. She believes in them and knows what they're capable of. This profound respect for children underlies all her work with parents, teachers, and school administrators.

Coloroso is an internationally recognized speaker and author in the areas of parenting, teaching, school discipline, nonviolent conflict resolution, and reconciliatory justice. She is an educational consultant for school districts, the criminal justice system, and educational associations in the United States, Canada, Europe, South America, Asia, New Zealand, Australia, and Iceland.

Coloroso, a former Franciscan nun, has served as a classroom teacher, a laboratory school instructor, and a university instructor. She has written two international bestsellers: Kids Are Worth It! Giving Your Child the Gift of Inner Discipline (Avon Books, 1994) and Parenting Through Crisis: Helping Kids in Times of Loss, Grief and Change (Harper Resource, 2001) and provides resources on her Web site www.kidsareworthit.com.

In her work and as a mother of three, Coloroso's goal is to raise kids with inner discipline and inner virtue. "I want to teach kids to stand up for values and against injustices and not be easily led."

What do kids really need from their parents?

We have to look at what our goal is in parenting. Is it to control and make children mind? Or is it to empower and influence them? My goal is to empower and influence them in a way that they will become responsible, resourceful, resilient, and compassionate human beings who know how to think, not just what to think. We need to raise children who can stand up for values and against injustices, who are not easily led, who don't do things to please others.

All my work with parents and kids is based on three philosophical tenets. The first is, "Kids are worth it." They're worth the time, the energy,, the resources it takes to help them become all that they can become. Second, "I won't treat them in a way I myself would not want to be treated." I went through the nine major religions of the world and found that tenet in each one. It's not new stuff; this is of the ages. The third tenet is, "If a technique works and leaves my dignity and my child's dignity intact, I'll use it."

I'll take anybody's technique, and there are a lot of them around, and bounce it off those three philosophical tenets. If it won't bounce, I don't care who said it or what kind of research is behind it, I'm not going to use it.

Why do adults seem to have such trouble with that second tenet, treating kids in ways we surely wouldn't want to be treated?

Children are truly our last slaves. Think about it. The U.S. is one of the few countries holding out right now on signing the United Nations' Convention on the Rights of the Child. Canada, our neighbor to the north, was one of the first to sign.

When I ask people why they wouldn't want it signed, it's because they might not be able to hit their children anymore. And I think, "Well, wouldn't that be a good thing?" I don't believe in hitting children because I won't treat another person, any human being, in a way I myself would not want to be treated. People will say, "But we have to make children mind? My goal isn't to make them mind. It's to empower and influence them.

How do you do that?

You do that by increasing responsibilities and decision-making opportunities and decreasing limits and boundaries as your children grow older with the hopes that those limits and boundaries become internalized. The goal is to give your child the gift of inner discipline. That takes years and years of giving kids responsibilities and letting them make choices and decisions that have been guided by you with limits and boundaries that grow smaller and smaller over time.

Does this approach come naturally to parents? It seems that many parents go about raising kids in a reflexive rather than reflective manner. …

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