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

In “Honey I Wrecked the Kids,” Alyson Schafer argues for raising cooperative children, rather than obedient ones, by “[s]hifting from a punishment-and-reward model of parenting to a democratic model that is brimming with respect.” She explains that a child who doesn’t feel connected, capable, counted, and courageous will feel discouragement, “and misbehavior is always the result of feeling discouraged.” In other words, Schafer urges parents to see that misbehavior comes from an unmet need and to focus on meeting that need rather than dominating or manipulating children into compliance. Schafer’s advice for how to encourage a discouraged child differs based on the situation. She describes four separate “dances” – attention, power, revenge, and avoidance – and describes how each stage is an escalation of the last (e.g., a child seeking undue attention, if not properly addressed, will escalate into one with whom a parent struggles for power).

Schafer offers up very specific tips and suggestions for implementing this touchy-feely parenting approach. The only problem is that her playbook is so robust and nurturing that it depends upon a parent firing on all cylinders mentally and emotionally. When I’m rested and have reviewed my notes, I can make many of her suggestions work to great effect. Unfortunately, I often haven’t had time to sleep or reread her strategies. When it comes to eliciting behavioral improvement, an approach that’s simpler to remember and execute – like those in “The Happiest Toddler on the Block” and “Say What You See” – affects greater change. Also, Schafer’s writing – though often trying quite hard to be accessible – simply doesn’t flow. While I noted something interesting on each page that made it worth reading, the whole process felt a bit like a slog.

I nonetheless recommend reading “Honey, I Wrecked the Kids” and keeping it on the shelf for two primary reasons: (1) someday we will have the wherewithal to recall and calmly implement these excellent strategies, and (2) random tricks will stick with you even if making the entire system work feels like a stretch at the moment (e.g., I easily incorporated the “when/then statement”). Moreover, I found great value in Schafer’s ability to describe the frustrating interactions I experience with my kids, even if I find her approach difficult to use.

Here are a few quotes that demonstrate Schafer’s style:

  • “The key message here is to be in an active, caring, respectful relationship with someone who gets you, accepts you and revels in the marvel that is you.”
  • “[A child seeking undue attention] will seek out any behavior that gets their parents to stop what they’re doing and pay attention to them. Some kids will do this by being silly; they will jump around in some crazy dance . . . . Some children decide to take on a persona, as in ‘I am not Marcie, I am a cat’ . . . . Perhaps your kids . . . feign helpless in order to have you ‘care’ for them . . . . Other children will want you to feel worried, so they will bang their heads, or make themselves fearful. . . .Attention-seeking kids will also discover ways to be a general nuisance and pest. They might whine, spill or blow bubbles in their milk. . . . They might complain of feeling sick in non-specific ways, or be dramatic when they get a small scratch. They may try to impress you with feats at the park . . . . Perhaps they talk too quietly, or too quickly, yammering in a non-stop streak so fast you can hardly catch what they are saying.”
  • “1. Do not give undue attention when your child is demanding it from you. 2. Give your child attention in the form of real connection. 3. Avoid the traps that parents typically fall into[: stonewalling, random reinforcement and others.]”
  • “The parenting tools you will learn are: 1. The delicate art of ignoring 2. All action, no talk 3. Distraction 4. Redirection 5. Natural consequences 6. Logical consequences 7. Training for independence.
  • “And, the tools for the longer-term solution: 1. Be present and leave space for independent entertainment. 2. Catch ‘em being good. 3. Build the relationship connection in the deep and rich way the child seeks.”
  • “Of course, there are a few situations when using natural consequences is not advisable: 1. When the consequence is too severe . . . 2. When the consequence is too far in the future . . . 3. When too many others are impacted . . . .”
  • “To ensure that a logical consequence isn’t punitive, the consequence must meet two criteria: It must be related to the behavior (hence the name ‘logical’) and it must be revealed to the child in advance.”
  • “D.R.O.P. THE ROPE MODEL FOR GETTING OUT OF POWER STRUGGLES . . . D = Determine you are in a power struggle. . . . R = Re-assess the situation objectively . . . O = Offer an olive branch . . . P = Plow on positively.”
  • “1. If you don’t have something nice to say, say nothing at all. . . 2. Ask instead of telling. . . . 3. Acknowledge that you can’t force, and as for a favor instead. . . . 4. Describe what you see. . . . 5. Say it in a word. . . . 6. Lighten up. . . . ”
  • “If you’re power struggling, you’re holding on to choice options that your children are ready to make for themselves.”
  • “[A] when/then statement . . . both empowers the child and states the routine as boss.”
  • “LOGICAL CONSEQUENCES are NOT a good tool for power struggles. They always come off wrong. It’s too easy to look powerful when enacting a logical consequence – and besides, there are better tools.”
  • “When the child’s goal is revenge, our parenting job is to help the hurting child heal. You are only getting in the way of your own goal when you punish. . . . The difficulty . . . is that they often behave in ways that make it harder to want to act in loving and kind ways toward them . . . .”
  • “Fighting is co-created and co-operative behavior.”
  • “FIVE WAYS TO RESPOND TO SIBLING CONFLICT AND PREVENT HURT . . . 1. Ignore the Fighting . . . 2. Put Them in the Same Boat . . . 3. Put It on the Agenda . . . 4. The Two-Arm Technique . . . 5. ‘Bugs’ and ‘Wishes’”
  • “[The Two-Arm Technique:] Gently holding one child in each arm, so they are facing each other (Mom clearly centered and not siding with one or the other), Mom can say, ‘Dina, do you need to speak up? Do you need to say something to your sister? She is a very good listener.’ (Mom has not only empowered Dina to speak, but she has also let Carla know she is not in the bad books and so she has no reason to be defensive.)”
  • “Embrace mistakes as opportunities to learn, and you encourage growth and persistence that will lead to mastery.”
  • “For many of us who were raised on praise, we think it’s the best thing to give to a child since we yearned for it ourselves. We’re projecting and regurgitating the tapes in our head.”
  • “Encouragement emphasizes the process rather than the final product so that all ages, all abilities and all qualities are valued. Giving your best is what is important and honored. ‘Being the best’ is not.”
  • “Phrases that Demonstrate Acceptance . . . ‘I like the way you handled that.’ ‘You did a great job tackling that problem.’ ‘I’m glad you enjoy learning.’ ‘I am glad you are pleased with it.’ ‘Since you are not satisfied, what do you think you can do so that you will be pleased with it?’ ‘It looks as if you enjoyed that.’ ‘How do you feel about it?’
  • “Phrases that Show Confidence . . . ‘Knowing you, I’m sure you’ll do fine.’ ‘You’ll make it.’ ‘I have confidence in your judgment.’ ‘That’s a rough one, but I am sure you’ll work it out.’”
  • “While people do not have to attend [family meetings], they do have to live by the decisions made by those who did participate.”
  • Family meeting agenda: “1. Appreciations/encouragement 2. Follow-up old business . . . 3. New business . . . 4. Planning/scheduling/syncing calendars 5. Distribute allowances 6. Weekly chore sign-up 7. Closing/fun.”

At the end of the day, “Honey, I Wrecked the Kids” is somewhat a victim of its own success. It’s so comprehensive that it’s practically difficult to fully embrace – but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try! If you’re only going to read one parenting book focused on dealing with young kids and need immediate results, this simply isn’t the best choice; but it’s a welcome addition to my collection.


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