Barbara Coloroso – Words of Wisdom

Barbara Coloroso

Permission to use this photograph given by Barbara Coloroso

Barbara Coloroso – Giving Your Child the Gift of Inner Discipline

I recently had the pleasure of attending Barbara Coloroso’s presentation sponsored by the West Vancouver School District Parent Advisory Council.  Barbara Coloroso is a long-time internationally recognized, educator, parenting expert and author from the United States.  I saw Barbara speak about 15 years ago and to hear her again, now with my Adlerian Parenting training, was reaffirming.  Her philosophies and parenting advice fit so well with Adlerian Parenting Theory.  Below is a summary of my take-home highlights and how they fit with Adlerian Parenting.

My Take-Home Highlights from Barbara Coloroso

  • Invite kids to make choices, decisions and mistakes – we tend to teach kids what to think and not how to think  = Adlerian principle of Capability  “It’s critical that we teach this next generation how to think – not just what to think.” ~ Barbara Coloroso
  • We want our children to have courage, to stand up for others, and the courage to make decisions for themselves = Adlerian principles of Courage and Counted (having a voice that counts)

Foster Intrinsic Motivation  vs. External Motivation               

“Bribes, threats, rewards and punishments interfere with ethical behaviour”  which leads to “What do I get?”  “What will you give me?” and “Does this count?”  fMRI brain scans show that giving rewards lights up the same part of the brain that is associated with addiction.  Whereas caring about others,  lights up the Pre-frontal Cortex – the higher level thinking, planning, self-regulating part of the brain.  (Barbara referred to a book called Sway, that outlines this research.)  Adlerian philosophy:  Stimulate cooperative behaviour without punishment or reward.

Encouragement vs. Praise

A child needs encouragement, like a plant needs water ~ Rudolph Dreikurs  (American psychiatrist and educator who developed Alfred Adler’s system of psychology.)

Barbara Coloroso:  Children need encouragement.  At least 6x/day they need to hear, “I believe in you” “I trust in you” and “I know you can handle this”.

Children need feedback.  They need:

  • Comments:  good solid instruction – “This is how you tie your shoelaces” and for ethical issues, “This is how you advocate for yourself…”
  • Compliments:  (In the form of encouragement vs. praise) Thank you for…   You did it!  I can see that you…   (use phrases with specific description – this creates agency or in Adlerian terms, capability)
  • Constructive Criticism – tell them when it’s not right, encourage them to problem-solve

How to Handle the Digital World for Children and Teens

1)   Digital Smarts – how to navigate the Internet

2)   Digital Safety – understanding picture permanence, the risk of predators who may present as a friendly, young child etc.

3)   Digital Civility – Barbara explained that there is an old Sufi saying that before one speaks, one should think if his/her comment passes through the following three gates and in our technological age this applies to text messages, facebook comments, e-mails etc. as well:

1)  Is it true?     If so…

2)  Is it necessary to say?  If so…

3)   Is it kind?  If so, then press “send”.

*All digital devices need to charged in the parents’ bedroom at night – start this practice when the children are young

Discipline vs. Punishment

Barbara explained that discipline means to give life to a child’s learning.  It leaves a child’s dignity intact.  When one makes a mistake, you fix it, own it , learn from it and move on.

Mistakes happen at three levels:

Tier 1:  When kids make mistakes i.e. a child scribbles on a wall

Tier 2:  When kids make mischief i.e. a child plays tic-tac-toe with markers on a wall

Tier 3: When kids cause mayhem  i.e. tagging – spraying one’s signature graffiti mark on a wall

What’s the reality?  What’s the problem?  You’ve got a problem – what’s your plan?  Discipline needs to leave dignity intact.  The purpose of a time-out should not be for punishment, but for some time to calm down and then figure out how to do the repair of the problem.

Give three options – if you only give two choices they’ll be trying to figure out which one does my parent want me to do, so I can do the other!

For children under three, distract, disengage, disorient.

Involve children in the problem-solving process.  There are some limits which are non-negotiables, but it is important to explain the rationale.  For example, with a curfew for teens, “I can trust you up to midnight but after midnight the chances of drugs, sex and jail all dramatically increase which is when the curfew becomes a safety measure.”

Bullying and Teaching Kids to Care

Barbara is a passionate advocate for bullying awareness and prevention.  In her words, “We have to walk the talk, and talk the walk”.  She states that bullying is a learned behavior which happens when a child/youth watches someone in their circle of caring mistreat another person in that circle of caring.

We need to use our gifts of helping others by doing volunteer work.  We need children to grow up without being praise-dependent or as pleasers for others.  As they become teens, they may look to pleasing a bully.  They need to have accomplishments for themselves.  For example, when a report card comes home that is all A’s, a parent can say “Tell me about it”.  In Adlerian terms comment on the effort, “It looks as though you’ve put a lot of effort into your courses”.  Instead of “I’m proud of you”, a parent can say “You seem proud of yourself”.

Barbara Coloroso’s Three Alternatives to saying “No”:

1)   Can I have a cookie?  Parent:  “Yes, later”

2)   Can I have the car keys?  Parent:  “Give me a minute to think about it” (when you need to think before you answer)

3)   “Convince me.”  If you’re still not convinced, let them know, or if you’re satisfied let them know – “I’m convinced”.

In summary, we want our children to grow up to be responsible and making wise choices.  Our goal, as  parents, is to increase decision making and responsibility (including chores, contributing to making meals), and decrease boundaries.  Parents can explain to their children, “You need to be responsible when you leave the house, so you need to take more responsibility now.”  For more information about Barbara Coloroso, she has a very informative website.

“Kids are worth it!” ~ Barbara Colorso



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