Fake choices and other covert coercion advocated in Kids Are Worth It

“Most parenting books purport to be about how to be a nice parent instead of a nasty one, but under the surface veneer we find the same old rubbish about how to make children do what you want them to do: they do not take children seriously as full people whose lives are their own.”
– Sarah Fitz-Claridge


From the archives: Posted on 12th January 1999

Poster 1 had written:

“I just finished reading a book about parenting and discipline called Kids Are Worth It, by Barbara Coloroso. Has anyone else read it?”

Poster 2 replied:

“Yes. I like it a lot.”

Yes, I disliked it.

She advocates natural and “reasonable” consequences (i.e., coercion) (see Unnatural consequences for an argument against the use of so-called “natural consequences”).

She not only advocates coercion, she advocates coercion that by any standards involves significantly more effort and time on the part of the parent than not engaging in that coercion (see below).

And that is before we even start considering the bad effects of the coercion itself and the stress involved in making children do things they don’t want to do.

It seems to me to be the same as any other parenting book. It purports to be about how to be a nice parent instead of a nasty one but under the surface veneer we find the same old rubbish about how to make children do what you want them to do and how to punish them—er, I mean how to “step back” and “allow” them to “experience” the “natural consequences” of “their own actions”—out of doing things you want them not to do. Yuk!

Poster 1:

“If so, what do you think of her philosophy of the brickwall, jellyfish, and backbone parent?”

Poster 2:

“I try my darndest to be a backbone parent.”

It is the same old rubbishy categories (referred to less picturesquely as “permissive,” “authoritative,”and “authoritarian”). These are based on the false premise that children need a little coercion now and again for their own good, and that there are only two alternatives to this “moderate” path, namely, neglect or old-fashioned rigid authoritarianism. Taking Children Seriously does not fit into that scheme of things at all. We reject the whole idea upon which those categories are based. Taking Children Seriously is a whole new way of thinking.

Poster 1:

“I’m curious about how a Taking Children Seriously parent would view this because Coloroso definitely argues for always keeping a child’s dignity intact,”

So do all parenting books, even the ones which tell you how to choose the appropriate implement with which to beat a 6 month old baby. (No, I am not exaggerating.)

Poster 1:

“yet she suggests ways to help teach them inner discipline.”

No, she doesn’t. She advocates various forms of coercion which she says will produce inner discipline.

Poster 2:

“Although I’m not yet familiar with Taking Children Seriously parenting, is as much as continuum parenting is concerned, I believe that Barbara Coloroso is very adept at combining what needs to be done, with respecting people’s needs and wants. Instead of telling her child ‘Take the garbage out.’ She will say, ‘The garbage needs to be taken out before dinner.’ She gives the child information and then allows the child to make his own decision, within certain limits, ie: before supper.”

I think that you should re-read that particular passage in the book, because it is implicitly advocating a very unsavoury threat to the child. Despite Coloroso’s explicit assurance to the contrary, the message on the child’s plate does indeed suggest that unless the child takes the garbage out, the child will not get any dinner.

Like other parenting “experts”, she advocates the use of double binds to give the child no choice but to take the garbage out or whatever. She advocates using food as leverage to control children, and she advocates the use of fallacious arguments such as “plurium interrogationum” in which several questions are combined into one in such a way that the child has no chance to give separate replies to each. This is a parent’s way of appearing to give freedom whilst actually denying it very effectively. It might be even more coercive than more directly coercive behaviour, because with straightforward coercion the child might at least be able to see it for what it is. With this fake-choice coercion, the child doesn’t stand a chance. It has nothing to do with choice and everything to do with coercion.

Poster 2:

“She expects her children to take part in the household chores as productive members of her household, and expresses this expectation quite respectfully, I believe.”

I think that if someone “expected” me to take part in household chores and left messages on my plate suggesting that I must take the garbage out before I’ll get any dinner, I wouldn’t feel inclined to eat dinner with that person ever again, I’d feel like telling her where to stick it. Of course children don’t have that luxury. (See below.)

Poster 2:

“I really like her line: ‘You may go outside, as soon as your bed is made’”

If someone said that to me I’d feel like walking straight out of that door never to return. Wouldn’t you? Would you not find that an unacceptable way to be treated? I would.

If someone wants me to make my bed for some unknown reason, I’d hope that they would simply mention the fact that they don’t like seeing it unmade. Then I’d close the door so that they didn’t have to see it. If they felt the need to enter my private room without asking, again, I’d find that unacceptable. If they felt the need for my bed to be made despite the door being shut, I’d wonder what their problem is, and would hope that they would find a way not to dump what would seem to me like their irrationality on me.

Poster 2:

“She has my vote of recognition, and admiration.”

Thumbs down here, I fear.

Here is an old post of mine which criticises the very passage Poster 2 mentions above in glowing terms: Aunt Cynthia and cleanliness

See also:

Sarah Fitz-Claridge, 1999, ‘Fake choices and other covert coercion advocated in Kids Are Worth It’, https://takingchildrenseriously.com/fake-choices-and-other-covert-coercion-advocated-in-kids-are-worth-it

Leave a comment