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

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Bringing the same perceptive and actionable advice that made 'Breaking the Good Mom Myth' an international bestseller, Schafer explains why children today really are resistant to traditional parenting methods and how only a new model for winning cooperation really works. The book is full of real-life examples.

247 pages, Paperback

First published February 17, 2009

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Alyson Schafer

8 books32 followers

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 58 reviews
Profile Image for K.
900 reviews6 followers
July 10, 2015
Some good tips but difficult to execute. If you have one child and infinite amounts of time it would be perfect. But after a day and a half of trying to implement these techniques, I'm exhausted. I'm constantly trying to come up with choices and constantly trying to remember all the stupid phrases I'm supposed to use to protect my fragile snowflakes' egos. It really works when you have the time and emotional energy but most of us don't.

Edit: I wrote this in a fit of frustration in trying to make these techniques work. Now that I've had some time to think about it, I realize that the issue is bigger than trying to get kids to behave. The problem is that with all these self help books, marriage and family help books, and even many spiritual help books, they focus on trying harder. The author in this books attempts to differentiate her parenting style from other styles as something new. It isn't, it is the same old thing that every parent everywhere is attempting over and over. And where this book is successful is that it gives concrete examples and warnings of possible pitfalls. And these do work, when you are not overly tired or overly stressed. It takes a lot of mental energy to accomplish what she lays out.

Remarkably, as I was reading this, everything she suggests is exactly what I had done for a long time. I actually gave it up because I found myself frustrated. Asking for things instead of telling, negotiating for better solutions, etc. We want to parent like that, we want our kids to feel a part of things. That is why these books appeal. They appeal to our sense of justice and rightness.

But it all comes back to trying harder. "If you just try harder at these simple techniques everything will be better, oh and be consistent because it only works if you are consistent." That right there is the snake oil salesman line. Because consistency is impossible. And sometimes I think these authors know it but it comes back to a whole culture that thrives on telling women to try harder. Try harder to lose weight, try harder to fix your marriage, try harder to raise your kids.

The real problem isn't the weight, the marriage or even the kids. The real problem is us, the mothers, the wives, the women. We believe all this tripe and all the science that backs it up and tell ourselves to just try harder. I don't know at all how to raise healthy kids, I try and try and try, some days I'm successful, some days I'm a failure. I don't know what the answer is but I think it starts with self care and self love and those aren't things you can "try harder" to attain. They are things we need space to allow into our lives.
37 reviews1 follower
April 27, 2009
I picked up this book despite it's cutesy title which had me expecting a different type of book. Instead I was pleasantly surprised an impressed with what the book provides. The language, while light, was much less dumbed down than some other parenting books I've seen and the book is concise without much filler or repetition.

Th author, Alyson Shafer is a psychotherapist (of the Alfred Adler school of psychology) and in the book uses an Adlerian approach to solving the impasses that we run into raising our children.

I like the parenting philosophy in the book (mutual respect rather than an autocracy, avoiding reward and punishment but allowing the child's choices and actions to consistently result in physical or logical consequences).

The book covers four escalating levels of problems a child might manifest (neediness, control, revenge and eventually giving up) and shows ways to help resolve the causes for these symptoms. It also, very helpfully, shows common mistakes that parents make when trying to deal with these issues (even while following the book's approach).

The book has made me reevaluate how I relate to my children (and others!) and has provided me we a set of tools to reach to when I may feel like I'm at my wit's end.
141 reviews
April 10, 2011
I don't agree completely with the author's philosophy -- I think she overestimates how rational children often are with some of her suggestions -- but overall still a good read. Not all new information but lots of practical ideas, useful even if other discipline methods are working ok.
Profile Image for Sue.
478 reviews17 followers
August 21, 2016
I haven't read a lot of parenting books but the ones I've read were only meh... until this book. This is the first one where everything I have been experiencing with my daughter is what the author is talking about in the book. And in a really concise, to-the-point way. The other books talk about understanding your child, to showing the right kind of love. I know all that. I want to know how to handle these specific behaviors that are causing grief in my family. The author does this in a great way. A lot of it is "common sense" but it was put in to a way that I was thinking. There were many things that I am looking forward to implementing and I will now need to go back and reread the specific parts. I wasn't keen on the family meeting chapter but it may be something I will think about doing in the future.
Profile Image for Janine.
3 reviews2 followers
June 2, 2012
This seems to be the perfect middle ground between mainstream/reality parenting and idealised tribal/attachment. I say attachment because within that philosophy is the radical idea that children are people too, deserving of respect... yet how to we parent within that understanding and not be overrun by tyrannical children? This book shows how to do that, fairly and without sacrificing mainstream lifestyles nor running into the jungle and ditching mainstream altogether. I loved it, it was exactly what I needed as my first child is placid and easy but my second... my son... was a huge challenge for me. I found I needed something more concrete than the attachment philosophy was giving me. This book guided me to remain gentle and open yet not feel I was losing control. Highly recommended.
Profile Image for Teodora Nikolova.
21 reviews1 follower
January 26, 2019
Really good parenting book. Usually in those types of books there is lots and lots of words before you get to the actually useful information (that is around a chapter long) but here I was pleasantly surprised from start till end. Lots of useful examples, suggestions and explanations that actually make sense. I’ve intentionally prolonged the time for reading it so I have the opportunity to test a little from each section and I was honestly amazed how willingly my children responded. Obviously I haven’t tried it all, and there were plenty of times when I was not able to stop my usual reaction but it is totally worth the effort to try. I love the idea of rising cooperative instead of obedient children. I love the concept of giving responsibilities and encouragement instead of punishments and rewards. Definitely recommend it.
Profile Image for Genesis Hansen.
249 reviews3 followers
August 25, 2012
Pretty easy read for a parenting book - not as dry as some. I found some very helpful insights and suggestions here, but taken all together it felt a bit overwhelming.
Profile Image for Gail.
326 reviews83 followers
January 14, 2015
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 entire playbook depends upon a parent firing on all cylinders. 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, a simpler approach - like those in “The Happiest Toddler on the Block” and “Say What You See” - affects greater change. Schafer's writing, though often trying quite hard to be accessible, simply doesn't flow easily; though 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 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”).

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.”
Profile Image for Shannon.
13 reviews
November 30, 2021
Absolutely life changing in how I view my children, myself as a parent and how to parent more effectively (and with more love and logic than just losing my damn mind every time they act like kids). Cannot recommend enough!
Profile Image for Tibby (she/her).
855 reviews
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March 11, 2020
Ah, parenting books. I think these are hard to rate and review. Mostly because, as with everything in parenting, you have to find what works for your family. That being said I liked this book. Alyson Schafer lays out her democratic parenting style in which parents release tasks and freedoms to their children with the expectation that children will handle them with responsibility. As soon as children do not manage their lives with responsibility parents step in and help. Families are encouraged to use family meetings to create limits, rules, and routines that work for them. The idea behind all this being that by including your children in family decisions and limit-setting they will have buy-in and be more likely to follow the rules and respect the boundaries. Ms. Schafer identifies four different types of behaviors that children engage in (attention seeking, power struggles, revenge, and avoidance) and helps you identify them and then gives you strategies for dealing with them, both in the short- and long-term.
This type of parenting works really well with my own values and personality. I am comfortable with more autonomy in my household than some people may be. That is something you would have to decide for yourself, but if you do agree, or find yourself agreeing with the basic ideas here, I would highly recommend the book. I think the other important point to make is you can take ideas from the book that work for you/your family and use them and discard the rest. I would guess that it works better as a whole, but not necessarily, especially if other aspects of your parenting work really well. I think that is the approach I will be taking.
I never felt that Ms. Schafer advocated letting children make all the rules and decisions in a family (she actually says this will create power struggles of a certain kind), but I can see how someone may read it that way and if implemented incorrectly, it could easily turn into that. You may also find this book lacking in strategies for dealing with specific behaviors (it's more of an over-arching method book). If you like her parenting style I would refer you to her next book Ain't Misbehavin' which does deal with specific problems.
Profile Image for Kristi.
700 reviews36 followers
June 10, 2017
One of our munchkins is having a hard time dealing with emotions right now, and despite all the things we tried - and that used to work quite effectively - nothing seemed to help, and things were just getting worse. We sometimes would helplessly watch a meltdown occur and wonder if some lesser spawn of a demon had possessed our child; more than anything, we felt terrible that something was distressing this kiddo to the level it was, and we weren't able to make it better. I asked for a meeting with the school counselor (thank you, bless you all school counsellors!) to discuss, and she listened and in 10 minutes was able to tell us what was going on, why it was going on, and how to help. She gave us this book to read and said it was transformative.

It's been 3 weeks since that meeting, and after implementing some of the things she recommended along with this book, things are better. We're not there yet, but we're all working together to get there. The strategies she recommends in this book take a lot of patience - some days I have more in abundance than others - but it's truly a different way to look at parenting a child who can be challenging, or who is struggling with something.

I told the counselor when we met that this child is everything we hoped for: opinionated, questioning, curious, passionate...but that raising a child like that is sometimes exhausting when you just want them to put their shoes on, or stop singing at the top of their voice on public transport without tears or foot stomping when you tell them to stop, or my least favorite, the eye roll with a sigh. If this sounds like your child - get this book. It will help.
Profile Image for The Which.
30 reviews
July 8, 2015
While this was a fairly engaging read, I don't think it was a particularly novel approach. The main point is still "don't reinforce negative behaviors," with a lot of lingo about how to tell what your child is mistakenly trying to achieve with their behavior. It requires you to really pay attention to both your behavior and feelings and your child's response. I'm not terribly good at doing those things in the heat of the moment, obviously, or I wouldn't need to read books like this.

I did find the specific examples helpful, and I think had she written this book as a more concrete problem/solution book, I would have appreciated it more. For example, the only part of the book I've actually put to use is in regards to the kid who won't let his parent change his diaper (a problem I have been having). I followed her recommendations about allowing autonomy and how to phrase it, and 24 hours later, my 2 year old told me she pooped, brought me a diaper, and let me change if. Total behavior change.

Edit: It looks like the author, Alyson Schafer may have written a follow up exactly like that. I will be looking into reading it!
Profile Image for Abigale Miller.
29 reviews5 followers
January 7, 2019
I don't read a lot of parenting books, but the series by Alyson Schafer was recommended by a friend I trust. I really like the approach in this book - helping kids take responsibility for themselves and for their role in the family.
I've read all 3 of the parenting books by Alyson Schafer, and I liked this one the best. It does the best job of explaining the theories behind different child misbehaviours, and sets out steps to address them. All 3 books introduce the concept of family meetings, and this book is the most comprehensive about explaining how to set up and operate the meetings.
My one big peeve with this book is the number of spelling and grammar mistakes. I don't think an editor read through the manuscript at all. There were errors like you're/your mixups (at least 3 times), misspelling names of famous people, and spacing mistakes. Stuff any editor should have caught. It bugged me enough that really this is a 3.5 stars. Having said that, I read an earlier edition of the book. I REALLY hope all those mistakes were corrected in more recent printings.
Profile Image for Carling Barker.
56 reviews37 followers
October 15, 2010
I have to say this is the BEST parenting book I've read! It was fun & easy to read & the examples in it were very common situations and problems I often find myself in with my kids.

My 4 year old son (I sometimes refer to him as 'spirited' lol) is the one who I've been having trouble with lately & have tried everything with him from time-outs, taking away his toys to threatening & nothing seems to work! After reading this book I have new found hope that my relationship with my son can change & everything won't always be a daily struggle!

One of my favorite quotes from the book:
"Here is the good news. Children are actually very quick to change. Now the bad news: we as parents are not. It turns out that it's far more challenging to change a parent's attitudes and expectations about their children than it is to change the children themselves."
54 reviews2 followers
April 28, 2012
I'm always looking for new/additional methods for nurturing my daughter and make sure we aren't getting into never ending battles. This book was an eye-opening read as Alyson seemed to have insight into what is happening in my family/my head. One of the challenges Alyson presents is to go a week without saying no to your child. This is something I'm tackling and must admit not doing well with, but I plan to stick with it because when I get it right it makes life much easier. What I like in particular about Alyson's writing is that she is writing from experience since she is a parent and lived the style of parenting she's promoting for her life. Honey, I Wrecked the Kids: When Yelling, Screaming, Threats, Bribes, Time-Outs, Sticker Charts and removing Privileges All Don't Work is having a positive impact on my family.
Profile Image for Angela.
109 reviews
December 11, 2013
I didn't always care for the tone, but I really appreciated the perspective offered in this book -- moving away from seeing misbehavior as kids just being bad, and instead viewing it with compassion as kids' misguided attempts to fulfill their needs to be connected, to be counted, to be capable, and to be courageous. The analogy that stuck with me was of a dog who lashes out because it has a thorn in its paw -- we need to focus on helping kids overcome the things that are hurting them, rather than getting upset or frustrated with how they express their hurt. Much easier said than done, but it's an attitude shift that's helpful for me to keep in mind.
Profile Image for Jess.
54 reviews2 followers
February 5, 2011
Out of all the parenting books my husband and I have slogged through trying to find any sort of advice about our very spirited, language-delayed, discipline-resistant three-year-old, this one and The Explosive Child were the only two that really resonated. This book lays out a strong foundation to assist struggling parents in rebuilding healthy relationships with challenging kids. There are some elements I don't agree with, but not many. Think of this as a more practical, reasonable and readable (and less hysterical) version of Unconditional Parenting.
Profile Image for Ranee.
880 reviews15 followers
February 7, 2019
Some great advice and reminders of things that help raise children positively. I went over a few points with the family and they got it. Will keep referring to this! It does put a lot of pressure on the parent to be perfectly calm & reasonable in all situations, with the risk of ruining a child's life because of inadequate responses to the child's behavior. We can do our best to try & be mindful, positive & thoughtful in all our interactions and forgive ourselves and our children when things don't go so well. That too helps prepare them life, dealing with all types of individuals :)
January 20, 2011
Very helpful in pinpointing what category my son falls into when misbehaving and ways I can adjust my behavior to get the reactions I want. According to the book, misbehavior is caused by certains needs that aren't met for the child so he/she reacts in certain ways. It helped me see the holes in my discipline tactics and in our family dynamic that needed some attention. It's a whole new way of disciplining for me and takes a lot of patience to administer but I've seen great results with my son.
Profile Image for MrsPL.
166 reviews
April 18, 2011
I haven't read many parenting books, but I really enjoyed this one. It was easy to read and seemed to have lots of down to earth, practical solutions. It's more about your overall attitudes and behaviours as a parent rather than specific strategies for dealing with behaviours. I think it would be a great read for any parent, and I'm looking forward to incorporating more of her suggestions in my own parenting.
51 reviews2 followers
December 27, 2014
A understandable and very thorough explanation of why children do what they do, why you shouldn't bother asking "WHY DID YOU DO THAT?", and how to figure out what to do instead. I like the philosophy preached inside for child democracy, and I like the logic behind it. Even if you don't agree with the underlying philosophy, this way of looking at your child's behavior is extremely useful. Being able to figure out WHY is extremely powerful.
59 reviews
October 31, 2009
I ran to borders the other night to escape the mess i seem to have created with respect to respect in my house.... so far this book makes TOTAL SENSE to me...
Despite the unfortunate title, this is probably the best parenting book for school aged kids I've read (and I've read, well, started but not finished, many parenting books).
Profile Image for Bruno.
66 reviews9 followers
July 18, 2010
While many of the ideas and suggestions were common sense to me, I still recommend this book to any parent, even if their kids are not exactly "wrecked". It gives a good, overarching perspective over much of the stuff that you think about and wonder whether you're doing right as a parent, giving you more confidence in some, and proposing alternative approaches in others.
Profile Image for Stephanie.
28 reviews4 followers
September 6, 2010
I was a little worried when the first thing the author said is....we do not want our kids to be obedient. Once I understood what she was getting at...I.e. training your child to WANT to do the right thing...I totally got it. Love the idea of democratic parenting and giving your child the right to choose and then suffer natural consequences.
213 reviews
September 22, 2010
I hope she gets a more thorough editor for the second edition (appalling number of apostrophe errors, really), but this is really good stuff. I'm excited to try out her ideas in my own family, and really want to start the family meetings, which, I gotta say, are revolutionary compared to what my own upbringing, or that of anyone I know, really, was like. \
Profile Image for Ankit Gupta.
109 reviews3 followers
January 2, 2019
An incredible book with so many anecdotes and simple solutions. You are literally on a journey with the author and everything seems doable. As I read this book slowly while reflecting and trying some solutions with my kid, I was amazed with the efficacy of those and the positive impact it led to. Highly recommended.
Profile Image for Kara.
17 reviews13 followers
September 23, 2009
I enjoy reading books to help me reinforce certain parenting philosophies that I strive to follow. This one certainly has some good words of wisdom, as well as lots of examples which I find helpful. Calm respectful parenting without being permissive or a push over. Good read so far.
Profile Image for David Bushong.
3 reviews
May 26, 2011
This is a parenting book that for us falls into the "aspirational" category. We buy the premise, we think it's the right way to treat a human being (even a young one), but it's really, really hard.

Profile Image for Kristin.
108 reviews2 followers
April 1, 2013
The best and most useful part of this book are the charts inside that help you identify the cause of behavior and appropriate reactions or consequences. I've used that chart not only with my own child, but with my social work clients.
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