Parenting advice: Author Vicki Hoefle says to stop micromanaging

Vicki Hoefle, creator of the 'Parenting on Track' program, discusses the parenting strategies in her new book, 'Duct Tape Parenting.' The key takeaway: Stop trying to micromanage your kids and focus on building real relationships.

Courtesy of Vicki Hoefle
Author Vicki Hoefle, whose new book "Duct Tape Parenting" is due later this month, says that parents need to stop micromanaging their kids in order for their behavior to change.

Whether it’s Tiger Mom, Bringing up Bebe, or Dr. Sears (not to mention the slippery slope of mommy/daddy web forums), American parents are awash in advice, criticisms, and suggestions for how to raise their kids.

But given the conflicting messages that these parenting theories entail, we wouldn’t blame you for throwing up your hands, chucking the self-help books out the window, and burying your head under the pillow while the toddler runs wild. 

Still, we’ve found that, a lot of times, the experts have some really good ideas. And seriously, who doesn’t need a little bit of parenting help now and then? 

In the spirit of public service, then, we at Modern Parenthood thought we’d start a new, semi-regular feature on parenting books and theories, with tips and ideas straight from the parenting gurus. 

First up: Vicki Hoefle, a longtime educator of both parents and children who created the popular “Parenting on Track Program.”  Her book, “Duct Tape Parenting: A Less is More Approach to Raising Respectful, Responsible & Resilient Kids,” is due out later this month.

When I spoke with Hoefle the other day, I told her that I enjoyed the book, but that it reminded me of dog training, with the whole “any attention is good attention” theory underlying much of the advice. (To the un-initiated, this behavior theory says that kids – or puppies – really want your attention, whether it’s praise or scolding, so the best way to deal with most bad behavior is to ignore it.)  

She laughed.

“When people start our program, there are always a few that say, ‘This sounds vaguely familiar.’ I say, ‘Do you have puppies?’ And they say, ‘Oh, yeah!’”

But this is common sense, she said. All of those tricks and fixes for bad behavior – whether “time outs,” counting, or bribes – don’t work for long. In her book, she asks participants in her program to raise their hands if they’ve used any of those discipline tools more than once, more than five times, or more than that.  Almost everyone keeps their hands up. So, she asks, do you really think they’re working?

The better solution, she says, is to take steps to let the bad behaviors fade away on their own, stop trying to micromanage the kids and focus instead on building real relationships with them.

For instance, if your kid keeps forgetting his hat, or won’t make his lunch without nagging? Don’t fight it; just let him be cold and hungry for a day.  He’ll likely be more cooperative tomorrow. (But don’t say, “I told you so.” Remember, this is his lesson to learn.) And at the same time, encourage good behavior by recognizing when he does take care of things around the house. 

Meanwhile, if your teen fights about doing homework in the evening, rather than laying down the law, negotiate a solution. Say, “OK, when do you want to do your homework?” And then let them give the new system a try. It’s showing respect, within mutually agreed upon family boundaries.

This, she admits, receives quite a lot of skepticism at first.

“There’s an assumption that if kids have a voice in the family, parents are going to be the doormats,” she said.  

This is where the duct tape comes in. And it’s for the parents, not the kids.

Hoefle says that when she was raising her kids, she realized that she was directing too much. Every time she went into the kitchen, she’d start ordering people around. As an experiment, she tried to be quiet and watch what happened when she didn't direct her kids for three days. Within five seconds, she said, she couldn’t help talking. So, she put pieces of duct tape around the room, and grabbed a piece to put over her mouth when she felt herself about to say something. 

It started to get painful, she said. 

But something else happened, too: The kids started helping each other around the kitchen. They managed to feed themselves and generally get cleaned up.  Did everything function exactly as she would design it? Maybe not. But it was functional, and more important, far less stressful.

Rather than jumping in and micromanaging the tasks of the morning, say – the wake-up time, teeth brushing, lunch making, and the outfit choosing – just let your children carry their own weight. At the same time, bring kids into the larger family. Let them decide which family tasks they would like to perform, let them have a vote in family meetings.  

“Kids end up being spoiled because people don’t let them help out. If you give a child a chance to step in, to participate more fully in their own lives ... you will raise children who are deeply embedded in the health and wellbeing of their family because they are an integral part of it.” 

Awesome, I said. When can I start asking the toddler to help around the house?

“My motto is that if they can walk, they can work,” she said. Think about it: A baby gets all this praise from parents for learning to roll over, crawl, walk, talk – become more grown up. They want to help out, picking out their own clothes or working with mom or dad in the kitchen.

“And that’s where we step in and say, ‘No, no, no. I’ve got it under control, kiddo. You go play with the plastic stuff,’” she said. 

We teach them that we will wait on them. Instead, we need to show that they are part of the family, not the center of it.

“Our children are learning about relationships based on the one they have with their parents,” she said. “So they are going to mimic and model everything they learn from us. They’re going to take that information and apply it to the relationships they have with schoolmates and teachers and friends and boyfriends and girlfriends and husbands and wives and bosses and coworkers. What type of relationship do we want to invite them into so they can practice?”

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