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Book Review

Back in Control by Greg BodenhamerBACK IN CONTROL

How To Get Your Children to Behave
by: Gregory Bodenhamer
Obsidian Trails

(Simon & Schuster, 1983)
Reviewed by: Darrel McOmber, Academic Dean
Bridges Academy
Bend, Oregon

(Gregory Bodenhamer is a key staff of Sage Schools, emphasizing working with the parents of enrolled students. Much of the philosophy of Sage Schools is based on Bodenhamer's work with families. A copy of this book is available from Woodbury Reports - see the order form.) 

Gregory Bodenhamer's "Back In Control, How To Get Your Children To Behave" has been helping parents regain control of their children's misbehavior for almost fifteen years. More than two hundred thousand copies have been sold, and not just a few have been handed out to parents by wilderness programs. The foundation themes that Bodenhamer introduced are all centered on what he describes as the differences between mandatory and optional rules. Mandatory rules must be obeyed. Optional rules always give children a choice to behave as adults would like, or not behave. Ironically, like most parents and public schools, most residential schools rely on optional rules to get children to behave.

Punishments & Rewards: Rules enforced by rewards and punishments don't have to be obeyed. If children are willing to accept punishment or forego rewards, they have the option to do as they please. So do immature and impulsive children who don't think about the consequences before they act. 

Problem Solving (Bargaining, Negotiating, Compromising): If children learn that they can frequently bargain, negotiate, or get adults to compromise behavioral standards, no rules exist. Everything is wind and gossamer. 

Freedom to Fail: In this approach to changing children's behavior no rules are ever set and any child willing to accept adults standards of failure can do as he or she pleases. Many children are willing to accept an F on a report card rather than do the work necessary to get a passing grade. 

Reasoning: If adults use reasoning to change children's behavior, and the children disagree with their logic, no rules are set and the kids can do as they please. 

Getting Tough: If children are told to follow the rules, or get out of the house, they obviously have the option to do as they please if they are willing to leave. 

Children are not genetically programmed to clean up after themselves, avoid drugs, study algebra or control their sexual feelings. Like adults, children prefer doing what they want, when they want, and unless there are structures with consistently enforced rules, they will act on impulse and emotion and do as they please. To emphasize his point, Bodenhamer asks parents the following questions: If you don't clearly state your rules, whose interpretation of those rules are your children likely to use, yours or theirs? and, If you don't effectively follow through and enforce your own rules, are your children likely to follow through and enforce them on themselves? and, Are your children likely to be consistent in obeying rules that you aren't consistent in enforcing? 

Bodenhamer makes it clear that whenever adults do not, or will not, consistently set and enforce rules, children will see the rules as optional and progressively take control. Many of these kids eventually wind up in residential treatment centers or wilderness programs. Unfortunately, most of them return to the same conditions that created their problems in the first place. Parents and other adults in these situations desperately need a supplemental source of power and control for their children. This book sets out the means and methods to do that. 

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