The Potato Principle


Closely tied to suppressing the waywardness in children is the Potato Principle—a concept shared by ministry associates, Don and Karen Kurtz. The Potato Principle was derived from a real mealtime experience.  Here’s how the name came about.


While dining out one evening, Don ordered a baked potato with his meal. As he was enjoying it, he noticed a small dark spot just under the surface. Karen suggested he ask for a fresh potato. However, Don looked at the potato and said, “Ninety-nine percent of it is fine; it tastes great and I can work around the small bad spot.” A conversation ensued, and that is when the Potato Principle was born.


Abraham Maslow once commented, “He that is good with a hammer tends to see everything as a nail.” This truth has some measurable connection to this principle. Certainly, there are seasons in parenting when it seems the only behaviors standing out are the bad spots. However, the Potato Principle speaks of the Mom or Dad who is fixated on the bad, at the expense of the good. The bad spot may represent 2% or 50% of the child’s behavior, but it receives 100% of the parent’s attention.


The Potato Principle warns parents not to fixate solely on the bad spots, because in time, the child’s “good” is no longer appreciated or seen. Parents then begin to measure their child’s goodness by the absence of bad. Like the potato, one is only good if there are no bad spots.


Sadly, the message children hear is much different then what the parent is hoping to communicate. Like a potato with a bad spot, children hear, “If I’m not perfect, I’m not acceptable.” This message not only undermines any incentive to do good (because it will never be good enough for Mom or Dad), but also does long-term harm to the relationship, for it is not one based on love and respect, but performance.


We recognize the breadth of our audience and know there are those within that number who experienced the sting of this precept in their own childhood. They had a Mom or Dad who could always find something that was not perfect (perhaps an academic task that could have been improved). Their excellence as a child was never excellent enough.


Yet, at the other end of the spectrum are those parents who only look at the good, and are all too willing to ignore any obvious blemish. Parents do not have to toss out the whole potato because of one or two bad spots, but nor should those spots be ignored. When left unattended, “bad spots” have a way of corrupting all that is good. For the sake of your children, we hope the Potato Principle will help guide you to a healthy balance guided by this thought: Children should be trained to moral excellence not moral perfection.


This article reprinted from


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  1. Susan Ekhoff
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    I love this practical principle with its excellent visual. I need to be reminded often to live by it.

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