Unconditional Parenting


With a room full of preschoolers, a meltdown, mischief, or other parental grimace inducers are inevitable. Last weekend, at the birthday party of one of Laurel’s friends, as one mom moved to negotiate her son’s behavior, she rolled her eyes and astutely said, “I think half of parenting involves worrying whether the other parents think you’re doing a good enough job.”

So true. You feel a million judging eyes when your kid loses it in public, and want to evaporate when you can’t control the behavior. Fittingly, my husband Jon just finished reading a book on parenting and behavior; he steps in this morning with a guest post reviewing Unconditional Parenting: Moving from Rewards and Punishments to Love and Reason.
“Are we doing our best to help our kids become independent, courageous, thoughtful adults? Or are we doing our best to make sure they don’t embarrass us in the supermarket? In Unconditional Parenting: Moving from Rewards and Punishments to Love and Reason, Alfie Kohn challenges us to re-think the way that we interact with our kids. He points out that in our society we label children as “good” only when they are quiet on airplanes, don’t make too big a mess at the dinner table, or bring home As on the report card. And he suggests that the way that we mold noisy, messy, distractible children into “good kids,” consciously or unconsciously, is by withholding our approval (or outright punishing them) when their behavior is inconvenient for us.

That sounds harsh, but Kohn’s examples hit close to home. He suggests that leaving a child alone in a “time out” is basically a way to say “I don’t love you right now.” Ouch. And even harder to handle, always saying “Good job!” when your kid cleans her plate leads the child to think that the purpose of dinner is to please mom and dad. And the real problem is the long-term cost. Kids who are always wondering if they are doing enough to please mom and dad may become teenagers who will do anything to win the approval of their peers, or they may become adults who are constantly trying to impress the boss even when it’s not in their own best interest.

So what’s the alternative? Kohn describes a shift in mindset rather than a series of techniques, and his order is a tall one: He calls for parents to have more respect for their children, which means no more “Because I said so” responses. He calls for an understanding of age-appropriate behaviors (like tantrums for 3 year-olds) and acceptance for them even if they aren’t convenient. He asks parents to involve their children in decisions so kids can learn how to think for themselves. Most of all, he challenges us to find ways to communicate our love and acceptance to our children all the time -- even if we don’t love the behavior.”