Unconditional Parenting : Moving from Rewards and Punishments to Love and Reason
Most parenting guides begin with the question "How can we get kids to do what they're told?"--and then proceed to offer various techniques for controlling them. In this truly groundbreaking book, nationally respected educator Alfie Kohn begins instead by asking "What do kids need--and how can we meet those needs?" What follows from that question are ideas for working with children rather than doing things to them.
One basic need all children have, Kohn argues, is to be loved unconditionally, to know that they will be accepted even if they screw up or fall short. Yet conventional approaches to parenting such as punishments (including "time-outs"), rewards (including positive reinforcement), and other forms of control teach children that they are loved only when they please us or impress us. Kohn cites a body of powerful, and largely unknown, research detailing the damage caused by leading children to believe they must earn our approval. That's precisely the message children derive from common discipline techniques, even though it's not the message most parents intend to send.
More than just another book about discipline, though, Unconditional Parenting addresses the ways parents think about, feel about, and act with their children. It invites them to question their most basic assumptions about raising kids while offering a wealth of practical strategies for shifting from "doing to" to "working with" parenting--including how to replace praise with the unconditional support that children need to grow into healthy, caring, responsible people. This is an eye-opening, paradigm-shattering book that will reconnect readers to their own best instincts and inspire them to become better parents.
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April 03, 2006
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Excerpt from Unconditional Parenting by Alfie Kohn
I have sometimes derived comfort from the idea that, despite all the mistakes I've made (and will continue to make) as a parent, my children will turn out just fine for the simple reason that I really love them. After all, love heals all wounds. All you need is love. Love means never having to say you're sorry about how you lost your temper this morning in the kitchen.
This reassuring notion is based on the idea that there exists a thing called Parental Love, a single substance that you can supply to your children in greater or lesser quantities. (Greater, of course, is better.) But what if this assumption turns out to be fatally simplistic What if there actually are different ways of loving a child, and not all of them are equally desirable The psychoanalyst Alice Miller once observed that it's possible to love a child "passionately ' but not in the way he needs to be loved." If she's right, the relevant question isn't just whether ' or even how much ' we love our kids. It also matters how we love them.
Once that's understood, we could pretty quickly come up with a long list of different types of parental love, along with suggestions about which are better. This book looks at one such distinction ' namely, between loving kids for what they do and loving them for who they are. The first sort of love is conditional, which means children must earn it by acting in ways we deem appropriate, or by performing up to our standards. The second sort of love is unconditional: It doesn't hinge on how they act, whether they're successful or well behaved or anything else.
I want to defend the idea of unconditional parenting on the basis of both a value judgment and a prediction. The value judgment is, very simply, that children shouldn't have to earn our approval. We ought to love them, as my friend Deborah says, "for no good reason." Furthermore, what counts is not just that we believe we love them unconditionally, but that they feel loved in that way.
The prediction, meanwhile, is that loving children unconditionally will have a positive effect. It's not only the right thing to do, morally speaking, but also a smart thing to do. Children need to be loved as they are, and for who they are. When that happens, they can accept themselves as fundamentally good people, even when they screw up or fall short. And with this basic need met, they're also freer to accept (and help) other people. Unconditional love, in short, is what children require in order to flourish.