Unconditional Parenting: Moving from Rewards and Punishments to Love and Reason

Unconditional Parenting: Moving from Rewards and Punishments to Love and Reason

by Alfie Kohn


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780743487481
Publisher: Atria Books
Publication date: 03/28/2006
Pages: 272
Sales rank: 228,864
Product dimensions: 8.38(w) x 10.88(h) x 0.69(d)

About the Author

Alfie Kohn writes and speaks widely on human behavior, education, and parenting. He is the author of fourteen books, including Unconditional Parenting and The Myth of the Spoiled Child (both available as Tantor audiobooks), and scores of articles. He lives (actually) in the Boston area and (virtually) at alfiekohn.org.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1: Conditional Parenting

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.

Nevertheless, we parents are often pulled in the direction of placing conditions on our approval. We're led to do so not only by what we were raised to believe, but also by the way we were raised. You might say we're conditioned to be conditional. The roots of this sensibility have crept deep into the soil of American consciousness. In fact, unconditional acceptance seems to be rare even as an ideal: An Internet search for variants of the word unconditional mostly turns up discussions about religion or pets. Apparently, it's hard for many people to imagine love among humans without strings attached.

For a child, some of those strings have to do with good behavior and some have to do with achievement. This chapter and the following three will explore the behavioral issues, and in particular the way many popular discipline strategies cause children to feel they're accepted only when they act the way we demand. Chapter 5 will then consider how some children conclude that their parents' love depends on their performance—for example, at school or in sports.

In the second half of the book, I'll offer concrete suggestions for how we can move beyond this approach and offer something closer to the kind of love our kids need. But first, I'd like to examine the broader idea of conditional parenting: what assumptions underlie it (and distinguish it from the unconditional kind), and what effects it actually has on children.

Two Ways to Raise Kids: Underlying Assumptions

My daughter, Abigail, went through a tough time a few months after her fourth birthday, which may have been related to the arrival of a rival. She became more resistant to requests, more likely to sound nasty, scream, stamp her feet. Ordinary rituals and transitions quickly escalated into a battle of wills. One evening, I remember, she promised to get right into the bath after dinner. She failed to do so—and then, when reminded of that promise, she shrieked loudly enough to wake her baby brother. When asked to be quieter, she yelled again.

So here's the question: Once things calmed down, should my wife and I have proceeded with the normal evening routine of snuggling with her and reading a story together? The conditional approach to parenting says no: We would be rewarding her unacceptable behavior if we followed it with the usual pleasant activities. Those activities should be suspended, and she should be informed, gently but firmly, why that "consequence" was being imposed.

This course of action feels reassuringly familiar to most of us and consistent with what a lot of parenting books advise. What's more, I have to admit that it would have been satisfying on some level for me to lay down the law because I was seriously annoyed by Abigail's defiance. It would have offered me the sense that I, the parent, was putting my foot down, letting her know she wasn't allowed to act like that. I'd be back in control.

The unconditional approach, however, says this is a temptation to be resisted, and that we should indeed snuggle and read a story as usual. But that doesn't mean we ought to just ignore what happened. Unconditional parenting isn't a fancy term for letting kids do whatever they want. It's very important (once the storm has passed) to teach, to reflect together—which is exactly what we did with our daughter after we read her a story. Whatever lesson we hoped to impart was far more likely to be learned if she knew that our love for her was undimmed by how she had acted.

Whether we've thought about them or not, each of these two styles of parenting rests on a distinctive set of beliefs about psychology, about children, even about human nature. To begin with, the conditional approach is closely related to a school of thought known as behaviorism, which is commonly associated with the late B. F. Skinner. Its most striking characteristic, as the name suggests, is its exclusive focus on behaviors. All that matters about people, in this view, is what you can see and measure. You can't see a desire or a fear, so you might as well just concentrate on what people do.

Furthermore, all behaviors are believed to start and stop, wax and wane, solely on the basis of whether they are "reinforced." Behaviorists assume that everything we do can be explained in terms of whether it produces some kind of reward, either one that's deliberately offered or one that occurs naturally. If a child is affectionate with his parent, or shares his dessert with a friend, it's said to be purely because this has led to pleasurable responses in the past.

In short: External forces, such as what someone has previously been rewarded (or punished) for doing, account for how we act—and how we act is the sum total of who we are. Even people who have never read any of Skinner's books seem to have accepted his assumptions. When parents and teachers constantly talk about a child's "behavior," they're acting as though nothing matters except the stuff on the surface. It's not a question of who kids are, what they think or feel or need. Forget motives and values: The idea is just to change what they do. This, of course, is an invitation to rely on discipline techniques whose only purpose is to make kids act—or stop acting—in a particular way.

A more specific example of everyday behaviorism: Perhaps you've met parents who force their children to apologize after doing something hurtful or mean. ("Can you say you're sorry?") Now, what's going on here? Do the parents assume that making children speak this sentence will magically produce in them the feeling of being sorry, despite all evidence to the contrary? Or, worse, do they not even care whether the child really is sorry, because sincerity is irrelevant and all that matters is the act of uttering the appropriate words? Compulsory apologies mostly train children to say things they don't mean—that is, to lie.

But this is not just an isolated parental practice that ought to be reconsidered. It's one of many possible examples of how Skinnerian thinking—caring only about behaviors—has narrowed our understanding of children and warped the way we deal with them. We see it also in programs that are intended to train little kids to go to sleep on their own or to start using the potty. From the perspective of these programs, why a child may be sobbing in the dark is irrelevant. It could be terror or boredom or loneliness or hunger or some other reason. Similarly, it doesn't matter what reason a toddler may have for not wanting to pee in the toilet when his parent asks him to do so. Experts who offer step-by-step recipes for "teaching" children to sleep in a room by themselves, or who urge us to offer gold stars, M&Ms, or praise for tinkling in the toilet, are concerned not with the thoughts and feelings and intentions that give rise to a behavior, only with the behavior itself. (While I haven't done the actual counting that would be necessary to test this, I would tentatively propose the following rule of thumb: The value of a parenting book is inversely proportional to the number of times it contains the word behavior.)

Let's come back to Abigail. Conditional parenting assumes that reading her a book and otherwise expressing our continued love for her will only encourage her to throw another fit. She will have learned that it's okay to wake the baby and refuse to get in the bath because she will interpret our affection as reinforcement for whatever she had just been doing.

Unconditional parenting looks at this situation—and, indeed, at human beings—very differently. For starters, it asks us to consider that the reasons for what Abigail has done may be more "inside" than "outside." Her actions can't necessarily be explained, in mechanical fashion, by looking at external forces like positive responses to her previous behavior. Perhaps she is overwhelmed by fears that she can't name, or by frustrations that she doesn't know how to express.

Unconditional parenting assumes that behaviors are just the outward expression of feelings and thoughts, needs and intentions. In a nutshell, it's the child who engages in a behavior, not just the behavior itself, that matters. Children are not pets to be trained, nor are they computers, programmed to respond predictably to an input. They act this way rather than that way for many different reasons, some of which may be hard to tease apart. But we can't just ignore those reasons and respond only to the effects (that is, the behaviors). Indeed, each of those reasons probably calls for a completely different course of action. If, for example, it turned out that Abigail was really being defiant because she's worried about the implications of our paying so much attention to her baby brother, then we're going to have deal with that, not merely try to stamp out the way she's expressing her fear.

Alongside our efforts to understand and address specific reasons for specific actions, there is one overriding imperative: She needs to know we love her, come what may. In fact, it's especially important tonight for her to be able to snuggle with us, to see from our actions that our love for her is unshakable. That's what will help her get through this bad patch.

In any case, imposing what amounts to a punishment isn't likely to be constructive. It probably will start her crying all over again. And even if it did succeed in shutting her up temporarily—or in preventing her from expressing whatever she's feeling tomorrow night for fear of making us pull away from her—its overall impact is unlikely to be positive. This is true, first, because it doesn't address what's going on in her head, and, second, because what we see as teaching her a lesson will likely appear to her as though we're withholding our love. In a general sense, this will make her more unhappy, perhaps cause her to feel alone and unsupported. In a specific sense, it will teach her that she is loved—and lovable—only when she acts the way we want. The available research, which I'll review shortly, strongly suggests that this will just make things worse.

As I've thought about these issues over the years, I've come to believe that conditional parenting can't be completely explained by behaviorism. Something else is going on here. Once again, imagine the situation: A child is yelling, obviously upset, and when she quiets down her daddy lies in bed with his arm around her and reads her a Frog and Toad story. In response, the proponent of conditional parenting exclaims, "No, no, no, you're just reinforcing her bad behavior! You're teaching her that it's all right to be naughty!"

This interpretation doesn't merely reflect an assumption about what kids learn in a given situation, or even how they learn. It reflects an awfully sour view of children—and, by extension, of human nature. It assumes that, given half a chance, kids will take advantage of us. Give 'em an inch, they'll take a mile. They will draw the worst possible lesson from an ambiguous situation (not "I'm loved anyway" but "Yay! It's okay to make trouble!"). Acceptance without strings attached will just be interpreted as permission to act in a way that's selfish, demanding, greedy, or inconsiderate. At least in part, then, conditional parenting is based on the deeply cynical belief that accepting kids for who they are just frees them to be bad because, well, that's who they are.

By contrast, the unconditional approach to parenting begins with the reminder that Abigail's goal is not to make me miserable. She's not being malicious. She's telling me in the only way she knows how that something is wrong. It may be something that just happened, or it may reveal undercurrents that have been there for a while. This approach offers a vote of confidence in children, a challenge to the assumption that they'll derive the wrong lesson from affection, or that they'd always want to act badly if they thought they could get away with it.

Such a perspective is not romantic or unrealistic, a denial of the fact that kids (and adults) sometimes do rotten things. Kids need to be guided and helped, yes, but they're not little monsters who must be tamed or brought to heel. They have the capacity to be compassionate or aggressive, altruistic or selfish, cooperative or competitive. A great deal depends on how they're raised—including, among other things, whether they feel loved unconditionally. And when young children pitch a fit, or refuse to get in the tub as they said they would, this can often be understood in terms of their age—that is, their inability to understand the source of their unease, to express their feelings in more appropriate ways, to remember and keep their promises. In important ways, then, the choice between conditional and unconditional parenting is a choice between radically different views of human nature.

But there's one more set of assumptions that we should lay bare. In our society, we are taught that good things must always be earned, never given away. Indeed, many people become infuriated at the possibility that this precept has been violated. Notice, for example, the hostility many people feel toward welfare and those who rely on it. Or the rampant use of pay-for-performance schemes in the workplace. Or the number of teachers who define anything enjoyable (like recess) as a treat, a kind of payment for living up to the teacher's expectations.

Ultimately, conditional parenting reflects a tendency to see almost every human interaction, even among family members, as a kind of economic transaction. The laws of the marketplace—supply and demand, tit for tat—have assumed the status of universal and absolute principles, as though everything in our lives, including what we do with our children, is analogous to buying a car or renting an apartment.

One parenting author—a behaviorist, not coincidentally—put it this way: "If I wish to take my child for a ride or even if I wish to hug and kiss her, I must first be certain that she has earned it." Before you dismiss this as the view of a lone extremist, consider that the eminent psychologist Diana Baumrind (see pp. 104-5) made a similar argument against unconditional parenting, declaring that "the rule of reciprocity, of paying for value received, is a law of life that applies to us all."

Even many writers and therapists who don't address the issue explicitly nevertheless seem to rely on some sort of economic model. If we read between the lines, their advice appears to be based on the belief that when children don't act the way we want, the things they like ought to be withheld from them. After all, people shouldn't get something for nothing. Not even happiness. Or love.

How many times have you heard it said—emphatically, defiantly—that something or other is "a privilege, not a right"? Sometimes I fantasize about conducting a research study to determine what personality characteristics are generally found in people who take this stance. Imagine someone who insists that everything from ice cream to attention should be made conditional on how children act, that these things should never simply be given away. Can you picture this person? What facial expression do you see? How happy is this person? Does he or she really enjoy being with children? Would you want this person as a friend?

Also, when I hear the "privilege, not a right" line, I always find myself wondering what the speaker would regard as a right. Is there anything to which human beings are simply entitled? Are there no relationships we would want to exempt from economic laws? It's true that adults expect to be compensated for their work, just as they expect to pay for food and other things. But the question is whether, or under what circumstances, a similar "rule of reciprocity" applies to our dealings with friends and family. Social psychologists have noticed that there are indeed some people with whom we have what might be called an exchange relationship: I do something for you only if you do something for me (or give something to me). But they quickly add that this is not true, nor would we want it to be true, of all our relationships, some of which are based on caring rather than on reciprocity. In fact, one study found that people who see their relationships with their spouses in terms of exchange, taking care to get as much as they give, tend to have marriages that are less satisfying.

When our kids grow up, there will be plenty of occasions for them to take their places as economic actors, as consumers and workers, where self-interest rules and the terms of each exchange can be precisely calculated. But unconditional parenting insists that the family ought to be a haven, a refuge, from such transactions. In particular, love from one's parents does not have to be paid for in any sense. It is purely and simply a gift. It is something to which all children are entitled.

If that makes sense to you, and if any of the other underlying assumptions of unconditional parenting ring true as well—that we ought to be looking at the whole child, not just at behaviors; that we shouldn't assume the worst about children's inclinations; and so on—then we need to call into question all the conventional discipline techniques that are based on the opposites of these assumptions. Those practices that define conditional parenting tend to be ways of doing things to children to produce obedience. By contrast, the suggestions offered in the latter half of this book, which flow naturally from the idea of unconditional parenting, are variations on the theme of working with children to help them grow into decent people and good decision-makers.

The Effects of Conditional Parenting

Just as it's possible for our practices to be at odds with the long-term goals we hold for our children (see Introduction), so there might be an inconsistency between the methods associated with conditional parenting and our most basic beliefs. In both instances, it may make sense to reconsider what we're doing with our kids. But the case against conditional parenting doesn't end with its connection to values and assumptions that many of us will find troubling. That case becomes even stronger once we investigate the real-world effects such parenting has on children.

Nearly half a century ago, the pioneering psychologist Carl Rogers offered an answer to the question "What happens when a parent's love depends on what children do?" He explained that those on the receiving end of such love come to disown the parts of themselves that aren't valued. Eventually they regard themselves as worthy only when they act (or think or feel) in specific ways. This is basically a recipe for neurosis—or worse. A publication by the Irish Department of Health and Children (which has been circulated and adopted by other organizations all over the world) offers ten examples to illustrate the concept of "emotional abuse." Number two on the list, right after "persistent criticism, sarcasm, hostility, or blaming," is "conditional parenting, in which the level of care shown to a child is made contingent on his or her behaviours or actions."

Most parents, if asked, would insist that of course they love their children unconditionally, and that this is true despite their use of the strategies that I (and other writers) have identified as problematic. Some parents might even say that they discipline their children in this way because they love them. But I want to return to an observation that so far I've made only in passing. How we feel about our kids isn't as important as how they experience those feelings and how they regard the way we treat them. Educators remind us that what counts in a classroom is not what the teacher teaches; it's what the learner learns. And so it is in families. What matters is the message our kids receive, not the one we think we're sending.

Researchers trying to study the effects of different styles of discipline have not had an easy time trying to figure out how to identify and measure what actually goes on in people's homes. It's not always possible to observe the relevant interactions firsthand (or even to videotape them), so some experiments have been done in laboratories, where a parent and a child are asked to do something together. Sometimes parents are interviewed, or asked to fill out a questionnaire, about their usual parenting styles. If the children are old enough, they may be asked what their parents do—or, if they're grown, what their parents used to do.

Each of these techniques has its drawbacks, and the choice of method can affect a study's results. When parents and children are asked separately to describe what's going on, for example, they may offer very different accounts. Interestingly, when there is some objective way to get at the truth, children's perceptions of their parents' behaviors prove to be every bit as accurate as the parents' reports of their own behaviors.

But the important question is not who's right, which, where feelings are concerned, is usually unanswerable. Rather, what matters is whose perspective is associated with various consequences to the children. Consider one study that investigated a version of conditional parenting. Kids whose parents said they used this approach weren't in any worse shape than kids whose parents said they didn't. But when the researcher separated the kids on the basis of whether they felt their parents used this technique, the difference was striking. On average, children who said they experienced conditional affection from their parents weren't doing as well as children who didn't report receiving conditional affection. The details of this study will be discussed later; my point here is simply that what we think we're doing (or would swear we're not doing) doesn't matter as much, in terms of the impact on our kids, as their experience of what we're doing.

There has been a small surge in research on conditional parenting over the last few years, and one of the most remarkable examples was just published in 2004. In that study, information was collected from more than a hundred college students, each of whom was asked whether the love offered by his or her parents tended to vary depending on any of four possible conditions: whether the student as a child had (1) succeeded in school, (2) practiced hard for sports, (3) been considerate toward others, or (4) suppressed negative emotions such as fear. The students were also asked several other questions, including whether they did, in fact, tend to act in those ways (that is, hide their feelings, study hard for tests, and so on) and how they got along with their parents.

It turned out that the use of conditional love seemed to be at least somewhat successful at producing the desired behaviors. Children who received approval from their parents only if they acted in a particular way were a bit more likely to act that way—even in college. But the cost of this strategy was substantial. For starters, the students who thought their parents loved them conditionally were much more likely to feel rejected and, as a result, to resent and dislike their parents.

You can easily imagine that, had they been asked, each of those parents would have declared, "I don't know where my son gets that idea! I love him no matter what!" Only because the researchers thought to interview the (now grown) children directly did they hear a very different—and very disturbing—story. Many of the students felt they had consistently received less affection whenever they failed to impress or obey their parents—and it was precisely these students whose relationships with their parents were likely to be strained.

To drive home the point, the researchers conducted a second study, this one with more than a hundred mothers of grown children. With this generation, too, conditional love proved damaging. Those mothers who, as children, sensed that they were loved only when they lived up to their parents' expectations now felt less worthy as adults. Remarkably, though, they tended to use the identical approach once they became parents. The mothers used conditional affection "with their own children in spite of the strategy['s] having had negative effects on them."

Although this is the first study (as far as I know) to show that conditional parenting styles can be passed on to one's children, other psychologists have found similar evidence about its effects. Some of these are discussed in the following chapter, which describes two specific ways in which conditional parenting is put into practice. Even in general terms, though, the results are fairly damning. For example, a group of researchers at the University of Denver has shown that teenagers who feel they have to fulfill certain conditions in order to win their parents' approval may end up not liking themselves. That, in turn, may lead a given adolescent to construct a "false self"—in other words, to pretend to be the kind of person whom his or her parents will love. This desperate strategy to gain acceptance is often associated with depression, a sense of hopelessness, and a tendency to lose touch with one's true self. At some point, such teenagers may not even know who they really are because they've had to work so hard to become something they're not.

Over many years, researchers have found that "the more conditional the support [one receives], the lower one's perceptions of overall worth as a person." When children receive affection with strings attached, they tend to accept themselves only with strings attached. By contrast, those who feel they're accepted unconditionally—by their parents or, according to other research, even by a teacher—are likely to feel better about themselves, exactly as Carl Rogers predicted.

And that brings us to the ultimate purpose of this book, the central question I invite you to ponder. In the questionnaires that are used to study conditional parenting, a teenager or young adult is typically asked to indicate "strong agreement," "agreement," "neutral feelings," "disagreement," or "strong disagreement" in response to sentences such as "My mother maintained a sense of loving connection with me even during our worst conflicts" or "When my dad disagrees with me, I know that he still loves me." So, how would you like your children to answer that sort of question in five or ten or fifteen years—and how do you think they will answer it?

Copyright (c) 2005 by Alfie Kohn

Table of Contents



1: Conditional Parenting

2: Giving and Withholding Love

3: Too Much Control

4: Punitive Damages

5: Pushed To Succeed

6: What Holds Us Back?

7: Principles of Unconditional Parenting

8: Love Without Strings Attached

9: Choices for Children

10: The Child's Perspective

Appendix • Parenting Styles: The Relevance of Culture, Class, and Race


References Acknowledgments


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Unconditional Parenting 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 25 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I am the mother of three young children, ages 4, 2, and 7 months. I am also a reader and have spent a fair amount of time over the past 5 years reading various books on parenting. This is my favorite of all the books I've read, the one that I go back to time and again. I can honestly say that this book has made me a better parent, mainly because it challenged me to really look at my long term goals for my children and my relationship with them. Unlike the previous reviewer, I found that I started out very skeptical of his premise but was doing a lot of head nodding by the end. I have been trying to practice 'unconditional parenting' ever since and have definitely seen my relationship with my children improve and blossom. Also, in response to the other reviewer, I do have three very little kids quite close in age, and I can say that it hasn't lead to chaos but rather to much more peace in our home, and it wasn't some terrible, harsh place to begin with (we used time outs and praise, mostly). This book is very, very different from many, if not most, of the parenting books out there today, and for that reason alone I think parents should read it, if only to get a different perspective on discipline.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I sought out parenting books on unconditional love about a month ago because I intuitively felt that I was becoming a tad too controlling as a well-intentioned mom. I came across this one and at first reading it was like music to my ears albeit a lot of guilt was induced. I vowed to make this my new parenting bible. However as I continued to read, my gut started to question the message. Then, I began frequent head shaking. I knew then that this book had left the world of reality behind and was firmly rooted in a world of idealism that not only does not exist, but is questionably beneficial to children in the first place. A parent can love a child unconditionally and express that sentiment with words and actions and still lovingly discipline that child. In fact I take real issue with the notion that a parent who is in charge, who provides guidelines for behavior, is not what a child not only needs but also craves. I think that there are some real insights in this book that may be even more useful for parents that discipline their child in a hurtful manner (i.e., ridicule, etc.). However, for the loving parent that uses an occasional time-out, or heaven forbid, uses their judgment as a parent to outline acceptable behavior, this book ends up sounding like psycho-babble. One more thing, I couldn't help but notice that the author has two children spaced 4 years apart or so, maybe this is a large denominator in what informs his parenting. In a larger family (4 kiddos) all under 6 years old, the author's parenting style would not only drive the parent's into the loonie bin, but would insure a very chaotic household.
walterqchocobo on LibraryThing 7 months ago
There were some interesting principles in this book but it took a little too long to get there. If I read this when my son was an infant, I feel like I could get more out of it. As he is a teenager, the author didn't give many suggestions or advice for implementing his principles.
Brandie on LibraryThing 7 months ago
Very interesting book to read.Kohn presents a lot of data at the start of the book to really encourage thinking about what traditional parenting looks like and the effects it has on children. After going over all the data - which suggests we are mostly conditional parenting and that is unhealthy for our children, he discusses how to be unconditional.I admit, I wasn't prepared to read all the data. Some of it was very eye opening really made me think. I just reached a point where I didn't want to read it anymore. Kohn points out most parenting books use no data or research to back up their claims and only anecdotal evidence. I really think it's because the data makes the book feel heavy and it wasn't what I thought I was getting. My guess is most books discussed studies and data and numbers fewer parents would read them. That aside, the book felt sort of vague to me during the second half, which is the how to half. But if you think about it, you can't really write hard, fast rules to follow these principles, and yet, aside from loving unconditionally and not loving conditionally, I wasn't sure what the principles were. In the end, I felt I understood enough of what he was saying to get it, and yet the book felt lacking somehow. (Of course, I can only offer vague reasons why - which is ironic!) But it made sense. The data presented really made me think (I just think he spent more time then he needed to on it). The most important thing to me though is that I walked away with a good sense of conditional parenting and wanting to be more like that. I admit I saw myself in some of the conditional anecdotes, which really made me cringe and think I don't want to do that anymore! And yet on the other hand, I walked away feeling like I was already doing a lot of right things. And who doesn't like a book that validates some of what you are already doing!
Suso711 on LibraryThing 7 months ago
Kohn has some very valid points to make (respect your children, rethink your requests), but I think he throws the baby out with the bathwater.
kellyholmes on LibraryThing 7 months ago
The front cover of this book describes it as "A Provocative Challenge to the Conventional Wisdom about Discipline." Uh, YEAH.This book had me squirming in my chair on a regular basis. Over and over, the author would present compelling research about how parenting with rewards and punishments doesn't necessarily get you a kid who's more compliant. And over and over, I would think to myself: "Well, if you don't use rewards and punishments, what the crap else are you going to do?" The author would dance around alternatives, but he kept referencing Chapter 7 as where he'd be presenting them in detail¿which was over halfway through the book.In the end, I'm not sure if I would have been ready to accept the ideas in that chapter had I not gone through the painful process of being challenged again and again and again in the first part of the book. Maybe the author has to break down a few walls before he can help you start to build up something completely different in their place.Here are just a handful of the reasons why punishment doesn't work, according to the research covered in this book: * Punishment makes people mad. I can recall with great clarity the times I was being punished for something that I had done, and I guarantee you I wasn't "reflecting" on my actions. I was getting even more pissed off at whomever was punishing me, and my actions were the furthest thing from my mind. * Punishment models the use of power. Do we really want to teach our kids that might makes right? As adults, will it be healthy for them to exploit their power over their fellow humans? * Punishment makes kids more self-centered. If I hit Susie, I'll have to sit in timeout and miss the rest of recess. Notice that I'm thinking about what will happen to me, not how Susie will feel.What about rewards? If punishing non-compliance isn't effective, what about rewarding compliance? "...rewards are remarkably ineffective at improving the quality of people's work or learning. A considerable number of studies have found that children and adults alike are less successful at many tasks when they're offered a reward for doing them¿or for doing them well."Or worse, rewards can undermine the very behavior you're trying to encourage: "...when there's no longer a goody to be gained, [kids are] less likely to help than are kids who weren't given a reward in the first place. They're also less likely to help than they themselves used to be. After all, they've learned that the point of coming to someone's aid is just to get a reward."These are just a few of the points from the book, but I know what you're thinking right now: "Well, if you don't use rewards and punishments, what the crap else are you going to do?"Or maybe: "Haha, your kid is going to walk all over you! Sucker!"To the latter, I say: You could very well be right. But this book resonated with me on a much deeper level than the parenting practices I saw growing up or continue to see on Supernanny. What do you think that kid on the naughty step is thinking about? About how what they did was wrong and they'll never do it again? Or about how Mom is so unfair...or...next time she's not going to catch me...or...I'm going to hit little brother for tattling on me?Certainly you can remember a time when you were in timeout as a kid. Maybe you were a perfect kid and sat quietly reflecting on your misbehavior and how you will never, ever do that again. But me? Not so much. I sat there thinking of ways to blame someone else. I sat there steaming about the person who was punishing me. I sat there making plans to not talk to anyone for the rest of the day to show how mad I was.So what if instead when you did something wrong, your parents sat down with you and asked you what happened? What if they had helped you explore why you did what you did? What if they encouraged you to think of other ways you could have expressed your emotions?Kids are smart. They have good ideas for how to solve problems, including thei
La_Lectora More than 1 year ago
This is such a wonderful book, finally someone that understands that parents need to respect their kids, and they need to be treated with respect just like any other human being. Highly recommended.
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