20 June 2011
Book Review - Unconditional Parenting
Today I am reviewing Alfie Kohn's Unconditional Parenting.
Kohn has written over 12 books and many articles including Punished by Rewards and Beyond Discipline: From Compliance to Community. He has been a long time advocate for limiting standardized testing and empowering children in their relationships by treating them with respect through loving, authentic interactions.
Unconditional Parenting was the first of Kohn's books that I read and I freely admit that it turned my assumptions around children and parenting upside down.
Kohn proposes that rewards and praise are a way to manipulate children to comply to our agenda for them.
My interpretation of Kohn's message in this book is that with love, we traditionally assume that offering praise will cause a child to do the right thing. However, Kohn believes that children are naturally pre-disposed to make healthy choices (most of the time) if we trust them and deal honestly with them in a manner appropriate to their age.
For example, if a child paints a picture of a building, rather than give a value judgement such as 'wow, what a great picture' (whether the child has invested a lot of effort or very little), we could share a genuine appreciation for the work such as....'I like how this building contrasts with the sky', or simply hang up the painting and allow the child to draw his/her own conclusions about their work.
An experience I had at our local playground shortly after I read Unconditional Parenting gave me an amusing reminder of the concept of overpraising to the degree that children cease to rely on their own perceptions of the world. The mother of a toddler was pushing her child on the baby swing and each time the child swung back she would say 'good swinging'...I almost felt like patting this loving mother on the back and chiming in 'good pushing' as she was doing all the work, and I know I have done similar things with good intentions many times.
This experience allowed me a really clear picture of how we as parents can train our children to require positive feedback to feel that they're doing an okay job, rather than being self-referencing and secure as individuals.
Another important facet of this book is that children flourish when they are secure in the knowledge that they are loved unconditionally. Kohn alleges that while we assume that because we feel unconditional love for our children, they will automatically know this as the truth, this is not always the case. Unless we relate our enduring love to our children verbally and with our actions, they may assume we only love them as long as they meet our approval.
This surprised me, and I wasn't convinced at first. However, since I have been employing the statement 'I love you and will always love you no matter what....and now let's look at what happened' at the beginning of many significant discussions, I am experiencing an incredible shift in the energy of my interactions with our children. Immediately the child knows they are safe in my love, and need not be on the defensive, allowing issues to be resolved much more quickly and smoothly.
I will add here that unconditional parenting does not mean allowing children to do whatever they wish, whenever they wish. It does not mean allowing our children to disrespect others or run the household. It means not withdrawing our love and approval in an effort to change their behaviour, but working for a respectful exchange of wishes which are resolved in a win/win capacity for all parties.
Personally I really enjoyed reading Unconditional Parenting, even though it challenged a few paradigms for me and gave me a bit of a jolt initially :) I believe that by following it's basic principles, I now enjoy a much more relaxed and enriched relationship with my family and feel extremely grateful for this.
Talk Soon Cynthia x