Friday, March 16, 2007

Unconditional Parenting by Alfie Kohn

I've decided to share some books here on this blog. The first one I'm putting here is the one I'm reading currently for my AP Mamas book club.

“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.”
In other words, the kid may not know why he does what he does, but that does not make his reasons invalid.

Did you think time out was a form of gentle discipline? I always did. After all, there’s no hitting involved; I always felt so pleased with myself when I was able to calmly, gently, take my son by the hand and lead him to the time out chair…no temper, no aggression…I was being gentle! Sure, but what is ‘time out’ time out from?? It’s time out from attention and affection—time out from LOVE. Depending on the child, that can be SO much more harsh than a spanking. I have often tried to have W help determine the consequence for a given behavior…I now understand why he was always quick to suggest a spanking, but really hated time-out. I always thought it had to do with having to sit still, but I realize now that it probably went much deeper than that. SO, I've decided to try something different...Instead of having him sit on a chair and then ignoring him for several minutes, I'm having him sit on a chair near where I'm working and then we take a few minutes to talk about the problem. I put him in the chair to help him stay focused on the conversation, but I don't withdraw anything. So far so good...we'll see how it goes in the longer run!

Kohn contends that the biggest problem with parenting in our society today is not permissiveness, but rather over-controlling...when a child is hyper-controlled, he tends to do one of two things: comply (often into learned helplessness), or defy... W is definitely in the latter category, and I can attest to the fact that additional attempts at control are NOT solving the problem...

Kohn suggests that we take a better look at our parenting strategies. After all, if the strategy is failing, isn't that an indication that the strategy is the problem, rather than the child? He gives ample scientific evidence to prove that punishment is not effective, and (via personal experience) I have to agree. It creates a 'might makes right' economy, which is certainly not something I want to teach my children. It also makes the parent-child relationship into a battlefield, and when someone wins, that means that someone else is you really want your child to be a loser all the time?!

The major shortfall of the book is that it doesn't give much in the way of advice or suggestions about ways to handle certain situations. Kohn does give some 'guiding principles' though, which are pretty good.
1--be reflective consider what you do and why. Realize what things and people have influanced you to parent the way you do, and then be willing to change if you should
2--reconsider your requests why are you telling the child to do this or that? Do they really need to, or are there alternatives?
3--keep your eye on long-term goals what kind of person do you want your child to grow up to be? Are you fostering those traits now?
4--put the relationship first make sure the kids always know they are loved
5--change how you see, not just how you act view things as problems to be solved (together) rather than as infractions of law
6--RESPECT teach by example--respect your kids: their needs, desires, and opinions.
7-be authentic kids can see right through you if you don't mean what you say and do
8--talk less, ask more
9--keep their ages in mind
10--"Attribute to children the best possible motive consistent with the facts"
11--don't stick your no's in unnecessarily the more they hear it, the less they will listen to 'no' for when it's really important
12--don't be rigid foolish consistency is the halmark of ineffective parenting...don't hold onto a rule for stubborness' sake...make occasional exceptions or change rules as is practical
13--don't be in a hurry take the time to be together, and just enjoy your kids--they grow up fast!

A final suggestion: rather than criticising the child's action (because they will feel like you are criticising them) try to help them understand the effects of their action--other's feelings, objects damaged, etc. This helps them understand WHY the action was a problem, rather than just hearing 'no no no' and they are more likely to internalize it, and more likely to care. After all, you don't really want your children to be good because they are afraid of retribution if they are bad--you want them to be good because it's the right thing to do.

Now, I do not think this book is the be all and end all of good parenting advice...BUT, I do think there are some good, thought-provoking ideas here. It's certainly given me some things to mull over.


Adria said...

I love Alfie Kohn, I do. I heard somewhere that he doesn't have any children. I wonder how well he would implement his philosophies if he did.

lolly said...

He totally has children. Two. Although they're not very old. I think the oldest is around 11?

I was just checking back to see if there were any comments on this, since I'm thinking about it after my recent posts. I'm not doing an official UP review, but most of my ideas come from that book.

Anonymous said...

If more kids were raised with the love and compassion that Alfie suggests our society could eventually become a peaceful one like Scandinavia. I wonder why our society has taken so long to see children as people. We need to help them and gently guide them through childhood. Let them tell us and show us who they are rather than us telling them who they should be.
I feel sick to my stomach when I think of how children have been raised in our country and how some still are raised. We are a violent people in both thought and deed and nobody has paid the price more than children have.
No hitting, no yelling, no verbal assaults of any kind,no isolating, no mental or emotional abuse ever. Children are a blessing and they are to be loved always.

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