Unconditional

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First, a link to follow up on my comments yesterday about work, loving work or not, looking for my passion. I appreciate the comments about procrastination – I do procrastinate at work – and then I think about what  I do even if I’m not paid for it: write; write; read; prepare talks and presentations; organize events I believe in; take on issues I think are important. And declutter 🙂

Now: a book review. I just finished Unconditional Parenting by Alfie Kohn and I highly recommend it as the best parenting book I’ve read. It inspires me to be a better person so I can be a better parent; and it sets out for me a paradigm I can use to consider my parenting choices. And, it’s easy to read, research-based, and resonates with me as truth.

Alfie (he feels like the kind of person you’d refer to by first name – I hope I’m right about that) uses extensive research studies to describe two types of parenting. Conditional parenting, which is by far the most common, teaches children that they are loved to the extent that they live up to the expectations of the parents: behaviour, accomplishments, etc. They are rewarded for doing what the parents want, including praise, punished when they fail. He writes elsewhere about the problems that praise creates. Parenting tends to be of the control, tell and dictate variety. Discipline techniques are based on “love withdrawal” – time-outs, punishment, doing things to children and controlling them. From this approach, children develop a less certain sense of self. They tend to have weaker relationships with their parents; lower levels of moral development (yes. study after study show this.); are less likely to obey the parents; less likely to take on the parents’ values; less likely to be happy and fulfilled.

Unconditional parenting involves letting kids know that you love them always and no matter what: your love isn’t based on what they do but who they are. How do you let kids know this? Rather than a “doing to” approach, you take a “working with” approach. You work hard to take your child’s perspective, and consider it. This informs what you ask of the child and how you respond when what you want and the child wants differ. You refrain from praise but instead let your kids reach their own evaluation of what they’ve done (rather than praise – ask questions; make statements of fact; or just let the child be). You use reason, discussion and modeling to reach collaborative solutions. You avoid using your power as a parent to overpower your child – instead, you respect her autonomy as a person and work with her to facilitate her growth.

There is so much more to the book; I’m not doing it justice here. I was left with a few strong convictions about how I want to raise my child.

  1. Rather than praise, questions or give her space to be.
  2. Let her immerse herself in her work; I don’t need to interrupt her.
  3. Respect! I want her to maintain her dignity even as a baby. I want to work with her, not force her, whether it be into a car at the end of the day or onto the toilet when she’s not in the mood. Talk with her, listen to her, offer her options, listen other preferences. Relatedly: speak about her, and in front of her, as respectfully as I’d speak about/with anyone else.
  4. I need to model much better for her, especially perspective-taking. She was woken up on our walk today by a very, very noisy car. Rather than blame the car, I could inquire, I wonder why they don’t have a muffler – are they too poor? Do they like the noise? OR something like that, just more sophisticated and useful.
  5. Discuss, ask questions, do my best to respect and hear her point of view.

The praise part is a challenging thing to shift. I plan to read the book again and keep discussing the ideas to develop an approach that will work for us.

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