Thursday, February 21, 2008

Unconditional Parenting?

I have been reading Unconditional Parenting by Alfie Kohn over the past week or so. At first I was really in to and feeling like the man was some sort of genius who finally tapped in to the secret to raising children. The tone he took turned me off a bit, but I charged ahead, sure that it wouldn't be a big deal. Well, it turns out that, for me, the tone WAS a big deal. I feel like he basically ridicules any parenting choices that aren't what he advocates. He ridicules other parenting books, as well. Kohn offers up a good deal of statistics to support his point of view, that children need to learn that they are loved unconditionally and therefor it's dangerous to their psyche to provide them with punishments OR rewards. For instance, if a child is sent to time-out, Kohn insists that the only thing a child gets out of it is feeling like her parents no longer love her. Kohn also insists that if a child is praised for a job well done the message they get is that they are only loved because they did a good job, so by golly, they better keep doing a good job in order to continue to earn the parent's love!

In theory, I like that idea. I like the idea of being careful when you are praising/punishing your child and to be aware of the messages that sends to your child. However, in reality, I believe it's much, much more complicated than that. Kohn does give a nod to a child's more complex thought patterns in his book by saying that if a child is sent to a time-out, the only thing they will learn is that next time they want to do something they shouldn't be doing, that they will need to figure out a more sneaky way to do it so they won't get caught and put in to time-out.

Maybe my 3 1/2 year old is an anomoly, but these explanations do not fit her at all. In many respects she does have pretty simple thought processes, but she also comes up with amazing ideas that I can never believe sprang out of her young mind. Iris clearly understands that dissappointment/punishment does not equal not being loved. Last night, as I was getting her ready to go to bed, she said to me, "mama, I do love you, but I really want dada to put me to bed tonight". She knew that she could disappoint me without saying that she doesn't love me. I believe that she also understands we can disappoint her without saying that we don't love her.

The children in this house are showered with so much love, hugs and kisses that their parents are often pushed away for smothering them too much. They are praised/punished as necessary, but always, always showered with plenty of love. I think there would be a problem if a child was constantly punished or constantly praised in such a way that that was the only sort of interaction they were receiving from their parents.

Anyways, that is my rant for the day. Has anyone else read this book? Care to offer your two cents?


  1. I love the last paragraph of your post. That's exactly how I feel. I tried to get into the book, but to be honest with you didn't even finish it. I just couldn't get into it. I much prefer "Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline." I refer to it ALL THE TIME.
    Good to know I'm not the only one who didn't think Kohn was the Holy Grail of parenting.

  2. Yeah, I was a little obsessed with Alfie Kohn not too long ago...I have the book AND the DVD!! I totally felt the same way that he had no tolerance for any other parenting style, and if you ever watch the dvd it's really obvious in the way he makes these little parodies out of typical parenting strategies :). In the beginning I took it really seriously, to the point where I was constantly conscious of everything I said and how I said it, and constantly re-examining everything I previously believed about disciplining children. It got to the point that parenting literally made my brain hurt!! It was overwhelming and if I ever fell short of the ideal presented in the book (which was more often than I care to admit), I would feel so guilty like I was damaging them somehow.

    I'm really not the kind of person who reads a book and thinks its gospel...I truly believed the philosophy of it, and I still a point. But I'm much more relaxed now...before I felt like I wasn't being authentic, and now I feel real connection to them because I respond (consciously) from my heart and not from my overactive brain! I took what I felt was most important (to me) from the book and did away with the part that made me feel guilty for falling short...I am human. We don't do time-outs, and I even go as far to try really hard not to use coercion, and I resist too much praise. I'm just more conscious of how I say things now, and more aware of how my actions, no matter how loving or well-intended can send the wrong message.


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