Unconditional Parenting (Part I)

On Friday at the clinic, J witnessed some terrible parenting in motion again. A father was there with his toddler and the dad kept up this whole string of criticisms and nagging “Play properly”, “Stand straight”, “Keep quiet” and everything was punctuated with “Otherwise you’ll get it when we get home”.  While I know that me and J will never impose such extreme authoritarian rule over little Calvin, I decided it’s time to start reading parenting books for ideas nonetheless.

The first book I’m starting on now is called Unconditional Parenting by Alfie Kohn. It advocates that we should look at the long term goal of who/what we want our kids to be rather than focusing on their short term behaviour. He contends that punishment and it’s converse – positive reinforcement relies too much on behaviorism — or what he calls conditional parenting. Conditional parenting makes kids feel that they are only loved if they fulfill certain conditions. While it may get you results quickly, it only teaches kids to follow certain rigid sets of conduct and not the moral philosophy behind what they do. They may learn to say ‘Please’, ‘Thank you’ and ‘I’m sorry’ at the appropriate times but they might not learn to truly appreciate what others did for them or what they have done to others. And when the incentives or disincentives are removed, kids will not be interested in continuing the good behaviour. Some studies have also shown that not only are the kids less interested in what they do, they are less proficient in it as well.

One of the study was about how kids whose parents control their play by telling them what to do, correcting their ‘wrong’ behavior or even praising them, find the toys not as fun as those kids whose parents are less controlling.  Yes, even praise is bad because by praising them when they do the ‘right’ thing, it implicitly says that everything else they did was no good and motivates them to continue doing things just to please us rather than exploring and learning.

So far, I agree with his philosophy that we should teach our children how to think and reason through things, rather than ‘Just do it, because I say so’. Instinctively, we probably already knew this, but it’s definitely much harder to implement than I thought. There’s so much conventional wisdom about disciplining, especially the time out method of withdrawing privileges that I’m afraid we are already corrupted in the way we think about disciplining. I’m only about one third of the way through, so will hopefully pick up some useful tips in the later half of the book and put them into practice sooner rather than later.

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