Review of Unconditional Parenting by Alfie Kohn
Unconditional Parenting ...
When you pick up a parenting guide today, there is the inevitable question, “How can we get our children to do what they’re told?” The guide will then begin to offer a variety of techniques to use for controlling them. In this groundbreaking book, Alfie Kohn, a nationally respected educator, begins by asking this question, “What do kids need – and how can we meet those needs?” What do we get from asking that question? We get a whole bevy of ideas as to how we can work WITH children rather than just do things TO them.
One basic need that all children have is to be loved unconditionally. Kohn points out that all children need to know that they will be accepted even if they fall short or screw up. However, conventional approaches to parenting, such as different kinds of punishments that includes “time-outs”, rewards that include positive reinforcement and other various forms of control teach children that they are only loved when they impress or please us.
In Unconditional Parenting, Alfie Kohn cites a lot of powerful and largely unknown research that details the damage that is caused by leading our children to believe that they must earn our approval. Even though this is probably not the intention of the parents, it is the message that children get from common discipline techniques.
It is true that there are plenty of parenting books on the market whose main purpose is to get children to do whatever they are told. Ask yourself what you want – a puppet or a child. Unconditional Parenting assumes you want a child.
Unfortunately, some would prefer a puppet. These parents believe that if you want kids to act in a certain way, all you have to do is to pull the right strings. Many parents would prefer this type of parenting. They would be the last to consider how techniques for changing behavior really work. Our long-term goal as parents is to raise our children to grow into caring, responsible, and happy people. There just are not enough books out there that encourage parents to ask the following question, “What does my child need?”
Unconditional love from the parents is what allows children to accept themselves as basically good people, even if they fall short or screw up. If a child comes to you with a problem, even an older teenager, that is pretty much unsolvable, the child still needs to feel your unconditional love.
That is something that puts most parents to the test. When a friend discovered that her teen was pregnant, after explaining the situation, the teen asked if her mother was mad at her. My friend thought for a moment and then replied, "What’s done is done. All we can do now is move forward." At the end of the conversation, her daughter thanked her for being so understanding. That made my friend feel good because she realized that she was treating her daughter with unconditional love. How would punishing her daughter change the situation? The short answer is it wouldn't.
As parents, we should not make our children act like trained seals which jump through hoops just to win our affection. Because of this, some children become depressed, anxious, and even full of rage. Some children stop looking to parents for the guidance that they need and do not spend enough time with their parents when they become old enough to have the choice.
Although Unconditional Parenting should be on your bookshelf, I also recommend that you read, Keepers of the Children: Native American Wisdom and Parenting which picks up where Kohn left off. It teaches parents how to overcome the negative aspects of their upbringing and raise their children to develop their strengths, so they can lead purposeful and meaningful lives as adults. It also teaches parents how to teach their kids to think for themselves and find value in who they are.
I highly recommend that you buy these books whether you're a parent or a grandparent. Remember, love, not punishment, is a universal language!
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