Wednesday, July 14, 2010

My Reading List: Unconditional Parenting

I recently checked out the book Unconditional Parenting by Alfie Kohn. The general idea of the book (and he has quite a bit of research and citations included) is that traditional, conventional, conditional parenting does not work - rewarding good behavior (including everything from "Good Job!" type praise rewards to money, presents, trips "I'll take you to the zoo on Friday if you good at dinner Thursday night!", etc.) makes kids NOT want to do the behavior in it's own right - they only want to do it for the reward (even in very young children, one of the reason we don't give Gray "Good Job!"'s for going potty is because then he won't want to potty because that is just what you do, he'll want to potty for the reward of recognition). Research has shown that toddlers who are given recognition for sharing ("Good Sharing!") are less likely to share if an adult isn't around to recognize and verbally praise them next time. (What other options do you have? Asking why - "Gray, I saw you share with your friend, why did you do that?" or just recognizing without putting conditions on the actions "I saw you share ___ toy with your friend" or not saying anything!) And the punishments, of which I'm sure we're all completely familiar and don't really need examples - taking away privileges, spanking and probably the worst offense - time out. (Why would I say time outs are the worst? because it is the epitome of actions that say "I don't love you right now, stay away from me until you conform to my desires and then I will love you again"). The goal of unconditional parenting is to let kids know that you love them ALL the time, when they are getting into the trash can, when they are crying, when they are frustrating, when they are "naughty", when they are great, when they are mediocre. And research shows that children who are allowed to be children are BETTER behaved - don't need to act out, are more verbal in their actions and will talk about WHY something happened. And when children are allowed to participate in their own learning, they are less likely to repeat those negative behaviors. (Does this work 100% of the time? no. But I've yet to meet a child who is 100% perfect.)

Everything mentioned in this book resonates with me. It strikes me to my core, the points made about conditional parenting, carrots and sticks (rewards and punishments), how children respond to parents and how children learn. It rings true to me. However, the entire time reading this book, there is a little devil in the back of my mind saying "impossible!" My entire life has been surrounded by conditional love, teachers, rewards, punishments. Religion is conditional (be good, go to heaven, be bad, go to hell, be good, God rewards you, be bad, Satan is leading you, etc.) Jobs are conditional (money is the reward, or sometimes achievements such as plaques and "good jobs!"). School was definitely conditional (grades are in themselves a conditional learning "tool" - which doesn't work). My parents were extremely conditional, more my mom than my dad, though definitely both (I got whipped with the belt more than once, had to pick a switch more than once, and got the rewards side, too - money, presents, etc. and always felt like my parents would not love me anymore if I failed classes - like once I'd made an "A", I set myself up to be an "A" student or my parents would be disappointed - which they were, on occasion).

My point is, conditions have been drilled into me since I was born. So how will I be able to completely change my behavior and responses with Gray in order to be an unconditional parent? I feel like I need to copy pages and phrases from this book and post them everywhere - my drawers, my fridge, my front door, my underwear. :)

Baby steps, is what I've decided. Be the turtle. Slow and steady. I'll learn right alongside Gray - as he does, and I'm sure it will be a process. I'm sure I will make mistakes and hopefully I will learn from them.

No comments:

Post a Comment