Thursday, March 24, 2011

Unconditional Parenting

I really do pride myself on being open-minded. I try to be a true skeptic - willing to accept new evidence even if it overturns my beliefs.

I found just such an opportunity when some friends started discussing Alfie Kohn. At first I was very dismissive. When people objected to time outs as "love withdrawal," I scoffed. I wasn't withdrawing love, I was separating an out of control kid from society until she could be civil and safe again. But, since I'm intrigued by ideas that challenge my beliefs, I started reading some of Kohn's articles online. Then I bought his book Unconditional Parenting. And it totally transformed the way I see parenting.

The thing I most appreciated was his use of actual research to bolster his suggestions. And perhaps the fact that his suggestions often seem more like questions. Just questions I never thought to ask before, such as, "Is training a child to comply compatible with helping her become a fulfilled, happy, confident person?"

The other essential ingredient for me was a clear statement that this is not mere permissiveness. I've seen way too many advocates of "gentle discipline" whose children were unholy monsters, dangerous to themselves and others.

For me, Unconditional Parenting can be boiled down to two ideas. First, my children deserve to feel that they are loved unconditionally, just for being them. It's not enough that I do love them unconditionally, but that they perceive that I love them unconditionally. Second, children should be respected as people. They aren't just robots that emit certain behaviors when certain input is received. They are human beings with internal lives of thought and emotion. And I need to keep that internal life in mind when their behavior conflicts with my desires, not just run roughshod over them for my convenience.

There are a lot of details that go along with those basic ideas. Some of them are quite important and challenging, such as the damage praise can do to the development of a confident and engaged person. But quite early in my reading I zeroed in on the underlying philosophies above, and they are becoming my touchstone as I try to react with unconditional love, and still keep appropriate limits, in day to day life.

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