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Unconditional Parenting: Moving from Rewards and Punishments to Love and Reason Paperback – March 28, 2006
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From Publishers Weekly
Author of nine books, including the controversial Punished by Rewards, Kohn expands upon the theme of what's wrong with our society's emphasis on punishments and rewards. Kohn, the father of young children, sprinkles his text with anecdotes that shore up his well-researched hypothesis that children do best with unconditional love, respect and the opportunity to make their own choices. Kohn questions why parents and parenting literature focus on compliance and quick fixes, and points out that docility and short-term obedience are not what most parents desire of their children in the long run. He insists that "controlling parents" are actually conveying to their kids that they love them conditionally—that is, only when they achieve or behave. Tactics like time-out, bribes and threats, Kohn claims, just worsen matters. Caustic, witty and thought-provoking, Kohn's arguments challenge much of today's parenting wisdom, yet his assertion that "the way kids learn to make good decisions is by making decisions, not by following directions" rings true. Kohn suggests parents help kids solve problems; provide them with choices; and use reason, humor and, as a last resort, a restorative time away (not a punitive time-out). This lively book will surely rile parents who want to be boss. Those seeking alternative methods of raising confident, well-loved children, however, will warmly embrace Kohn's message. (Mar.)Forecast: Kohn is a controversial and popular author/speaker, well regarded by scholars and educators. This title should appeal to parents who want to explore the "whys" and not just the "hows" of raising kids.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
This book is not about quick fixes, or easy strategies to get your child to "behave". It's about avoiding punishments and bribes that result only in "short term compliance at an extremely high cost", and opting for an approach of working with your child, instead. The second part of his book discusses in great length, with examples, ways that we can work with our children.
I don't agree completely with Kohn's removal of all parental praise - when his daughter climbed the stairs for the first time, he didn't applaud or freak out, he just said matter of factly "you did it". I'm more in the exuberant praise for major accomplishments category. However, I found his argument against using praise as a means of control extremely compelling. Don't praise your kid overly for putting his jacket on, because you want him to keep getting himself ready for school. Do celebrate (in my opinion) your children's accomplishments that they're proud of by sharing in their joy and applauding them also.
If I could get every parent to read this book, I would. I am so grateful that I discovered Alfie Kohn's work when my sons were preschool age. I believe this could help me raise resilient kids who feel loved, who trust me to be on their side, and who are at lower risk for dangerous behaviors as teenagers because they've had an opportunity to learn the real consequences of actions - not that mom or dad will be mad, but that now something is broken and needs to be repaired, or they may have to choose a different college, or mom was up late worrying because they weren't home. Punishments and bribes obscure the real reason we should do something, make our kids feel conditionally loved, and don't have positive long-term impacts on behavior.
Finally, at long last comes Alfie Kohn to turn such conventional assumptions on their head. Why, Kohn asks, should children be expected to be unquestioningly obedient to adults? Why should adult needs and desires necessarily trump those of children? In fact, if you ask most parents what they want for their children in the long run, you will probably hear words like “independent”, “self-assertive”, “creative” and “confident”. Why then do we so often fall back on day-to-day parenting strategies that insist on obedience and parental control?
Kohn is no Pollyanna. He recognizes that parenting is hard work and that there are real life demands that must be met. He is not naïve enough to think that children are always sweet and wonderful or that there’s a magic pill that will make children automatically helpful and cooperative. But he does argue that the stresses of parenting and family life, along with outside pressure, lead us to use control-based disciplinary techniques which seem like “common sense” and which may even be guaranteed to “work” by parenting “guidebooks” written by “experts”. Such tactics, however, according to Kohn, are not only counterproductive in the long run for actually increasing children’s responsiveness, but are actually harmful to children because of how they make (or at least seem to the child to make) parental love conditional on behavior, when what children really need is unconditional love.
Kohn deconstructs what punishment really means: making someone suffer – inflicting physical or emotional pain – for something “bad” they have done. He argues that it is hard to reconcile unconditional love with being willing to make a loved one suffer pain. Furthermore, Kohn does not limit punishment to things like spanking, yelling or taking away possessions. Kohn argues that “time-outs” – typically thought to be a gentler response to misbehavior – count as punishment too because of the use of “love withdrawal”. In fact, time-outs may be one of the worst forms of punishment because they explicitly tie parental love and attention to behavior, which sends the message to the child that s/he is only lovable when s/he is being “good”. Given how dependent children are on their parents, this is almost tantamount to the threat of abandoning the child if s/he doesn’t behave.
Moreover, Kohn goes further to show that focusing on rewarding children for positive behavior is little if any better than punishing bad behavior. Rewards and punishments, in fact, are simply flip sides of the same coin. Both focus on overt behavior rather than underlying causes of behavior. Both make parental love and approval conditional upon “good” behavior. And both are a form of control – methods of “doing to” children to coerce obedience.
Kohn argues instead that we should strive for “working with” methods of interaction which give kids a voice and sense of control over their own lives. Kohn argues that humans, including children, have a fundamental need to have a sense of control. Feeling overcontrolled can make kids either rebel and counteract the intention and efficacy of the controlling tactics, or else they will basically wilt and give in, thereby losing sense of their own autonomy and initiative. In either case, children experiencing too much control are likely to have less self-esteem (or, at least, self-esteem that is more conditional upon others’ approval), be less willing to take risks and explore, and be more susceptible to outside influences and pressure.
Contrary to popular misconceptions, however, Kohn is not arguing for a free-for-all. Giving up control does not mean a hands-off approach or letting children do and get away with whatever they want. In fact, unconditional parenting involves more parental engagement, not less. Parents need to be consistently working with their children; teaching, explaining and modeling appropriate behavior; explaining and helping children to understand the effects of their behavior on other people; working (and struggling) with – not against – their children to solve problems and conflicts and come up with mutually workable solutions; and struggling with their own vulnerabilities in order to allow for a more genuine presentation and authentic, trust-based relationships with children.
Making this extra effort pays off first of all in terms of greater responsiveness from children. In a seeming paradox, children who are less controlled respond better to parental directives when they are given and are more willing to cooperate with their parents. But more importantly, such efforts pay off in terms of raising happy, healthy, secure and confident young people who are better able to manage life in the “real world” than children whose parents have used controlling methods to get them “ready for” the real world. Moreover, secure and confident children are more likely to grow up to be the kinds of people who see the faults with the “real world” and who are willing to work to make them better rather than just accepting that that’s the way things are.
I have always had a sense of how I wanted to raise my daughters (currently ages 4 and 6), and neither punishments nor rewards have ever felt right to me (although I will confess to having used both at times, to my lasting regret). This book has helped me crystallize and articulate my misgivings as well as point me to a better path which I always sensed was there and which I’ve foundered around trying to find on my own. I am fortunate to have relatively “good” and “easy” children, but I’ve found that I can make things even easier (or at least less conflictual) by letting go and learning to trust my daughters’ good impulses and the loving upbringing I’ve given them so far. When it comes to picking battles, the only one I think is worth fighting is the battle to maintain a healthy, open relationship with them, and the less I punish or reward and the more I just listen and support, the less of a battle it is.