Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Unconditional Parenting

I just finished reading Unconditional Parenting by Alfie Kohn and would like to share a bit about it with you!  

This book challenges the traditional methods of punishment and strives to show that there is a better way to relate with children and babies.  

The premise is that children NEED unconditional love.  
Coercion and punitive punishments chip away at the love a child feels.  

Spanking, time-out, and positive reinforcement are all considered to be on the same end of the spectrum while love, support, and respect are on the other end.  

Spanking is violent, painful, and aggressive.  It does nothing but teach a child to fear consequences.  A child no longer cares about WHY he acted the way he did, but now only cares that he is about to be punished.  

Time-out has a similar effect.  Time-out just doesn't seem to work, from what I have seen.  Children under  about age 7 just do not have the ability to put all of the pieces together from behavior, how it effects others, to punishment.  There is a serious disconnect between the action and the punishment.  

Positive reinforcement has been shown in several studies to take the joy out of playing.  One example in the book was when a child is putting a puzzle together and receives positive reinforcement, they tend to stop playing with the puzzle when 'time is up' where as, children who were not told 'good job', etc. would continue to play when the 'experiment' was over.  The same reaction was found in older children when they were being graded on an assignment vs. doing the assignment without mention of grades.  

What kind of child do you want to raise?  
A free-thinking, moral, respectful, creative, empathetic individual?  
How do your actions RIGHT NOW foster these values?

The whole idea is that rather than focusing on 'doing to' the child, we would be better off 'working with' the child.  

Rather than spanking or time-out for pinching their friend or stealing a toy, perhaps it would be more beneficial to explain how their actions effected their friend and ask them what they could do differently in the future.  

Creating a sense of morality and empathy is so important and can easily be frozen out by raising a child who is to focused on 'what will happen to me if I...(break a rule, hurt my friend, talk back, etc.)'.  

On the subject of positive reinforcement, it does seem silly to never praise a child.  However, is it really that difficult of a shift to go from saying "good job!" to saying "you got the spoon into your mouth all by your self!"? The subtle switch is in showing the child that you are aware of their accomplishments without framing them as being 'good' or 'bad'.  This saves the child from developing a need for approval.  

I think that we all want children who act morally, are empathetic, and care about other people.  In explaining the consequences of their actions, you can begin to show them HOW to think about other people.  Eventually, the hurt they cause others will be punishment enough and they will become internally motivated to do good for others.   

A big part of the theory of Unconditional Parenting is setting children up for success.  Having unrealistic expectations for a young child, followed by increasingly more aggressive punishments doesn't teach the toddler how to express himself.  It only breeds fear and frustration.  A good example of this is requiring a toddler to sit through a family dinner.  When they begin to fidget, threaten them with time-out.  When they fuss in time-out, give them a spanking.  Wouldn't an easier approach be to understand that a 2 year old can only sit still for so long?  Perhaps when he begins to fidget, you can set him up with toys to play with and avoid the whole punishment in the first place.  

In this same thread, Waldorf teachers create their daily rhythms to follow the 'inhale' and 'exhale' activities of a child.  Inhale activities are fine motor activities that require much thought and stillness.  Exhale activities are more physical and could include free-play or running outside.  Perhaps when a young child is 'misbehaving', they are actually trying to tell you that they are in an 'exhale' period of the day but the activity they are performing is an 'inhale' activity.  

What this all boils down to, for my family, is that we need to treat our child with respect, have realistic expectations, and treat her in ways that grow a child into a wonderful adult.  

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