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Most parenting guides begin with the question “How can we get kids to do what they're told?” and then proceed to offer various techniques for controlling them. In this truly groundbreaking book, nationally respected educator Alfie Kohn begins instead by asking, “What do kids need—and how can we meet those needs?” What follows from that question are ideas for working with children rather than doing things to them.
One basic need all children have, Kohn argues, is to be loved unconditionally, to know that they will be accepted even if they screw up or fall short. Yet conventional approaches to parenting such as punishments (including “time-outs”), rewards (including positive reinforcement), and other forms of control teach children that they are loved only when they please us or impress us. Kohn cites a body of powerful, and largely unknown, research detailing the damage caused by leading children to believe they must earn our approval. That's precisely the message children derive from common discipline techniques, even though it's not the message most parents intend to send.
More than just another book about discipline, though, Unconditional Parenting addresses the ways parents think about, feel about, and act with their children. It invites them to question their most basic assumptions about raising kids while offering a wealth of practical strategies for shifting from “doing to” to “working with” parenting—including how to replace praise with the unconditional support that children need to grow into healthy, caring, responsible people. This is an eye-opening, paradigm-shattering book that will reconnect readers to their own best instincts and inspire them to become better parents.
- Paperback: 272 pages
- Publisher: Atria Books; 1 edition (March 28, 2006)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0743487486
- ISBN-13: 978-0743487481
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.7 x 8.4 inches
- Shipping Weight: 8 ounces
A paradigm shift in parenting that changes everything
Mind-blowing. I saw Alfie Kohn speak, and was deeply moved by his arguments against using positive reinforcement (bribes) and “logical consequences” (punishment) as a means to control children’s behavior. He argues that by using a “doing to” approach, we teach our children that they should behave certain ways to either get rewards or avoid punishments. This removes the intrinsic desire to behave a certain way because it’s the right way to behave, or because then our brother won’t be unhappy and will play with us longer, etc. It confuses and changes the real reason we want our children to behave a certain way in the first place, and it controls their behavior through external means rather than helping them develop internal mechanisms for control. It can also make our children feel as though they’re loved conditionally – his argument against forced time outs was absolutely heart-breaking and gut wrenching… to a small child, a forced time out is essentially forced isolation until they conform to something we want – it’s the removal of our love and presence based on what a child has done. It’s the opposite of unconditional love, and removes our support from them sometimes when they need it most.
As much as I hate feeling controlled by other people I was in fact …
I’m thankful and blessed to have had the chance to read this book. It has inspired me to reflect on my parenting methods and evaluate the effects they have on my children. As much as I hate feeling controlled by other people I was in fact a completely over controlling father. I have learned that the goal of just getting kids to obey authority is very different from the goal of developing good judgement and responsibility. I say yes a lot more. I am more attentive and take their needs seriously. I no longer look at my kids as a an opponent that I need to pick battles with to win and show who is boss. I try my best to see things from their perspective. I listen to them better. I do my best to foster autonomy. I let them reasonably make as many decisions and choices as possible. I have a much clearer understanding of what unconditional love looks like. I focus on what my kid needs instead of caring what people are thinking when my 3 year old acts like a 3 year old in public. I don’t sacrifice our long term goals and relationships for immediate compliance. I don’t spank. I don’t use time out. I don’t give rewards. I don’t use coercive strategies to try to manipulate my children. I guide and communicate and influence my children to behave a certain way because it is the moral thing to do not because they should fear punishment or look forward to a reward. I feel like I’m a 1000 times better of a father. The depth and quality of my relationships with my girls has soared….oh, and coincidentally, all of the terrible two’s behavior issues that caused me to look at parenting books are gone! As hard as I try it know I will always have room to improve. I just thank the Lord for putting this book in front of me and making sure this parenting journey is going down the road of the Christian value of Unconditional Love. If you have kids spend 7 bucks and buy it. I’m warning you though, it will have you questioning everything you thought you knew about parenting and discipline.
Good read along with other mainstream parenting books
All in all I like how the author puts in broad principles which adults use to resolve day to day conflicts and perhaps boost positive behaviour of people around them to as possible ways to raise children.
Parenting for democracy – and healthy kids
How often have you heard parents justify their parental dictates on the basis of “because this family is not a democracy”? On the surface, that probably sounds rather common sensical. Who would think that little people who have never had to punch a time clock or make a mortgage payment would know anything about running a family? Instead, conventional wisdom (along with most “experts”) tell us that children need a firm, strong hand, clear boundaries and limits and predictable consequences for violating said limits.
Try it out, it might save your relationship with your children
This book is better than most parenting books you will find because it is written by someone who 1) has done the research and cites it appropriately 2) Has studied these topics for years (not just decided to write a book based off of a general psychology degree or a degree that has nothing to do with the topic being written about) 3) is a father himself. He does challenge ideas that people are too comfortable with and he also gives solutions. The first half of his book is devoted to why what we typically do is wrong and the second half is different things that are alternatives (So stick through it until the end, don’t just get offended and get rid of it). Of course the principles he brings up are way more important than the details. The principle of teaching a child to be their best selves and not just force them to be who you want them to be, etc. This book lays a good foundation in becoming a much better person and parent.
I’m only through the first chapter, but I already have to say that this book is amazing. I’d imagine that most of the negative reviews are coming from parents who feel called out about their own harmful approach to parenting and are unwilling to change the harmful patterns they have been following with their own children. I’ve found it to be nothing but enlightening.
Very valuable and eye-opening for our family.
Like any parenting book, this one won’t be everyone’s speed, but my husband and I both enjoyed it quite a bit. It asks the question “What kind of adult do you want your child to be?” and examines various ways parents might try to reach their longterm goals with their kids.
Excellent book that makes you reconsider your ideas about parenting …
Excellent book that makes you reconsider your ideas about parenting (or grandparenting) in my case. The ideas take some conscious effort to implement since they are contrary to many other parenting concepts. I am starting to see some positive results.
the book has been incredibly helpful better to understand and possibly navigate American culture as a …
As a premise I should say that I am not American and therefore, while I do not identify with most parenting practices the author refers to, the book has been incredibly helpful better to understand and possibly navigate American culture as a parent. I generally agree with what he says and it was interesting to think about certain taken-for-granted, seemingly innocuous practices as exercises in control or parental authority. However, the author seems to begin with the assumption that parents will automatically establish a power relation with their children and they have to therefore learn a loving relationship, whereas in my view he should give more credit to parents and their ability to love their children. Of course parents can fall into authority and control-based parenting practices, but I firmly believe that our ability to love our children unconditionally is far greater than what he allows for.
Really worth you time…
Refreshing perspectives on parenting specifically and relationships generally. Kohn provides an opportunity for the reader to examine and consider the deep and wide impact that behaviorism has on human relationships and whether or not those beliefs are consistent with with one’s own. Both theory and practical applications are offered, but be warned–most of the ways you have approached parenting and other relationship management will be challenged. For older readers, you will likely question much of what you have done and believed. Though Kohn does not specifically acknowledge it, the idea of beginning and building relationships from the base of unconditional love is found in the Christian Bible. Sadly, in my own experience, it is rarely practiced by Christians. If you are a reflective, thinking person who enjoys belief and intellectual challenges, you will enjoy this book–though I must say it could have been better organized. As you read, you may agree that topics are occasionally repeated without a particular purpose.