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Unconditional parenting - please enlighten me.

(21 Posts)
poshsinglemum Sat 01-Aug-09 11:04:35

I am reading ''unconditional parenting'' and there are some things that I do agree with and some things I don't.
The things I do agree with-
To try to avoid manipulating your child.
Not to let grades at school and success be the be all and end all and not to withdraw love based on performance.
Not placing any importance on being better than the child's peers.
Trying to explain why the child shouldn't behave in a certain way and to discuss better ways of behaving.
I also acknowledge that mabe there is a chance that unconditional parenting will lead to better behaviour in the|a future.
I also think that flexibility is important.

HOWEVER there are certain aspects that I don't agree with so far(as I havn't read the whole book.)

The book is against time out as it states that it shows love withdrawal whereas I think that time out gives both parties a chance to cool off. As long as the child is not locked in their room then I don't see the problem really. Also, most parents end time out with a hug which imo shows love.

Also, I think that it is human nature to show pleasure when somebody does something nice to you and displeasure when someone does something horrid. DD is only one but when she is older she will no doubt at some time hit me and/or tell me to f* off. I cannot imagine myself not getting annoyed. I would try and reason with her but if I was to give a negative respense then I also don't see a problem as long as it's not like ''I don't like you when you behave like that.''
Dd already kisses me and it naturally makes me want to hug her and smother her in kisses. This is a positive and natural respeonse to loving behaviour. I would do it even if she didn't kiss me btw but when she is screaming or whinging I don't feel like hugging her as much as I feel like I need my space from that behaviour (rather than wanting space from her.)

I also thing that if your child does a painting or writes a story that you really like or performs really well in a sporting event then what is wrong with congratulating them? The author critisises saying ''Good job!'' But what is wrong with this natural lovong response? Why do we have to ask them why they put this or that in a painting or why they think they managed to score a goal in a match? Why not just give them a positive response?

When I used to do paintings which I loved my dad never used to say ''Good job'' but always used to question why I had done it like that or he also had to critisise my work. It made me loose confidence. I felt that I would never please him. I was gagging for praise? What is wrong with praise if it designed not to manipulate but to congratulate?

I liked some of the book (which I havn't quite finished) but I found it quite waffly and confused. I think that some bullet points with the author's suggested techniques would be useful. But therein lies the problem I think. You can waffle and philosophise with kids all you like but soemtimes we need to show that we don't like how they behave in a clear concise manner.

I am not trying to critisise uc parenting types but I would like someone to set me straight about my misgivings. DD will need me to be consistent in the future and i neec to decide my parenting style.

Maria2007 Sat 01-Aug-09 12:13:58

I haven't read the book but am very interested in what you've written & would love to see what others think. I think I agree with everything that you say. I particularly believe (but again, I stress that I haven't read the book) that naturalness is invaluable in parenting. If parents try to act in a way that is unnatural to them- ie not show pleasure or displeasure when they feel it- their children will surely sense it & where's the honesty there? Also in real life people do show pleasure when someone does something nice for them. They do say 'good job' or 'congratulations' when someone has achieved a goal they set for themselves. And they do show displeasure & even anger when others overstep their boundaries. Parenting- at least part of it- is teaching the child to enter society, so I don't see what the issue would be with teaching these behaviours (or modelling them). In fact, I can imagine all sorts of problems developing is children grow up with their behaviours going unchallenged (or challenged in a 'false' way).

Since I haven't read the book (but am planning to), I'm not going to write anymore. As I said, would love to see what others think.

KTNoo Sat 01-Aug-09 19:38:54

I started a thread about this a while ago - will try to find it and give you the link.

When I first discovered this book it was a bit of a revelation for me. IMO the parenting I received was very conditional - lots of "good girl" in response to anything clever, constant empty threats and boasting to others about my achievements etc.

It was such a relief to me to find additional priorities such as having inquisitive, happy children rather than simply quiet and well-behaved ones. Also I was struggling with my ds (then about 4 I think) who did not respond at all to the "traditional" methods of rewards, time out etc.

I still base a large part of my parenting on this idea, however, like you said, I think the book is sometimes a bit extreme. I do praise my dcs, but try to use the more specific type. I do also let them take natural consequences of their actions. This includes sometimes letting them know how their behaviour makes me feel, e.g. the other day ds wanted an ice-cream and the deal was we would get one after I had done some jobs in town. It wasn't a reward for being "good", it was just easier to do the jobs first then we could go to the park and relax. He whined and complained all around the shops and I did say to him that I knew it was boring etc but we had to do the jobs and if he carried on whining I was going to get fed up and might not feel so inclined to buy the ice-cream! He's 6 now, BTW.

I don't really use time-out, but if ds (or one of the dds, but tends to be ds!) has really lost it and is so angry they just need to calm down, I will put him in his room.

I agree Maria that naturalness is important. I try to be honest with my dcs, which sometimes means showing them I am upset or angry etc. I also liked "The secret of happy children" by Steve Biddulph. My parents were outwardly calm and smiling but I now realise that this was definitely not always the true picture. I think this is very confusing for a child, and it has taken me a lot of my adult life to sort this out in my head and work out how to do it differently with my own dcs.

Hope this helps anyway.

HumphreyCobbler Sat 01-Aug-09 19:49:13

I think that the praise thing is more about not automatically saying "brilliant" to everything your child does and instead taking a continuing and genuine interest in their achievements by encouraging them to talk about what they have done and why they have done it. You reward children with your attention rather than some automatic praise.

I think this is very sound actually, and is one of the things from this book that I used in the classroom. I still said very positive things to children all the time, but I WAS careful not to just automatically say well done, it is more rewarding to show that you have really thought about what they are showing you.

KTNoo Sat 01-Aug-09 19:49:15

Previous thread is here

KTNoo Sat 01-Aug-09 19:52:37

Just realised I started the thread EXACTLY one year ago - spooky....

poshsinglemum Sun 02-Aug-09 11:29:41

KT- that is spooky!

I agree that indescriminate praise is counterproductive- after all, they will fail to enjoy being praised.

I think that the intention behind the book is sound - to be more human and natural with our children but I think that the constant analysing would drive me insane and stop me from being human. I think that it is human to love, be annoyed, frustrated, overjoyed, proud and boastful with our kids as long as we are not using these emotions to abuse them.

I do like the way the book encourages parents to apologise and I suppose the way foward is to adapt, be flexible and review our own style of parenting. I just think that it is his style of waffle that gets on my nerves and that mabe his goal of being perfectly unruffled, patient, consistent and understanding parents is unachievable and guilt inducing.

Interestingly, after a few years of teaching and struggling with dicipline I was very much of the bring back the birch and do what your told because I said so school of thought. However, I was a crap teacher when I thought like that and since having dd I ahve changed my stance on discipline completely.

KTNoo Mon 03-Aug-09 21:55:35

Interesting, posh, I have also radically changed my views since having children. I never thought much about my own childhood before, and automatically started to parent in the same way initially (do as you're told, bribes, punishments etc). I have gradually changed almost all aspects now, for lots of reasons. It's still hard not to revert back into the old way though.

What stood out in the book for me was the part about looking long-term and not just aiming to get your child to do what you want right now. As a child I was always praised for being obedient, quiet, polite, saying the right thing, having the accepted opinions etc. I don't think all that has done me many faviours as an adult - I have had huge problems being assertive and saying what I want rather than what is expected. I want my children to feel they can be honest with me even if they know I won't agree, even if this means a few discipline struggles along the way!

Othersideofthechannel Tue 04-Aug-09 05:53:11

Poshsinglemum, how old were you when you were painting? If your Dad was criticising, I guess these weren't 5 yr olds paintings?

Do you think it would have made a difference if your Dad had just asked questions about your paintings, without the criticism. If he had shown an interest without making any judgements and then asked which you would like best to frame and hang in the house for all to see?

I agree if you are going to criticise someone's work, you should also say something positive otherwise it is too disheartening for them. But is the criticism/praise really necessary?

poshsinglemum Tue 04-Aug-09 14:05:02

I think that praising someone's painting, child or otherwise is a lovely, natural thing to do and I can see no harm in it whatsoever.
The problem lies if you hate the drawing. Do you then lie or pretend you like it as a parent? I think first of all praise and THEN ask questions.

Maria2007 Tue 04-Aug-09 17:10:36

Good question poshsinglemum: what to do when the drawing is crap? grin.

Seriously though, I think that a normal, level-headed, nice person who also happens to be a person will do most of those things & they will come naturally. The people, amongst my friends, who I think of as 'good parents' always show an interest in their children's stuff, and they probably haven't read the book. They also don't screech 'good job!!!!' or 'clever boy!!!!' etc at the first opportunity, although they do praise when it feels natural & they do show displeasure when that seems natural too.

I do agree that it's not a great idea to overpraise one's child for their achievements. Similarly, I'm not much one for punishments & the whole reward / star-charts thing (although I know it works for some parents). But on the other hand the idea that you have to explain everything in detail & talk to your children instead of getting angry, exasperated, frustrated etc- or always being able to talk rationally when you're feeling anything but- seems to me frankly unattainable & completely idealistic.

(As a footnote, I can easily imagine pretty horrible / self-satisfied human beings thinking they're practicing 'unconditional parenting' and doing it in a completely unnatural & silly way. But I guess that's true of all things. Which is why I don't really believe in trying to follow this or that style of parenting, it's all about being yourself).

PortAndLemon Tue 04-Aug-09 17:42:09

I think part of the problem with Unconditional Parenting as described by Alfie Kohn is that he is very non-specific about what you should do instead... I found that a generally UP-sympathetic book with some far more specific suggestions is Smart Love by Martha and William Pieper.

Bear in mind that I haven't read the book for over a year, but my thoughts are:

I think there are many different definitions of "time out" and that's partly the confusion. I suspect that no one would have an issue with an "I think we both need some time to cool down" sorts of time out. Personally I always resisted the idea of anything time-outey but have found that actually five minutes on his own in his room is one of the best techniques for handling DS and gets us out of long drawn out battles of wills. One thing I have taken from UP is that I try to always describe it as, for example "You are getting very worked up. I think you need five minutes in your room to calm down." rather than a "punishment" thing. I think that perception does make a difference. And DS does quite often just take himself unbidden off to his room to calm down for a few minutes now, which I see as a positive thing.

The emotion thing I can't actually remember what Alfie Kohn says about, but I tend to take the opinion that describing my feelings is fine. So I am happy to say "I feel very angry about that" or "I am very sad that that got broken" or "I am really happy that you and DD played so nicely together while I cooked dinner". I want the DCs to be aware of and able to talk about their own feelings, and I don't see how they'll manage that if they never see me talk about mine.

I do tend to agree with him on the "Good job" thing. It's vague and nonspecific and blah. But on the other hand always being noncommittal and "well, how do you feel about it?" will drive a child to distraction over time, as you found with your father. What I do with DS is make specific comments either about the painting or about my reaction to it. So when he shows me a painting he's spent a lot of time on I may say "Wow, you used some really bright colours there!" or "You've drawn DD in a stripy top just like the one she's wearing!" or something like that. And if I also like it then I might say something like "I like the big smile on the lion's face. He looks really happy and that makes me feel happy too" -- but again, being specific about something he's taken the trouble to do that I am responding to, rather than "Lovely picture" or "I really like your painting", IYSWIM. I can't actually remember what AK thinks about that...

And I try to remember, when DS does something nice for someone else, to draw his attention to the effect on the other person rather than saying "Well done!" or "That was very kind of you" -- so for example "Jessie looked very happy when you fetched her ball for her" or "DD is very happy that you shared your biscuit". And similarly for negative stuff, describing the effect on other people (if possible) rather than labelling the behaviour. If I want him to generally get into the habit of thinking about other people and the effect his actions have on them then, again, I think I should try to model that kind of reaction for him.

I suppose what I do is sort of Unconditional Parenting lite. DS in particular does seem to need much firmer boundaries than I suspect Alfie Kohn would approve of, but I aspire to unconditionality and try to follow as many of the ideas as possible as much of the time as possible. Some days that is more than others, though...

Maria2007 Tue 04-Aug-09 18:09:01

(Oooops! Well I meant to say 'a level headed nice person who also happens to be a PARENT').

COME ON MUMSNET: We need that edit button!!!!!!!

bananabrain Tue 04-Aug-09 22:40:39

I found the book a really interesting read and like KTNoo said what made big impression was the idea of looking at the long term - what qualities do you think will help your child in their life - not just 'how do we get children to behave how we want right now' which is the focus of so much parenting advice.
I'd always felt uncomfortable with star charts, and Alfie Kohn explained really well the difference between a child behaving 'well' or doing something you want because they actually want to rather than for some reward, and how that is far more positive in the long term. I have seen for myself how children can get so used to getting stickers etc. for doing something that they end up only interested in getting the reward rather than the task itself. Once the reward isn;t there they don't want to know!
I do find, like others have said, that sometimes I need firmer boundaries than he suggests, and I do praise my dcs a lot. I still sometimes use bribes blush and 'consequences' though often I wish could think of a better way, but as someone else said Alfie Kohn doesn't give really solid ideas for what to do instead. I do think using the UP approach to some extent has been helpful - in fact I might read it again to remind myself next time I start to say 'If you do that again I'll.....'

KTNoo Tue 04-Aug-09 22:54:39

Love the idea of "UP Lite" Port and Lemon! Could we market that do you think?

I know my UP failure flashpoints - usually bath/bed time. Tired and grumpy Mummy really NEEDING to get 3 tired and grumpy kids into bed with DH still not home. I am so worn out by then that I don't even care sometimes - I can hear myself saying unhelpful things but can't seem to stop myself! Maybe I need an alarm to go off or something...."STOP AND THINK STOP AND THINK STOP AND THINK...."

PortAndLemon Wed 05-Aug-09 12:29:55

Bedtime was where I started to doubt the practical efficacy of a lot of this -- specifically, a 3yo does need to go to bed. There's plenty of research in general showing how much sleep they need and the consequences of not getting it, and specific to DS showing that no matter how much he protests that he's not tired, once you get him into bed he's out like a light within five minutes and sleeps solidly through to morning. So there comes a point where as a responsible parent you have to make them go to bed, whether they like it or not. AK makes it sound in the book as though the sorts of incidents where you need to assert your agenda over theirs will be few and far between, but so far as I can see if you have a child who does not want to go to bed for hours and hours then they are more of a daily occurrence (I did wonder how the little Kohns were about bedtime).

KTNoo Wed 05-Aug-09 16:30:34

I agree PortandLemon - if I don't get them into bed at a reasonable time and get some evening to myself, there's no way I could be even a half-decent parent the next day.

Othersideofthechannel Thu 06-Aug-09 06:24:21

"AK makes it sound in the book as though the sorts of incidents where you need to assert your agenda over theirs will be few and far between"

I think he also says that these will differ in most households apart from the obvious safety ones like being strapped in a car seat.

I remember that he says 'why shouldn't your child sit backwards on the chair during meals if they want' but that's just not on in my house. But I am sure there are people who wouldn't mind, who don't think it is important that little ones sit at the table to eat.

Othersideofthechannel Thu 06-Aug-09 06:27:21

Re Bedtime, I agree.
Alot of people who don't do bedtimes don't have to go any where the next day (eg home schooling).
But if you are off to work or older children off to school, bedtime is necessary.

KTNoo Thu 06-Aug-09 14:53:43

I think AK only has one child, if I remember rightly. Lots of things are possible with 1 dc which are impossible with 2, 3 or more. For example, if the child didn't want to go to bed you could have a long discussion about why we need sleep and what could make it easier to go to bed etc, then you could lie next to the child if that's what he/she wanted. I could not lie next to all 3, so I shut the bedroom doors and they are not allowed to come out without a very good reason!

PortAndLemon Thu 06-Aug-09 15:04:41

On another thread someone said that he had two, but with a reasonably large age gap. And alfiekohn.org claims two as well. Certainly, the examples in Unconditional Parenting do mostly (?all?) seem to involve his daughter at times when she was an only child.

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