unconditional parenting…

Along the same lines of Haim Ginott’s Between Parent and Child, Alfie Kohn’s Unconditional Parenting provides an updated version on the same concepts of consensual living while coining the term unconditional parenting. I’ve long been a fan and advocate of several of his books and his stance on parenting, although we disagree on education. I’ve recommended Unconditional Parenting to many parents. I’ve found that most parents who take the time to actually read the book agree with this line of thinking – living consensually with their children.

The problem with Unconditional Parenting is that many parents read the book, agree with the concepts, and yet have a hard time with the aftermath. The book is purely philosohpical without suggestions for practical applications. This is hard for many people who are left with the feeling that one parent expressed to me, “I completely agree with the concepts. I feel like I’ve been sucking as a parent. What do I do now?”

Kohn’s Unconditional Parenting is definitely worth the time to read, although it lacks some of the practical examples given by Ginott. I would go so far as to say it’s worth adding to your home library. Just be prepared for further reading along the lines of consensual living if you find yourself in the “I suck. What do I do now?” camp. Anyone who knows me knows that continued reading is something I advocate, anyway.

Unconditional Parenting is a good introduction to the philosophy behind consensual living. If you don’t have time to read the book, Kohn has a DVD titled the same. At around two hours, it’s a great start for parents with limited time or those with partners who aren’t inclined to read parenting books. Make a date with your partner to watch the DVD and change the way you think.

between parent and child…

Before Alfie Kohn, Pam Leo, Naomi Aldort, or many of the other consensually living authors of our time, there was Dr. Haim GinottGinott revolutionized the parenting and psychology worlds with his new philosophy on communicating with children. His book, Between Parent and Child, was on the national best seller list for over a year when it was written in 1965. While the republished version, edited and ammended by his wife Dr. Alice Ginott, has been updated, it retains the same basic premise.

First and foremost, children need compassion and understanding from their parents. They need to hear that their feelings, wishes, and dreams are acknowledged by us and that those internal feelings are always acceptable, although the resulting behaviors may not be.  Guidance, not criticism, will help them to convey their thoughts and feelings in appropriate manners. As parents – the indviduals whom our children should be able to count on and trust more than anyone else, the words we use hold much more power and we should be cognizant of that when we speak with them. By modeling effective communication and giving our children the opportunities needed in order for them to develop their own responsibility, we will be helping them develop the skills they need.

If you are looking for one book to add to your home library this year, I would strongly recommend putting this one on your list of possibilities.

the disadvantages of time-out…

Photo by Ken Wilcox

While some American parents are beginning to question the use of hitting (aka spanking) as a form of disciplining children, the use of time out is on the rise, as evidenced by the popularity of such shows as Supernanny and Nanny 911 (read about Alfie Kohn’s views on the subject in his article Atrocious Advice from Supernanny).  The premise behind the traditional use of time-out as a punishment is to give the child  time to think about what they have done based on B.F. Skinner’s theory of operant conditioning, though Skinner himself was against the use of punishment in an attempt to control children’s behavior. While many parents believe that the use of time-out is less punitive and harmful than hitting, even being touted by many who supposedly practice gentle discipline, evidence shows otherwise. This authoritarian approach is a form of bullying.

Children placed in isolated time-out do not think about what they have done. They are not spending the time cooling off, thinking about how they could better have handled the situation or how they might rectify it. Instead, most children will go through multiple emotions – fear that they are not loved because of their behavior, anger at the situation and the person responsible for sending them to time-out or at the other person involved in the original situation, blame, anxiety or confusion if the child doesn’t undertsand what is going one. They learn that by bullying someone holding less power than you, you can get your own way. Aletha Solter has a concise article concerning The Disadvantages of Time-Out at the Aware Parenting Institute.

Time-outs, besides resulting in a myriad of other problems, do not address the original issue. Children in time-out are not learning new coping or communication skills which they can use to solve problems and conflicts. They aren’t thinking about solutions for the current situation. The concept that children must feel badly about themselves in order to learn stems from beliefs that children are born evil and must be taught to be good. There is a definite need for parents to examine their own histories and philosophies before any significant change can be made in our culture. Until then, the cycle will continue.

the five love languages of children…

The Five Love Languages of Children, by Gary Chapman and Ross Campbell, is not in and of itself a book about consensual living. It does skirt the issue of consensual living, though, and has merit for some parents. The book as a whole would be stronger if the authors had chosen to make the book either secular or religious, instead of their attempt at straddling both worlds. The outside of the book and publisher reviews make no reference to religious content. Single biblical references in each of the first two chapters lead to long Christian sections further in the book. Parents looking for a book without religious references will be sorely disappointed by the inclusion of religious references and opinion. Parents looking for a religious reference would be better served with a book that is straight forward regarding its references and position and which continues that theme throughout the entire book.

The book begins by addressing unconditional love, a term made more popular by Alfie Kohn. This is a concept often misunderstood by mainstream parents, and the authors clarify that while parents may always love their children, it’s the perception of the child that matters. This is an important distinction to make for parents. The concept of a love well, similar to Lawrence Cohen’s love cup, is also addressed at the beginning and utilized throughout the book. It is important that our children feel loved, and the book adequately addresses this fact. However, the beginning of the book, as well as various other parts, seem to meander around without clear focus, perhaps as a result of having two authors writing together; although other authors in a similar partnership, such as Faber and Mazlish, seem to do just fine with this approach.

The center portion of the book addresses what the authors refer to as the five love languages, defined by them as: physical touch, words of affirmation, quality time, gifts, and acts of service. The love languages seem to be loosely based on neuro-linguistic programming, with an emphasis on communication. I can’t argue with the concept of good communication and conveying to your children that you love them unconditionally. However, the overall concept is better explored with non-violent communication and other books on connection parenting. The authors begin addressing the concept of authority and the training of children towards the end of this section.

The last third of the book focuses greatly on training your children properly with love. The concept of training children stems from the belief held by many conservative religions that children are inherently bad and that without our help, they are incapable of making good decisions. This is not a concept held by families practicing consensual living nor by the world of psychology in general. The authors go on to end the book by addressing how their particular religious beliefs affect their parenting and how it should affect yours.

I would recommend this book to Christian parents who aren’t quite on board with consensual living or non-coercive parenting, but who are looking for more gentle ways to interact with and communicate with their children. Consensually living families will find the concepts of unconditional love and the expression of such more adequately addressed in other books.