book review: unconditional parenting

I do not have kids. I don’t have plans to parent any time soon. I am happy my job does not require me to be actually responsible for the long-term development of children. But I have friends with kids, and one of them recommended Alfie Kohn’s Unconditional Parenting to all his friends with toddlers as a way to look at discipline and the kinds of things people should be looking for rather than blind obedience from their spawn.

The first half of the book looks at the whole notion of reward and punishment as both being bad because they rely on the notion that parents do not love their kids unconditionally. That when the kid is bad and is punished by withdrawing love, or when doing something good means she’s showered with affection it changes the way a developing mind thinks of the world. Kohn is looking at that “sticker generation” phenomenon of rewards for every little thing and saying that doesn’t teach kids to think about what others actually want (just like a forced apology is no apology).

The second half deals with what parents can do instead. It’s explicitly anti-behaviourist, in that Kohn’s thesis is you shouldn’t train a kid the way you train a pet. There are bits about observing what a kid does and asking questions rather than just saying “Great job!” Taking the kid’s perspective into account and working with it to get things done, that sort of stuff that might be hard to do in the middle of a rushed morning but that is at least a bit reflective on the whole process of child-rearing.

It’s not a step by step to raising kids differently, but it’s an interesting book of ideals.

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