a look at “Unconditional Parenting”

I’m reading Alfie Kohn’s book Unconditional Parenting. It’s thought provoking and challenges our assumptions about parenting (which, when you get down to it, often times translate into ASSumptions, but I digress…). Often times our disciplinary tactics send the message to children that we only love them when they do what we want. Haven’t got through much of it, but this comment by Dr. William Sears on the back cover was rather interesting: “This book underscores an important parenting principle: Discipline is more about having the right relationship with your child than having the right techniques.” Got me interested already.

One gripe I have about gentle discipline as it is perceived in the world today is that it’s often times confused for permissiveness and namby-pamby, lassiez-faire parenting where these new-agey parents spout some psychobabble over lattes as their progeny run amok, creating all sorts of havoc in the well-organized world.


Anyway. In an interview with Alfie Kohn he was asked if he wasn’t just advocating permissive parenting. His response?

First of all, the real problem today isn’t permissiveness. It’s the fear of permissiveness. We’re so afraid of spoiling our kids that we err in the opposite direction. I mean, sure, I’ve been annoyed by screaming children in restaurants whose parents don’t lift a finger to intervene, but for every example like that, there are hundreds of examples of children who are restricted unnecessarily, yelled at, threatened — basically bullied by their parents. Spend some time at a playground or a birthday party, you’ll see what I mean. The real parenting epidemic in our society is the tendency to overcontrol children. And, by the way, liberal, educated parents tend to use techniques that are less crude but no less controlling. My second point, though, is that I’m not arguing for more permissiveness. Kids don’t need us to back off and let them do whatever the hell they want, any more than they need us to control them. That’s a false dichotomy, and I reject both options. The real alternative to doing things to kids is to work with them.

(emphasis added)

That last bit is just brilliant: “Kids don’t need us to back off and let them do whatever the hell they want, any more than they need us to control them.”

I also like that parting shot at “liberal parents” too because I have seen some parenting books try to come off as being gentle and anti-punishment, etc. etc. but are really just more refined forms of the same thing. Call a spade a spade, please.

I’m looking forward to see what practical ideas Kohn has for parents in the trenches.


One thought on “a look at “Unconditional Parenting”

  1. I remember reading something on the Sears’ website regarding discipline that made me smile. I forget the precise wording, but the basic gist was that gentle, effective discipline starts with connecting with your child on a deep basis. If you have a relationship built on trust, respect and an acknowledgement of gentle parental authority, then it becomes much easier to help a child understand when certain behaviour is inappropriate – and when a parent knows and connects with a child on a profound basis, then that parent can better understand the child’s motivation and reasoning.

    Hmm. I need to learn to paraphrase more succinctly! However…the point of gentle parenting and discipline beginning with deep connection and understanding IS something that makes sense to me. Working with a child, and developing his or her understanding of acceptable behaviour and boundaries, is surely a more effective way to instill a sense of ethics and awareness than EITHER bullying or neglectful indifference?

    Just my (as usual, over-long) two-penceworth. 😉


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