I've read the whole book now but I'm still mulling it over in my head. I've made notes on each of the chapters and thought I would write a little bit about them on the blog to see if I can figure out what I think about it all. This post is just the beginning, with a few quotes from the introduction. There are ten chapters, but I'm not certain I'll post about all of them.
Essentially, Mr. Kohn is suggesting we consider seriously the use of rewards and punishments in our parenting. He uses the phrase unconditional parenting to describe a type of parenting vastly different from what you may encounter in typical parenting magazines or books. Frankly, it might be vastly different from anything you see in your neighborhood. Even after reading the book, I find it a little difficult to define this parenting style. It begins with the desire to fulfill a child's needs and a refusal to make those needs subservient to eliciting a particular behavior from the child.
In unconditional parenting, parents don't do things to a child (like send him to a time-out or physically move his hand to grab a toy and drop it into a toy box). Instead, it means working with a child to solve problems.
[C]onventional 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.After reading the whole book, I have to admit, I like the ideas. If I were to imagine myself as the perfect parent, this book has described exactly how I'd like to talk with my children and the way I'd like to build a relationship with them. Repeatedly, I found myself recalling Parenting with Grace and, though they don't mention this book at all, I think they'd agree with many of the suggestions.
Are my everyday practices likely to help my children grow into the kind of people I'd like them to be? Will the things I just said to my child at the supermarket contribute in some small way to her becoming happy and balanced and independent and fulfilled and so on--or is it possible (gulp) that the way I tend to handle such situations makes those outcomes less likely? If so, what should I be doing instead?This quote is one of the reasons this book captured my attention. In the past, I've sometimes wondered if my behavior as we rush the kids out the door to go to Mass hindered my ability to receive the blessings of the Mass itself. Now I also wonder if it hinders the ability of the children to receive those blessings. Perhaps it's better to be a few minutes late and to arrive without having yelled at the older ones or physically wrestled a smaller one into clothes she doesn't want to wear. Is she in a state of mind to listen and learn, to feel loved by Jesus in the Eucharist? Or is she spending the entire Mass fretting about her clothes or wondering why Mama yelled?
I used to think I wanted my children to be quiet at church, for them to pay attention. Now I'm wondering if my real goes isn't that they learn to love the Mass. How should my behavior at Mass with them be different to address this loftier goal? How should my expectations of them change now and as they grow to meet that goal?
After relating an incident where a fellow passenger on an airplane complimented the parents of a child who was quiet by saying he was good:
Consider for a moment the key word in that sentence. Good is an adjective often laden with moral significance. It can be a synonym for ethical or honorable or compassionate. However, where children are concerned, the word is just as likely to mean nothing more than quiet--or, perhaps, not a pain in the butt to me. Overhearing that comment in the plane, I had a little ding! moment of my own. I realized that this is what many people in our society seem to want most from children: not that they are caring or creative or curious, but simply that they are well behaved. A "good" child--from infancy to adolescence--is one who isn't too much trouble to us grown-ups.Alfie Kohn has no illusions that this kind of parenting is easy. One of my fears is that this kind of parenting is impossible. Thinking about it more, I am reminded again of Parenting with Grace. The "Grace" in the title doesn't mean parenting in a graceful way, calm and composed. It means parenting with the Grace of God. Though Mr. Kohn doesn't seem to be a religious person, I'm not sure I could possible succeed even a little in unconditional parenting without the grace of God.
There are times when my best strategies fall flat, when my patience runs out, when I just want my kids to do what I tell them. It's hard to keep the big picture in mind when one of my children is shrieking in a restaurant. For that matter, it's sometimes hard to remember the kind of people we want to be when we're in the middle of a hectic day, or when we feel the pull of less noble impulses. It's hard, but it's still worthwhile.There is the great question this book has raised in my mind: Am I the kind of person I want to be when I am with my children? Am I the kind of person I want them to be?