Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Book Discussion: Chapter 5 of Unconditional Parenting

The quotes in this post are all from the fifth chapter of Unconditional Parenting: Moving from Rewards and Punishments to Love and Reason by Alfie Kohn: Pushed to Succeed.

This was probably my least favorite chapter in the book. I think there are times when competition can be a good thing for anyone. (I read an article in the NY Times recently that even argued some people experience the brain chemistry changes when in competition or under stress in such a way that their performance improves. Fascinating.)

Mr. Kohn claims universally, that competition is detrimental.
[T]he effect isn't limited to "excessive" competition. Rather, it appears that anytime children are set against one another such that one can succeed only by making others fail, there is a psychological price to be paid.
But he doesn't have any end note for this statement - no studies whatsoever. As far as I can tell, this statement is merely his opinion.

I'm not a competitive person. (If Kansas Dad is still reading these posts about Unconditional Parenting, he just spit coffee all over his desk. My lack of competition is a bit of an understatement; I dread competition.) I think a race, for example, may encourage First Son to pump his legs just a bit faster than he might otherwise and, even if he doesn't win, he might be pleasantly surprised at how quickly he could run or (even better) how much fun it is to run.

Not that I'm certain.

This is the chapter where he talks about grades. These aren't really an issue for us since we homeschool. My kids don't even know what grades are. I could write a lot about grades, but I'll try to limit myself. Grades are not a measure of anything children have learned; they are the best the system could do to devise an "objective" measure by which children can be sorted, categorized, and compared by people who don't know the children in question. An interview and portfolio would be a far better way to assess people, even for college, but I suppose most universities would consider it too difficult.
What's troubling about this is not that kids may end up with lower grades. After all, I've been arguing that grades aren't terribly meaningful. Rather, what ought to concern us is the possibility that kids may fight back against the pressure to do better in school by investing less effort, with the result that they actually learn less. Never mind disappointing report cards: If we push children too hard, they may wind up doing less (or poorer quality) thinking.
He seems to see no way in which participating in sports is worthwhile. If there's someone losing, then any effort we as parents make to encourage our children to participate ("Just do your best." "We're only here to have fun.") is really just an attempt to cover up our true feelings: That you must win in order for me to love you. I'm not sure I believe that. I think it's completely possible to encourage participation in sports in order to foster a love of using our bodies, of being healthy and well, and of the benefits of perseverance and practice.

Simplicity Parenting claimed that the real benefit to sports and other competitive things came for adolescents, that it suited their particular needs to excel, to become an individual, to push themselves, to find their skills and preferences, and that pushing children to compete (even for fun) at earlier ages simply tired them out before they were able to reap the benefits. I found this argument convincing. It was interesting to note in the Times article linked above that providing opportunities to compete actually helps people become better at competing, or at least at performing in competitive or stressful situations, which we all must face at some time in our lives.

Previous posts on Unconditional Parenting

Thoughts on the Introduction
Discussion of quotes from chapter 1
Discussion of quotes from chapter 2
Discussion of quotes from chapter 3
Discussion of quotes from chapter 4

Sunday, March 24, 2013

The Catholic Company Book Review: Holy Crocodile

by Caroline Cory

You know I just can't resist a children's book on saints, right?

This is a nice hardcover book with large full-color illustrations for each saint story. Most of the stories are a page or two long (with an additional page for the illustration). Usually they tell of just a brief episode in a saint's life, one which involves (not surprisingly) an animal.

The illustrations are bright, in a "scribble" style (as described by the author and illustrator). They are perhaps not the my favorite style, but the children seem to love them. First Son keeps picking up this book and flipping through it. (I wouldn't let him read it until I'd finished my review because I was afraid I wouldn't be able to find it when I had a minute to sit down and write something. He'll be very happy when I hand it over to him.)

There is not much biographical information on any of the saints, just enough to tell the story. While I appreciate the pronunciation guides for names within the stories, it would be nice if there were a little more, perhaps an index in the back or a list with their countries or dates. Some of them might be hard to investigate more because names are recorded differently in various sources. For example, the story of St. Jerome and the Lion is here, but Jerome is "Gerasimos (Ju-RAY-zee-mos)" which may very well be more accurate than Jerome, but "Jerome" is the way I've always seen it.

Some of the stories are funny, some are exciting, some are truly miraculous. A few have morals, but many of them are just interesting stories of the saints, such as we might tell if something unusual happened to us. I've read a lot of saint stories in the past few years and there were quite a few here I had not read before, so there's a nice mix of the familiar and the new.

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
This review was written as part of the Catholic book reviewer program from The Catholic Company. Visit The Catholic Company to find more information on Holy Crocodile!. The Catholic Company is the best resource for all your seasonal needs such as First Communion gifts as well as ideas and gifts for the special papal Year of Faith. (Speaking of First Communion gifts, I highly recommend Man to Mangia, the Altar Gang CD on the Eucharist. It's my favorite of the Altar Gang CDs and perfect for sacrament prep or celebration.)

Monday, March 18, 2013

Big News!

Kansas Dad got tenure!

Hooray! Hooray! Hooray!

In other news, choir, basketball, and soccer have started up again and Kansas Dad and I are doing another round of P90X. Since nothing ended, I'm feeling a little strapped for time and blogging seems to have finally ended up at the low end of the priority list. (The kids are a lot more demanding about eating lunch than reading a new blog post. Who would have guessed?)

Maybe once we get past Easter, I'll have figured things out a bit. In the meantime, I'll probably blog irregularly, if at all.

You probably won't miss me that much.

Have a blessed Easter!

Did I mention Kansas Dad got tenure?

Yeah, he's awesome.

Friday, March 8, 2013

February 2013 Book Reports

When Helping Hurts by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert (library copy)

My First Book of Saints by Kathleen M. Muldoon and Susan Helen Wallace, FSP (a review for The Catholic Company)

Walk the Worlds Rim by Betty Baker is the tale of Chakoh, a Native American who travels with three Spaniards and a black slave shortly after the discovery of the New World by Europeans. I found it thought-provoking and reasonably well-written, but it is a novel for someone ready to face some of the abuses, misunderstandings, and wrongs of the Church. There are a lot of things the novel brings up like how missionaries converted the Native Americans and in the ways they failed to convey the true meaning of our faith. Finally, I think there could be a lot of good discussions about slavery and freedom. I don't think I'll read this one aloud, but I do think there could be some good discussions with a middle school or high school student who was reading it independently. (library copy)

Daisy Dawson Is on Her Way! by Steve Voake is one I picked up somewhere and am so glad I did. It's a sweet little chapter book about Daisy, who is learning too much on her way to school to be there on time. She pauses to rescue a butterfly from a spider and is rewarded with a marvelous gift. There's just enough adventure to be exciting for little ones. I intend to ask First Daughter to read this aloud to me next year in first grade. There are five Daisy books so far and, if they are like the first one, this would be a great series for very young readers ready for chapter books. The illustrations are well done, too. (purchased copy)

The Whipping Boy by Sid Fleischman tells the adventures of a spoiled prince who runs away, dragging his whipping boy along with him, in search of freedom and, perhaps, a friend. It's a bit like a tall tale and would probably appeal to boys who are young readers. I intend to ask First Son if he'd like to read it, but I wouldn't assign it. (It's also below his reading level at this point.) I can't imagine why it won the Newbery medal as I'd say it's merely acceptable. Fleischman's By the Great Horn Spoon! is far superior. (library copy)

Mieko and the Fifth Treasure by Eleanor Coerr tells of Mieko, a ten-year-old talented Japanese calligrapher whose arm is badly injued by the Nagasaki bomb. I will share it with my third grade son this year if I decide to cover the atomic bombings. It gently touches on how the bombs changed a child's life without being too scary. It is also a sweet story of courage, friendship, perseverance, and personal growth. Ms. Coerr was born in Canada, but visited Japan as a young woman and lived there for a number of years. (purchased copy)

Simple Living - 30 days to less stuff and more life by Lorilee Lippincott is a short Kindle book with exercises for each of 30 days ranging from clearing off your counters (of everything for at least a week) to unsubscribing from email lists if you don't read them regularly. There's even a little section on facebook. I didn't find anything here I hadn't heard before, but I think it's nice to have little reminders of things I can do to ease the clutter in our lives. I was inspired to move a few things around and pass a few things on to others who can use them. (read for free from the Kindle Owners' Lending Library)

Quo Vadis by Henryk Sienkiewicz (library copy)

Hoot by Carl Hiaasen is the story of a middle-school student, new and bullied, who is intrigued by the mystery of a running boy. In the end, he makes some friends, stands up to the bullies, and learns a little about caring for his home (wherever that is). I enjoyed it, but it's certainly a book I would reserve for older children. There are instances of physical abuse and neglect in addition to the struggles with bullies, a topic incredibly difficult to address. (copy received for free in a book promotion)

The Blue Castle by L. M. Montgomery (purchased copy)

Books in Progress (and date started)

Thursday, March 7, 2013

2012 Advent Picture-Book-a-Day: The New and Noteworthy

I know, I know, it's still Lent and I'm still writing about Advent, but I can't help myself. Feel free to ignore! I'll try to post a reminder about this post when Advent 2013 is actually upon us.

For the third year, I wrapped picture books for the children to unwrap before we read them each day during Advent and into the Christmas season. I scheduled them through January 6th, the Feast of the Epiphany. Last year, I chose two books for many days, but I decided to limit myself to one book a day this year, except for Sundays. On Sundays during Advent, we read one book of the Nativity in addition to another book. I made notes of some very wonderful books that will definitely be on the list for next year as we didn't read them all this year.

During Holy Week last spring, we read the story of the Passion in many different books and the children became a little tired of it. I wanted to be certain that didn't happen with the Nativity story, so I tried to select books that covered a wide range of Advent and Christmas experiences.

Finally, I selected a few additional books to put in a book basket each week for the children to look through on their own or that I would read aloud if they asked. I found they glanced through them all but almost never asked me to read them.

Originally I was going to list all the books we read during Advent and Christmas for our picture-book-a-day, but it's long past Advent now. I've also been writing about this activity for a few years and many of the books appear year after year. So instead, I'm going to write about a few of the ones we enjoyed the most or that were new this year and put some links to my old posts at the end for people who are really interested.

One Starry Night by Lauren Thompson, illustrated by Jonathan Bean. We hadn't read this book before. I liked the text and loved the colors of the illustrations, but the actual illustrations just didn't appeal to me that much. The children seemed to enjoy it, though.

Why the Chimes Rang by Raymond Macdonald Alden is the wonderful story of two young boys who set out on a journey to the great cathedral to see the Christmas Mass. Along the way, they encounter a poor woman freezing in the snow. The older boy stays with her to keep her warm and alive until help can come while the younger one goes on alone. It is a story of great sacrifice that most pleases the Lord and my dear sweet Second Daughter wanted to give pennies at church for weeks after we read this story. It's usually found in a collection of stories (like this one) but I recently received a nice illustrated hardcover from PaperBackSwap that contains only this story.

Bright Christmas: An Angel Remembers by Andrew Clements is written from an angel's point of view. Kansas Dad isn't sure the presentation of the angel is perfect (though he didn't say we shouldn't read it), but I do like how the story places an emphasis of how everything was prepared for Jesus and his birth was an extraordinary event in time. Nothing else like it had ever happened before or will ever happen again.

Silver Packages: An Appalachian Christmas Story by Cynthia Rylant is the story of a young boy who receives a silver-wrapped Christmas gift each year that is not the doctor's set he wants but perfectly meets his needs. When he is grown, his heart aches for something and he remembers how he benefited by those packages and wonders what he can do to pass on that gift, the gift of sharing what others need just when they need it.

This Is the Star by Joyce Dunbar tells the Nativity story in verse with some beautiful illustrations by Gary Blythe.

The Third Gift by Linda Sue Park was another new one for us this year and one I was excited to share. It's the tale of a gifted tradesman who collects the resin from very special trees. One of his greatest finds becomes a precious gift for a new-born baby.

The Spider's Gift: A Ukrainian Christmas Story by Katya Krenina shows how compassion for the smallest of God's creatures can turn into something beautiful.

Good King Wenceslas with illustrations by John Wallner is one of many versions of the carol available in picture books. I like to choose a new one every year from the library. One of these is a good choice for December 26th, which is the feast of St. Stephen.

Mr. Willowby's Christmas Tree by Robert Barry is a sweet little story of the top of a Christmas tree that blesses a variety of people and animals. The illustrations are wonderful. If you can't find a copy of this book, you could also try Just Right for Christmas, a relatively new book that tells a very similar story.

The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey by Susan Wojciechowski is known to nearly everyone. This was the first year I've read it with the children and was pleased at how well they listened. The illustrations in this book are realistic and so warm!

The Twelve Days of Christmas illustrated by Jane Ray. We always seem to read at least one version of this song because the children enjoy it so much. I think this version is my favorite. I love the illustrations; they're entertaining and charming.

B Is for Bethlehem by Isabel Wilner is, of course, a Christmas alphabet. It's marvelous. I don't always love Elisa Kleven's books, but this one is nearly perfect. I hope someday we own this book. I'll read it myself after the children have outgrown picture books.

The Christmas Coat: Memories of My Sioux Childhood by Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve is a book I wanted to share with the children because it describes a particular Christmas in a particular place and time. Virginia needs a new coat. This book tells of the one she receives and how she is able to practice the virtues of patience and selflessness before she is blessed by others.

As I said, I've already made a note of some wonderful books we'll read during Advent in 2013, some old favorites we skipped in 2012 and a few new ones I found but couldn't fit in this year (or read after they were returned by someone else in January). Be sure to let me know if you've read any gems I've missed!

Past Advent-Picture-Book-a-Day Booklists

2010 list (the first year we did this activity)
2011 first week of Advent
2011 second week of Advent
2011 third week of Advent
2011 fourth week of Advent
my favorite five (or seven) Christmas picture books (2012)
an additional Christmas book for My Favorite Picture Books (2012)

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

My Favorite Picture Books: Harold and the Purple Crayon

Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson

Every once in a while I write about a book I suppose everyone already knows. We have enjoyed Harold and the Purple Crayon for years. I selected a book from the series for my nephew for Christmas when he was five. His family had never seen any of them before. He loved it so much, he begged his mom to come out after his bedtime story to give me a kiss as a thank you. How sweet is that?

Harold's purple crayon is magical. Together they create an adventure that's full of fun, humor, and just the right amount of scariness. There's text on most pages, but in a real way the simple purple line illustrations in the book are the story.

Please, if you have not read this book, slip into your library or local bookstore and find a copy. You will not regret it. You might not even be able to resist taking it home with you.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Book Discussion: Chapter 4 of Unconditional Parenting

The quotes in this post are all from the fourth chapter of Unconditional Parenting: Moving from Rewards and Punishments to Love and Reason by Alfie Kohn: Punitive Damages.
Announcing how we plan to punish children ("Remember, if you do x, then I'll do y to you") may salve our conscience because we gave them fair warning, but all we've really done is threaten them. We've told them in advance exactly how we'll make them suffer if they fail to obey.
Oh, my, this is exactly what I do when I'm trying to get my kids into the van after an excursion - almost word for word, "Remember, if you can't leave when it's time, then next time someone asks us to come to the zoo, I'll have to say no because you wouldn't leave when it was time." I thought I was being reasonable. Is it really just a threat? What's the unconditional parenting way to get them into the van when it's time to go? (The last time we went to the zoo, I ended up carrying Second Son kicking and screaming to the van but I didn't use this line. I wonder if that was an unconditional parenting success or failure?)

Then there are "natural consequences." Using natural consequences as a parenting method
invites parents to discipline by inaction--that is, by refusing to help. If a child is late for dinner, we're supposed to let her go hungry. If she leaves her raincoat at school, we're supposed to let her get wet the following day...the far more powerful lesson that she's likely to take away is that we could have helped--but didn't.
I used to think this is a great way for kids to learn about consequences of their actions. As children grow into teenagers and young adults, I believe they can take more responsibility for their own lives and, when they have everything they need to be successful and know that they are now the responsible party, I think there could be great benefit to allowing them to experience consequences. However, I do not think this is a good tactic for young children. If my four year old refuses to take her coat to the zoo (which she did), I do not think I should let her shiver in the winter chill all day long. She is simply not capable of rationally making a decision about leaving her coat.

As children age, they can take greater responsibility for their actions. A teenager may very well have to suffer consequence for something like missing the bus, but I think it's a far stronger position as a parent to sit down with him and say something like, "I'm sorry you have missed the bus. Let's think together about how to handle this situation. Do you have any suggestions?" In this way, we can help develop problem-solving skills in our children, modeling the thought process as necessary. Perhaps more importantly, (hopefully) they will understand that we will always be available for help if they do get in over their heads.

Mr. Kohn writes that people continue to punish when it doesn't seem to be working (in gaining compliance), but I didn't find that a compelling argument against punishment at all. His method probably isn't going to work on the first try, either. Parenting young children in particular will always seem to be a circular endeavor; we have to repeat ourselves every day or every hour for years. I'm not sure how long that lasts, but I know I say the some of the same things to my nine-year-old that I say to my two-year-old.

For him, all punishment is equal: corporal punishment, grounding, time-outs, "natural consequences." Everything. But it's not clear to me that is true.

He has six main theories explaining why punishment fails:
  1. Punishment leads to anger.  Perhaps they'll think about how to get revenge. This seems particularly likely for kids who are grounded or sent to their rooms to "think about their actions." (I was thinking about this theory when I posted this Caddie Woodlawn quote.)
  2. Using punishment teaches children that those who are powerful are able to make and enforce the rules, even if they are unfair or morally wrong.
  3. Punishment becomes less effective over time. It's just not possible to exert the same control over a fifteen-year-old as a five-year-old. 
  4. Punishing a child damages the trust and security children should have in their parents.
  5. Punishment distracts children from the main point.
    [P]unishment doesn't lead children to focus on what they've done, much less on why they did it or what they should have done leads them to think about how mean their parents are and maybe how they're going to get their revenge...[and] on the punishment itself: how unfair it is and how to avoid it next time.
  6. Finally, punishment encourages children to see only the effects on themselves rather than how their actions might have affected other people. Taken to the extreme, that line of thinking may lead them to believe they can do things that are immoral as long as they can avoid any external harm to themselves.
These theories make sense to me. I know I've been in these situations myself. Even as an adult, I find it extremely difficult to step back and recognize the truth when I feel like I'm being "punished." (I'm thinking of public policy, laws, or employee evaluations here, not that anyone is physically punishing me for anything). Young children are probably completely incapable of setting their feelings aside to calmly reflect on a situation.
It's hard for them to sort out why someone who clearly cares for them also makes them suffer from time to time. It creates the warped idea, which children may carry with them throughout their lives, that causing people pain is part of what it means to love them. Or else it may simply teach that love is necessarily conditional, that it lasts only as long as people do exactly what you want.
Just in case you thought you could explain why you are punishing your child and avoid the pitfalls theorized above:
The truth is that explanation doesn't minimize the bad effects of punishment so much as punishment minimizes the good effects of explanation.
When someone is anticipating or experiencing punishment, they are not thinking about an explanation. They are thinking only about how they feel and how it's all someone else's fault.

Previous posts on Unconditional Parenting

Thoughts on the Introduction
Discussion of quotes from chapter 1
Discussion of quotes from chapter 2
Discussion of quotes from chapter 3