Friday, July 3, 2015

Alfie Kohn

It's 2:00 a.m. and I just finished reading the Introduction and Chapter One to Alfie Kohn's Unconditional Parenting. Even though I'm only 5% of the way through the book, I've already highlighted about 75% of the text there. Kohn has artfully communicated (and provided ample research evidence for) what I believe deep down but have not been able to fully attempt in my own parenting style because (1) I received conditional parenting, and (2) I've been deeply conditioned by my environment to focus on producing well-behaved and cooperative children.

From the publisher:

Most parenting guides begin with the question “How can we get kids to do what they're told?” and then proceed to offer various techniques for controlling them. In this truly groundbreaking book, nationally respected educator Alfie Kohn begins instead by asking, “What do kids need—and how can we meet those needs?” What follows from that question are ideas for working with children rather than doing things to them.

More than just another book about discipline, though, Unconditional Parenting addresses the ways parents think about, feel about, and act with their children. It invites them to question their most basic assumptions about raising kids while offering a wealth of practical strategies for shifting from “doing to” to “working with” parenting—including how to replace praise with the unconditional support that children need to grow into healthy, caring, responsible people. This is an eye-opening, paradigm-shattering book that will reconnect readers to their own best instincts and inspire them to become better parents.

From my own notes:

Kohn is so right. I own and have read so many books about parenting, ranging from how to sleep train babies, how to talk so kids will listen, how to set boundaries... and it's all about modifying the behavior of the child so that parents can feel a sense of control (and sanity). 

As parents, we are fixated on immediate compliance and what we demand from our children, rather than considering what our children need and seeing the whole child rather than the behavior.

Our love for our children is conditional upon their good behavior, or achievement in academics, sports or other talents/skills. A quote from the book: "It's possible to love our children passionately, but not in the way they need to be loved." It doesn’t matter how much we love them, it’s HOW we love them.

We all protest, "Of course we love our children no matter what, we love them unconditionally."

Well, here are some of the beliefs held by those who use conditional parenting to raise their children. Do any of these ring a bell? 

-  If children misbehave or do poorly on a test, then they need to be punished. 
-  Rewarding them under such circumstances will only lead to them misbehaving more or continuing to do poorly on tests. 
-  If kids misbehave or don't do as they're told, we must not hug and show affection towards them, we must not give them ice-cream, we must not read them a bedtime story... we will withhold love from them. 

What lesson does the child learn from this? What kind of person will this child become? 

When we expend all our efforts giving top priority to short-term obedience and super-kid achievement, what are the long-term implications? 

Most parents, when asked what long-term goals they have for their children, answer that they want their children to be happy, balanced, independent, fulfilled, productive, kind, thoughtful, loving, inquisitive, and confident. Do our daily actions toward our children encourage them to become all these adjectives we hope to ascribe to them one day?

We are most proud of our children when they get good grades, win competitions, behave the way we want them to behave. A "good" child is one who is polite, quiet and not much trouble to us grown-ups. Is that our dream for our children, that they grow up to be "not much trouble"? If the answer is "no", then why do we behave and act in our daily interactions with our children as though quiet and well-behaved ARE the ONLY goals we have for them?

To all my friends raising children, and especially those whose children attend local Hong Kong schools with a very traditional system of rewards and metrics-based testing: please read this mind-blowing book NOW. 

(Book also translated into Chinese.)

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