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#1 of 13 Old 01-04-2013, 01:05 PM - Thread Starter
 
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Unconditional Parenting (UP) is a parenting philosophy laid forth by Alfie Kohn in his book of the same name.  It's a gentle, empathetic approach to parenting that is based on mutual trust and respect.  It holds children in high esteem, it gives them a voice and takes their needs seriously.  It's a long-view approach that focuses on overall wellbeing and happiness rather than manipulating specific behaviors.  Most parenting advice tries to answer the question, "How do I make my kids be good?" and this book asks, "How do I raise a good person?"  
 
More specifically, it reasons that we should avoid manipulating their behavior - at all.  That we should neither punish nor praise them in order to stifle or cultivate any given behavior.  In doing so, we're just throwing carrots and sticks at them, when what they need is only love.  Neutral, nonjudgemental, unconditional love.  
 
The logic here is that children will learn, through punishment and praise, that your esteem of them, and in turn their own self-esteem, hinges on their behavior.  The message they receive is that they are less worthy of love when they are bad, and more worthy of it when they are good.  They think they have to earn your love.  Something as simple as praising a well-thrown ball with a simple, "Whoa, good job!" can convey the message that you love them more when they do impressive things.  Or even that you were surprised that they could do something so amazing.  The message should be that you love them all the time, whether they are being a prefect angel or a whiny monster beast.
 
Your esteem of them heavily influences their self-esteem.  They may grow up thinking more highly of themselves when they've done well and be shattered by failure if they learn from you that their self-worth is tied up with their successes and failures, rather than having a solid foundation of self-worth that doesn't much change whether they get an A or an F.  If they do fail at something, they are more likely to overcome it quickly and learn from their errors rather than being crushed and thinking that they themselves are a failure.   
 
Also, their motivation for doing or not doing something becomes extrinsic, rather than intrinsic, if parents use behavior manipulation in the form of punishment and praise.  They may avoid doing something "bad," but mostly to avoid punishment.  "I shouldn't throw this handful of sand because I don't want time out" rather than, "I shouldn't throw this sand because it might hurt someone."  Conversely, they might do something "good," but only for the reward they may get, not because it is an inherently good thing to do.  "I'll put my toys away so I can get a cookie," not, "I should put my toys away because it will help out Mom."  When you promote intrinsic motivation, you teach empathy.  When you promote extrinsic motivation, you teach self-centeredness.  
 
The issue there is that young children, toddlers especially, are naturally self-centered and don't even have the capacity for empathy until they are much older.  It can be so tempting to punish and praise because it seems to work - you are using their nature to your (short-term) advantage.  A two year old simply doesn't understand that throwing sand will hurt someone else, she literally may not be capable of that, but she can understand the consequence it will have on her, which is why she gives the toy back when you threaten time out, but not when you point out how sad she made the other child.  You have to keep the long-term goal in mind.  You have to allow for the fact that stealing toys is a developmentally appropriate behavior for a 2 year old.  Punishing them now can impede their later capacity for empathy.  
 
So what do you do to get your kids to be good?  You don't.  You forget about "good" and "bad."  You understand that two year olds throw tantrums, that they steal toys, that they hit.  They just do.  Your job is to give them a positive, yes-oriented environment, empower them, hear their voice, take them seriously, and let your not-to-be-underestimated modeling of good behavior do the work for you.
 
Don't misunderstand - this isn't permissive parenting.  It isn't about letting your kids be bullies because it's easier than trying to fight it.  It's actually far, far more intensive than simple discipline - each conflict is viewed as a unique problem to be solved, where motivations and feelings are considered and discussed, and a resolution is achieved jointly.
 
It is difficult to be succinct and actually sum-up UP because it is such a broad philosophy, but there are twelve principles included in the book (I've included short quotes from the book):
 
BE REFLECTIVE
"...most of us would benefit by spending more time reviewing what we've done with our children in order to be better parents tomorrow than we are today."
RECONSIDER YOUR REQUESTS
"Perhaps when your child doesn't do what you're demanding, the problem isn't with the child but with what it is you're demanding."
KEEP YOUR EYE ON YOUR LONG-TERM GOALS
"Whether your child spills the chocolate milk today, or loses her temper, or forgets to do her homework doesn't matter nearly as much as the things you do that either help or don't help her to become a decent, responsible, compassionate person."
PUT THE RELATIONSHIP FIRST
"Of course, a solid and loving relationship isn't justified primarily because it's useful; it's an end in itself.  That's why we need to ask whether it's wroth jeopardizing that relationship in order to get a baby to sleep through the night, or a toddler to start using the potty, or a child to mind his manners."
CHANGE HOW YOU SEE, NOT JUST HOW YOU ACT
"When a child does something inappropriate, conditional parents are likely to perceive this as an infraction, and infractions naturally seem to call for 'consequences.'  Unconditional parents are apt to see the same act as a problem to be solved, an opportunity for teaching rather than for making the child suffer."
R-E-S-P-E-C-T
"...kids are morel likely to respect others (including you) if they themselves feel respected."
BE AUTHENTIC
"We shouldn't hide behind the role of Father or Mother, to the point that our humanity (or our human connection with them) disappears."
TALK LESS, ASK MORE
"Dictating to kids (even in a nice way) is far less productive than eliciting ideas and objections and feelings from them."
"To be a great parent is more than a function of listening than of explaining."
KEEP THEIR AGES IN MIND
"Controlling parents [...] are likely to hold children to unrealistically high expectations, partly because they don't understand how unrealistic those expectations are.  They might punish a toddler for failing to do what he said he would do, or demand that a preschooler sit quietly through a long family dinner."
"We have to keep our expectations keyed to what they're capable of doing."
"ATTRIBUTE TO CHILDREN THE BEST POSSIBLE MOTIVE CONSISTENT WITH THE FACTS"
"This sentence [...] springs from two facts.  One: We usually don't know for sure why a child acted the way he did.  Two: Our beliefs about those reasons can create a self-fulfilling prophecy."
"Just because a child's action may have a negative effect on you doesn't mean that was the child's intention."
DON'T STICK YOUR NO'S IN UNNECESSARILY
"What matters most is the reason for our decisions, and the extent to which we're willing to provide guidance, to support children's choices, to be there with them--all of which is a lot more challenging than saying yes or no.  What I'm talking about might be called mindful child-rearing, which is the opposite of being an auto parent.  It requires enormous reserves of attention and patience."
DON'T BE RIGID
"Any given action has to be understood in a context, as a function of specific situations and causes.  Allowances should be made for a child's having an off day, or for the possibility that you're feeling less tolerant this evening."
DON'T BE IN A HURRY
"Parents become more controlling when time is short, just as they do when they're in public.  The combination of the two conditions is killer."
"Rather than trying to change your child's behavior, it usually makes more sense to alter the environment."
"...I can't resist point out that the phrase, "don't be in a hurry" has another meaning.  It might be thought of as a reminder to slow down and savor your time with your kids."

Resources:

 

http://www.alfiekohn.org/up/index.html

 

http://alfiekohn.org/articles.htm (archive of articles written by Alfie Kohn across many subjects - competition, parenting, education and school reform, and more)

 

Article: Parental Love with Strings Attached

 

ETA:  Scott Noelle is a parenting guru based on UP.  He sends out a daily email called the Daily Groove, and it is phenomenal and full of UP parenting wisdom.  

 

Enjoy Parenting

 

 

 

 

 

 

 




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#2 of 13 Old 01-04-2013, 01:26 PM - Thread Starter
 
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Now for a more personal take on UP.  I love it as a philosophy, and it has really turned my parenting world upside down.  I feel fortunate to have come across it while DS is still very young (25mo) and I don't feel like I need to back-peddle or re-learn how to parent.  It's all new to me still!

 

There are absolutely some big shortcomings with UP.  It is truly a philosophy and there really aren't techniques to employ.  It's not an instruction manual.  In real life, the ideal that you wouldn't ever have to manipulate a child's behavior is not possible.  Sometimes you just have to get out the door, sometimes you just have to brush your teeth when you don't want to.  You can still be as gentle and respectful as possible and maintain connection through those non-negotiable unpleasantries, though.  

 

Something I read somewhere that helps me fill the void where all the "Good jobs" would normally go, similar to the "say what you see" approach, is to "acknowledge and appreciate."  A simple "thank you" is more appropriate than most of the "good jobs" I hear thrown around.  

 

I don't think I mentioned above that UP is VERY evidence-based.  At times, reading the book was difficult because it seems like a study is cited in every other paragraph.  That stood out to me as I read it, because all other parenting books I'd read up until then seemed to be based on little more than the author's personal experience.  




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#3 of 13 Old 01-04-2013, 02:49 PM
 
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Wonderful summary, it really takes me back to reading UP and falling in love with a parenting philosophy that struck and instinctual cord with me like no other. Thank you!  


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#4 of 13 Old 01-04-2013, 03:02 PM
 
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Alfie is such a hero for me! This thread has encouraged me to drag the UP book out again. Incidentally, it's one of about a total of 10 books I currently own. It's so full of information it's a really hard one to pass along to others.

 

I worked in parent-child relationship land for a while, and I found that for the typical non-GD parent, while they mostly (if they read the book) had a takeaway of an overly ideal situation in parenting, the most striking thing was that the parents were able to see how "that's what my parents did, and I turned out fine" was not all that true. It's a great tome for a parent who does not want to repeat that which was done to them as children.

 

I really wish I'd found it at the beginning of my adulthood, if anything to have assuaged my guilt over the years about perpetuating some of my own mother's not-so-UP approaches.

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Quote:
Originally Posted by luckiest View Post

Now for a more personal take on UP.  I love it as a philosophy, and it has really turned my parenting world upside down.  I feel fortunate to have come across it while DS is still very young (25mo) and I don't feel like I need to back-peddle or re-learn how to parent.  It's all new to me still!

I came to UP quite late but I think just at the right time. I was already fairly UP but maybe didn't feel totally confident about exactly why I felt that rewards were not significantly different from punishment (which is a major take-away from the book for me). 

Quote:
Originally Posted by luckiest View Post

There are absolutely some big shortcomings with UP.  It is truly a philosophy and there really aren't techniques to employ.  It's not an instruction manual.  In real life, the ideal that you wouldn't ever have to manipulate a child's behavior is not possible.  Sometimes you just have to get out the door, sometimes you just have to brush your teeth when you don't want to.  

My preferred style of parenting book is more philosophical, less behavior guide. That's probably because I tend to read when I'm in a fairly good place -- I'm rarely reaching for a book when I'm at my wit's end. Not that I don't get there. winky.gif  I felt that UP gave me a lot to think about but I never felt like it didn't give me room to be authentic and get out the door by whatever means necessary sometimes. 

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Originally Posted by luckiest View Post

I don't think I mentioned above that UP is VERY evidence-based.  At times, reading the book was difficult because it seems like a study is cited in every other paragraph.  That stood out to me as I read it, because all other parenting books I'd read up until then seemed to be based on little more than the author's personal experience.  

 

I'm glad you said this because I didn't remember this about the book. I am drawn to articles and books that provide source material. It seems so much more respectful of the reader. Although I don't remember the resources, I do remember feeling respected as a reader. 

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Originally Posted by luckiest View Post

Something I read somewhere that helps me fill the void where all the "Good jobs" would normally go, similar to the "say what you see" approach, is to "acknowledge and appreciate."  A simple "thank you" is more appropriate than most of the "good jobs" I hear thrown around.  

 

I had read that sort of thing early on as well. What resonated well for me is that more informative feedback like, "I see that you really improved the proportions and shading in this piece. I can tell how hard you worked on this piece," is preferable to things like, "Oh, it's so pretty."  


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I'd like to share at Kohn story.  My DC attends a charter school who in her first year there were using a form of punitive discipline that I felt was out of sync from their other philosophies (including some of Kohn's work in the school setting).  I wrote to Kohn to ask him his opinion and he wrote me back a super prompt and thoughtful response. He will always have an even more special spot for me because of that. 


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#7 of 13 Old 01-05-2013, 05:42 AM
 
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luckiest, thank you for posting this!

 

Although I am what could be called a "law and order" parent, I agree with the vast majority of the principles in their entirety.  Personally, I think there is so much for me to learn from where parenting style intersect as well as where they diverge.

 

Your post was pretty awesomely informative!  thumb.gif


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So, I've been wanting to add some follow up, challenge type stuff to the concept of UP and feel like I've come up with a few questions...

 

  • What would a UP perspective say about the sometimes subtle distinction between punishments and "logical consequences"? For example, a 4 year old says she does not want her last piece of French toast and gives it to a younger sibling. As sibling is finishing the piece of toast, the child changes her mind and wants it back. Mom neither wants to make the younger child give the toast back nor does she want to make more French toast. 
  • Ramping up the idea of punishment and moving away from more vague consequences...  A 10 year old frequently misplaces her things, despite being reminded and helped. Not able to find her own hat she uses the neighbors hat that was left at the house. She then looses the neighbors hat later that day. Later that week she comes home with a costume borrowed from another neighbor. 
  • On the issue of rewards, how does UP talk/think about what could be called "natural rewards" (did I just coin a phrase?)? These would be things that are reward type things that result naturally because of good behavior.
  • For example, a child shows a great effort in addressing some learning issues and finishes up some tutoring that the family had budged for well before planned, freeing up hundreds of dollars in the family budget. The parents decide to use some of that money to help the child purchase something they had been saving for for months.  
  • A child has been helpful with caring for their younger sister, family chores and has been especially cooperative and responsible. It is to the point where the family is caught up on family life quite early on Thursday evenings. On weeks where they find themselves in this same position the family decides to allow for a family movie. 

 

The way I see examples like these is that they can often be framed either as punishments or rewards or they can be framed as consequences of behavior...but I can't help but see the extreme subtlety of this distinction. I'd love to her some thoughts on this question...


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I think if something truly happens naturally and you don't sit back and watch it happen when you could have easily prevented it, or if you sit and say, "Well I told you it would get ruined if you left it out. I told you so!" then it can be fine in UP. Things happen, and negative things happen. I don't think we should sit back idly and let them happen, and I don't think we should rub our kids' noses in them and make them punishments though. We should empathize and help our kids deal with it. I don't think it's my job to make the world free of negativity either though. Just that the negativity shouldn't be deliberately allowed to happen to "teach a lesson" and shouldn't be turned into a shame-a-thon.

If a kid is bringing stuff home that doesn't belong to her, it isn't punishment to tell her to return them, or to return them yourself. Again, you shouldn't shame her, or make her write a letter of apology (which would be a punishment if you came up with the idea and made it mandatory) or whatever other punitive thing could be done.

Whenever you do A, various things will happen as a result. It's fine to let kids know what might happen, but I think it could be phrased as a punishment/reward situation or not depending on how you say it. I mean you can be supportive or manipulative, and hopefully we all can feel the difference in our interactions. If money became available because a child had worked hard and no longer needed a tutor, I would not say, "Good job! You worked so hard that we can spend the tutoring money on X!" I might say that getting X has been on our list but we haven't had the money for it, but now that the tutoring expense isn't there we do. Again, I think it's in how you present it. Them making connections between A and B isn't the same as us manipulating through rewards/punishments.

So anyway I guess I agree with you. You can present many things as punishments/rewards or not. The world is full of ups and downs. The question is whether they navigate the ups and downs themselves, or whether we create the ups and downs to force them to navigate them our way and learn what we want them to learn.
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I feel so lucky to have found Alfie Kohn's UP book while I was still pregnant. I was so thoroughly convinced. Unlike several of his contemporaries, he is all about the science behind what he's saying. He's not just saying what he feels. He proves what he says. I love that!

 

I have found some of the principles harder to practice than they seemed before I was a parent. But more or less we do not use punishments, rewards or praise. However, we have had some really tough times with our 2.5 year old and there have been moments or situations where I considered using some form of rewards. We haven't done it yet, but there's no guaranteeing we won't get through his entire childhood without ever using a reward. And I think it's important to stay flexible and be willing to re-evaluate our path every once in awhile. And I don't think you're going to destroy a child by using a reward or praising him every now and again, to be honest. I have seen that this way of parenting does sometimes make for very rigid and idealistic parents. I try to take every situation for what it is and feel what feels right as I am in it, not based on any book or study. I have found that most of the time I do end up following my own version of UP....but like I said I am not a "fundamentalist" about it and we shall see over time if we don't maybe use rewards for something like potty training (I mean like if he's 3 1/2 and still shows no interest or something like that) or something similar (meaning a one-shot deal).
 


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#11 of 13 Old 01-12-2013, 09:49 AM - Thread Starter
 
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In the book, he calls natural consequences "Punishment Lite," although his examples are a bit different than yours.  His examples - child leaves rain coat at school, has to deal with getting wet the next day; child is late for dinner, goes hungry - I think are a bit extreme, and in those cases, I think he's right when he says that the takeaway lesson your child will get is that you could have helped, but you didn't.  He also calls it 'parenting by inaction.'  

 

Your example with the french toast is tricky, and like every conflict would have to be understood in the broader context in which it happens (is the child hungry, tired, sick, having a bad day, feeling out of control, etc).  I think the response would have to depend on what else is going on...A 2 year old wouldn't understand that by giving it away they may not get it back, but I'd imagine that a 4 year old would understand that giving it away would mean giving it up entirely.  So the way I'm picturing it, in that scenario the 4 year old is likely acting out internal frustrations and may not even know what they want.  The whole problem solving approach to conflict that is talked about in the book, where there is a discussion about the issue and possibilities on how to solve it, are not helpful in the midst of a tantrum or with a child too young to participate.  My personal approach would be to be as empathetic as possible with the 4 year old, while addressing the real underlying problem, if I know what that is.  If the younger sibling is amenable to giving the toast back, then great.  If not, I'd try to probe and figure out is actually going on with the 4 year old.  I know that isn't really an answer, but I think that's why there isn't a 123 approach given in the book on how to deal with conflict - each situation is going to be so different that different things will be appropriate at different times!

 

One thing I've picked up from Scott Noelle (and I highly, highly recommend signing up for his free Daily Groove emails at www.enjoyparenting.com because he really expands on UP and gives it a context) that isn't mentioned in the UP book is that you, as a parent, will have an authentic limit with things, and it's totally okay to refuse to make more french toast if you have reached your limit and cannot complete the task without resentment.  You can say no with an open heart and it will feel like a yes.  

 

I think in your example with the misplacing the neighbor's things, I would just guide them in righting the situation with the neighbor.  Okay, you lost the hat.  Now what do we do?  And help them figure out what they want to do to fix it - buy a new one, bake them cookies and apologize, whatever.  Since losing things is clearly a recurring problem, I might set up a system where anything that is borrowed from another person has one home, a box by the front door maybe, and I would help keep track of them.  

 

With natural rewards, I think it's all about the motivation behind the effort...what is warned against in the book is setting up the expectation so that children start doing things with the motivation of getting the end reward.  In your example with the tutoring and freeing up room in the budget...I'm really not sure.  I definitely wouldn't present them with the gift and tell them it was because they worked so hard at school, sending them the message that when they do hard work they get a gift.  If the child is a teen, I'd say you could tell them something like, "We set this money aside for a tutor, and now we don't need one since you worked so hard.  What should we do with it?"  For a younger child, I'm not sure.  If they are saving for something specific, you could contribute to their saving fund without explaining why.  

 

I think there is a difference between telling the child, "If you do ABC, then we'll get to do XYZ as a reward" ("If you help me clean up, we'll get to watch a movie")and telling them, "Wow, you really pitched in a lot and look, the kitchen is clean and it's only 7.  It's so nice when we have extra time in the evenings.  I think we have time for a movie before bed."  Pointing out that their actions have a positive effect on the people around them is different from using rewards as a manipulative tool.  It's all about their motivation - is it intrinsic or extrinsic?  

 

I mean, there is certainly a lot of gray involved here.  It's nearly impossible to say what the solution is to any given conflict.  One example that was mentioned in the book that stuck with me, was something he witnessed at a school.  There was a boy holding a rock above his head, poised to throw it, and the teacher (fortunately close enough to intervene) took the rock from his hand, touched the rock to his head, and gave it back to him.  A wordless interaction where she reminded him that throwing the rock would hurt someone, and then giving the rock back to him, trusting that he wouldn't throw it.  

 

I just remembered another great blog about UP, specifically as it relates to education and classroom discipline:

 

www.joebower.org




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#12 of 13 Old 01-12-2013, 05:30 PM
 
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"What would a UP perspective say about the sometimes subtle distinction between punishments and "logical consequences"? For example, a 4 year old says she does not want her last piece of French toast and gives it to a younger sibling. As sibling is finishing the piece of toast, the child changes her mind and wants it back. Mom neither wants to make the younger child give the toast back nor does she want to make more French toast."

 

In this case, she has given the French toast to the younger sibling, making it their toast. If they want to give it to her, that's fine, but it does now belong to them to do what they want with. I would not make the younger child give it to the older one. If mom isn't wanting to make more French toast, the child can have something else to eat.


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For me UP is more of the why -  there is still a lot of how -  and Ross Greene's collaborative problem solving is the HOW of UP. Parents who have difficulty with the HOW of UP or have challenging kids should become competent in using CPS. Where parents and kids can solve problems in a together , logical consequences are essentially punishment lite.

A natural would be arriving late at a bus stop or store , you will try to take the next bus or look for another store , nobody is imposing the consequence on you. The question is whether the reward is intrinsic or a natural outcome and not something with an adult decides to give to a kid in order to reinforce behavior or bribing a kid to perform. UP is heavily based on SDT self determination theory and uses Evidence based practices. As far as younger kids go , AK says they can feel empathy for others , even a baby of a couple of hours shows empathy to other babies cries, but they are challenged by sharing etc as they need to be reassured that they will get their toys back. Another approach which is helpful in being a UP parent is RDI - relationship development interventions. Here parents use ' guided participation' engaging with the kid in different activities around the home.

UP is not easy and can be messy. The main message for me is that the kid is helped to ask himself - what type of person do I want to be or not what's in it for me ?

Other non-UP approaches use relationship get compliance - with UP teaching kids relationship and collaboration is the goal

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