“If you score above X0% in your final exams, I will buy you a bicycle.”, “You behaved badly, now mumma won’t talk to you anymore.” Have you ever heard or said these statement? I heard it being said to a child and it kind of confused me. Firstly are you trying to send a message to your child that while all his friends peddle away in the park, he will have to earn the right to have his own bicycle? Secondly, is it not the child’s responsibility to make sure he fared well in school and to the best of his ability? What message was the adult sending to the child – that everything in life is either a reward – a brand new bike; or a punishment – no bike? Does a child have to constantly behave in a manner so as to make you love him? I made up my mind in that moment that when it comes to my child I will be unconditional. He will see reason in order to learn the big stuff in life.
I discovered much later that a term known as unconditional parenting exists. The term was researched and written about by Alfie Kohn in his groundbreaking book – Unconditional Parenting: Moving from Rewards and Punishments to Reason and Love.
In his book, Kohn says that rather than looking at rewards or punishments, it is important to look at children’s needs and fulfil them. Even when children are throwing tantrums for example, it is a sign that they are unable to process or internalise something. It is then that they need more love, not being reprimanded. Unconditional parenting is about just that, showing a child that you are there for them and love them even in the very worst moments.
While everyone knows that children must be loved unconditionally, sometimes we fall short when we tell them or make them believe that they need to do something – achieve good grades in their exams for example, or behave in a particular manner for us to be happy. They translate this to love and begin to believe that they must “earn our approval.” This multiplies into relationships outside of the home, with friends, colleagues and future families. A vicious circle if you think about it.
Parents don’t do this consciously. Their objective is far from it. But placing conditions on our love, time and treats, leads to a secondary effect which we did not expect to be so grave. Ever heard people say “good boy” or “bad boy” to their kids? This sets a yearning in children to always be the good boy and an innate fear of being labelled the bad boy. Or it may lead to a sense of defiance – be the bad boy, get all of mummy and daddy’s attention.
How can we practice unconditional parenting
The first and foremost thing that we can do is to actually display unconditional love to our children. I know this is every parent’s intention. But sometimes our actions don’t show this. So on days when you want to throw in the towel and feel like why did you ever have kids – that is the time to show them that no matter you will always love them loads. No guilt tripping and saying “I love you but when you do this … “
Stress less, think more – one of the foremost issues that most parents of young kids is “my child is a fussy eater” and “why does my child not eat?” Firstly stop labelling the child. The more you label, the more you will be creating a self-fulfilling prophecy around your child’s behaviour. Stop and think if your expectation is realistic. Most of the time parents expect that children should eat all that is served on the plate, when the truth is that children especially babies and toddlers have tiny stomachs and usually know when they are hungry or full.
Ask more questions in order to learn more about how your children are feeling, thinking. Talk less. Being listened is a great uplifter for kids
Use the power of choice to help your children understand consequences and so learn the right path for themselves. Make it realistic though, don’t lie or exaggerate.
Limit the use of praise, rewards or punishments. All these provide extrinsic motivation to a child and make them behave and act in a way we want them to. Put your child in the spotlight and let them understand and evaluate how to behave in a situation which needs correcting. For example if a child has hit another child, don’t impose severe discipline, but point out how the other child is hurt and what your own child can do to make it better? Don’t assume that only a grown child will know the answer to this one. All children know and understand love and how to show it.
Unconditional parenting may seem too far fetched on the periphery. And also it may come across as never disciplining your child. But that is far from the truth. Unconditional parenting is about finding the right words to say things and modelling the right behaviours to learn from.
This blog post is part of a series for the #AtoZBloggingChallenge where my theme is
New Age Parenting: Parenting in 201x.
Read my theme reveal post here.
To read all the posts for the #AtoZChallenge go here – #AtoZ2018
You may also find this post on Positive Parenting very relevant too.