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Authoritative and Democratic Parenting Programs
(Comparison Chart)

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The Big Answer


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Unconditional Parenting

a book by Alfie Kohn

(our site's book review)

Unconditional Parenting is a very wise book and parenting method. In Unconditional Parenting, parent power is used only protectively. He believes in influence, not control. His overall philosophy can be summed up as “work with kids”, don’t “do to kids.” Like P.E.T., he uses Win-win conflict resolution, Active Listening, respecting children’s needs and feelings, and lots of autonomy support.

Alfie Kohn wants classrooms to move from compliance to community, with kids working with teachers cooperatively and teachers treating students as fellow citizens in a small community where everyone deserves respect—not just the teacher
Alfie Kohn wants classrooms to move from compliance to community, with kids working with teachers cooperatively and teachers treating students as fellow citizens in a small community where everyone deserves respect—not just the teacher

He prefers that we reframe the use of consequences so that kids compassionately and ethically concentrate on the effect the behavior will have on others rather than the imposed consequences which will beset themselves—the kid who performed the action. This makes incredibly good sense and even though there are other parenting methods that stress this enlightened context to some degree, Kohn explains it better than others.

Kohn supports the 'treat others as you want to be treated' golden rule, not the nasty, modern golden rule: 'the person with the gold makes the rules'
Kohn supports the 'treat others as you want to be treated' golden rule, not the nasty, modern golden rule: 'the person with the gold makes the rules'

Kohn believes in natural consequences only—not logical consequences. A natural consequence is like falling on your rear end if you don’t walk carefully on ice. A logical consequence is one arranged by parents and enforced by parental power, although good ones are related to the behavior, fair, reasonable, used to instruct rather than punish, and feel relatively nonpunitive if done right—which involves discussion, conflict resolution, choices, and even getting the kid’s agreement about what the behavior’s consequence should be, sometimes proactively. Kohn rejects even these, but we do not.

Most good Authoritative Parenting programs (STEP (Systematic Training for Effective Parenting), Active Parenting, Winning Family Lifeskills, Positive Discipline, Redirecting Children’s Behavior, and Positive Parenting) use logical consequences only of the "nonpunitive" variety, described above.

But some parenting styles (P.E.T., Aware Parenting, Connection Parenting, Discipline Without Distress, Nonviolent Communication (N.V.C.), and Alfie Kohn's Unconditional Parenting) don’t use logical consequences since they believe that all logical consequences are punitive by definition and are experienced at least partially as punishments by children.

For a detailed discussion of this issue and its ramifications, see this page Authoritative Parenting Programs. On this same page, you'll learn why we call all parenting programs that use logical consequences Authoritative and all that do not use them Authoritative Lite. We don’t use such terminology lightly, but for very good, logical, and insightful reasons—as you'll see. We believe that both Authoritative and Authoritative Lite methods result in effective parenting, and there is plenty of research that backs this up. Note that Kohn dislikes the word authoritative and doesn’t claim his method is related to it at all, but we believe the term Authoritative Lite solves this issue and we have good reasons for this belief. Again, see Authoritative Parenting Programs.

However, due to requiring more time, patience, and compassion, Authoritative Lite methods like Unconditional Parenting can be a bit more difficult to use than Authoritative methods like Active Parenting.

On the other hand, the results Authoritative Lite methods achieve are a bit more impressive than the logical consequences supporting Authoritative methods, so parents with enough time and patience and compassion should definitely check these methods out since they're the best ones on the planet. Authoritative methods’ results are nearly as good, according to research, so parents who haven't the time and patience and compassion for Authoritative Lite should use Authoritative methods.

Recall that we stipulated that only methods that use the good types of logical consequences get nearly as good research results as the Authoritative Lite methods. “Good” types of logical consequences are those that are related to the behavior, fair, reasonable, used to instruct rather than punish, and feel relatively nonpunitive to the kid if done right—which involves discussion, conflict resolution, choices, and even getting the kid’s agreement about what the behavior’s consequence should be, sometimes proactively.

There are some self-described “Authoritative” methods out there whose logical consequences can feel like punishment to kids, like in Diana Baumrind’s version of “Authoritative.” We consider these “Authoritarian Lite” and not deserving of the term “Authoritative.” Stay away from these methods and stick with any of the methods included on this chart: Authoritative Parenting Programs. The version of Attachment Parenting that William Sears supports is a borderline case, since his goal is obedience, but he tries to get it via happy cooperation rather than parent power. We grudgingly put it in our list since his overall attachment parenting method is very loving and effective, although not as good or effective as Aletha J. Solter's superior attachment parenting method called Aware Parenting which, like Kohn’s Unconditional Parenting, has no aspects experienced as punitive by kids and no logical consequences.

Kohn asks you to “reconsider your basic assumptions about parent-child relationships” and use the practical alternatives (to the normal behavior-controlling parenting methods most people use) which he outlines in his book. One of these is to let children choose as often as possible so their autonomy development proceeds apace. Beyond Discipline, also by Kohn, asks teachers to reconsider their basic assumptions about teacher-child relationships.

Kohn's Beyond Discipline asks teachers to reconsider their basic assumptions about teacher-child relationships
Kohn's Beyond Discipline asks teachers to reconsider their basic assumptions about teacher-child relationships

He says that when children feel unconditionally loved for who they are rather than for how they act, they will flourish. Fill this basic need and use unconditional parenting and kids become very good people, regardless of whether or not they fill YOUR expectations and YOUR needs for them to excel. And you needn’t try to get them used to life’s frustrations by attempting to frustrate them at times. They’ll get plenty of that later, and it is their parental (or other primary caregivers) base of security and feeling like they're good and loved that will allow them to respond appropriately to these frustrations, not you giving them “frustration practice.”

A couple that relates excellently as spouses and parents and has kids who feel good and loved
A couple that relates excellently as spouses and parents and has kids who feel good and loved

Kohn outlines the tactics used in conditional parenting, that uses rewards and/or punishments and/or the bad type of logical consequences, and what goes wrong with these actions, and then he backs up his assertions with research results. This is good science—find out what works and what doesn’t and use only what works. Unfortunately, most religions have foolishly backed the punishment and obedience-forcing school of thought for so long that it’s now seen as an intrinsic part of religious observance. Kohn’s citing incontrovertible research results that show the error in such methods and the symptoms and unhappiness they produce should cause any thinking person to reevaluate their parenting.

Unfortunately, most religions have foolishly backed the punishment and obedience-forcing school of thought
Unfortunately, most religions have foolishly backed the punishment and obedience-forcing school of thought

But even when it is shown that these malevolent methods cause kids to not fully accept themselves—or even to dislike themselves, resulting in the kids developing false selves rather than real selves, the errant methods persist—with the blessings of most parents, all religions, and some psychologists and parenting teachers who ought to know better! These misguided methods also backfire sooner or later. And they produce extrinsic rather than intrinsic motivation, making kids more vulnerable to peer pressure and negative media influences.

He asks us to consider the question of whether people will be driven to succeed if they're always getting unconditional love. His answer: "Let's hope not!" is a breath of fresh air in the stifling staleness of misguided but commonly accepted parenting practices. “Driven” is a code word for rewards and punishments, the core of behaviorism. It works great with animals, but not so good with people, with whom it often seems to be a resounding success until the side-effects present themselves. “Success”—but at what price? In Kohn’s view, such side-effects represent failure, not success. Besides, behaviorist-certified methodologies often fail even to get the desired result with humans and even some animals, whose inner spiritedness and lifewish fortunately cause them to take a rebellious path rather than an obedient path. (Good for them!)

If kids rebel against being conditioned by Rewards and Punishments and take their own autonomous path, celebrate, don't weep!
If kids rebel against being conditioned by Rewards and Punishments and take their own autonomous path, celebrate, don't weep!

Like so many parenting experts, Kohn warns us of the effect of how we were raised on our parenting. People tend to repeat the same mistakes their parents made because there is so much pain hidden in most of us related to the unfilled needs and harsh parenting we experienced as kids. There are really no practical ways to avoid experiencing the emotions locked inside ourselves due to these early injustices, but becoming a conscious parent and treating our kids right IN SPITE OF THESE EMOTIONS is a choice we can make as parents. What is consciousness if not choosing our actions rather than having our thoughts and emotions run us? To learn more on this issue, see Parenting From the Inside Out.

He states that whether a parent prioritizes filling the child’s needs or filling the parent’s need for the child to be obedient can predict much of what goes on in families. His context on this could be stated as "if you want obedience, buy a dog or program a robot, but don't lay these types of obsolete parenting errors on kids."

Rewards and punishments, the core of behaviorism, work great with animals, but not so good with people
Rewards and punishments, the core of behaviorism, work great with animals, but not so good with people

Kohn teaches readers how to express unconditional love, give kids more chances to make decisions, and imagine how things look from the kid's point of view. His book is a must-read!