Thursday, September 20, 2012

Unconditional Parenting by Alfie Kohn

This book Unconditional Parenting focuses on the whole child as being positive and balanced and includes their reasons, thoughts and feelings.  It views parents love as a gift and their strategies are based on working with and problem solving with the kids.

We should give our kids affection (which they need) without limit, without reservations and without excuse. We should pay as much attention to them as we can, regardless of mood or circumstance. Let them know you're delighted to be with them and that you care about them no matter what happens.

                        The basics of the book can be divided into the following topics.

Be reflective - Understand how your own needs and experiences affect the way you act with your kid (what drives ya nuts and why?).  Be honest with yourself about your motives.  
Make a self-evaluation... Is it possible that we sometimes do things with/to our child because it satisfies our needs, or is based on our fears or upbringing rather than what is really in our kids best interest?

Reconsider your requests - Take the time to rethink the value or necessity of our requests.  Don't say no if you don't absolutely have to. Try to think about the reason for everything you say.   The way kids learn to make good decisions is by making decisions, not by following directions. Encourage children to reason and plan and participate in figuring something out. Children are more likely to control themselves if parents are willing to negotiate and are open to changing their minds in response to children's arguments.  Cooperation encourages trust, sensitivity, open communication, and ultimately, helpfulness.

Focus on the long-term (eternal) goals. We want our kids to be lifelong learners who are genuinely excited about words, numbers and ideas. We want them to avoid doing only the things that are easy and safe and become more sophisticated thinkers.      We need to help them think about the way they are and the way they want to be.

Relationship first - Reassure them "No matter what you do, no matter how frustrated I get I will never, never never stop loving you"  Make sure your actions say it too.

Change how you see not just how you act- See children's behavior as a 'teachable moment' and include them in the process of solving the problem. Focus on what's wrong with a specific action (Your voice sounded unkind...) Be as gentle as possible while making sure the message gets across. Be aware of your body language, facial expression and tone of voice.   State simply what you see your child doing and then ask a question..(What do you think you can do next time you feel frustrated instead of ___?) 

Perspective - We can encourage perspective taking by discussing books and TV shows with our kids in a way that highlights the characters' diverse perspectives.   "What do you think might have happened to that man that made him so grouchy?"   Invite them to think about the effect on the person they've helped or hurt.  'Tell me what just happened but pretend you're your sister and describe how things might have seemed to her (after a blow up)."  Help younger children become more sensitive by directing their attention to someone's tone of voice, posture, or facial expressions and inviting them to reflect on what that person might be thinking or feeling.  Teaching kids to pick up on such cues can help them see more deeply into others and perhaps get a feel for what it's like to be that person.  "We say please, thank you, and other nice words because people it makes people feel good." Try to see things from your child's point of view.  Perspective taking helps parents attend to and learn about their children's needs.  We can figure out what is going on so we can be more patient with children's moods.

Respect - Taking children seriously is treating them with respect. Kids really respond when they're treated with respect, involved in problem solving, and assumed to be well intended. Focus on the kids needs and work with them to make sure their needs are met by taking kids seriously. Respect your kids points of view which is filled with their own fears and concerns which are often very different from our own. Remember that they have their own way of reasoning and understanding.  Kids need to know that their needs matter to us and we're willing to take their ideas seriously.

Be authentic - Kids need to know that real people (adults included) have needs of their own, they enjoy doing things and they hate things. Sometimes we become flustered and say something we regret later, we get tired, or distracted and we're not sure what to do sometimes.  We should admit when we screw up and show our kids how to humbly apologize.

Talk less, ask more. - Figure out the source of the problem by recognizing what the kid needs. Ask them what is the matter. Ask more open-ended questions and be open to more than one response.  Sometimes we need to just be quiet.  Ask "How will doing x make the other kid feel?"

Keep their ages in mind. -  If you don't understand a concept, you can't teach it to your child. A parent's job is to teach (MOSIAH 4:14-16) and to be patient. We need to be aware of our kids developmental limits so we can have realistic expectations. Parents who understand children's developmental limits usually prefer calm explanations and reasoning when dealing with inappropriate behaviors.
Keep in mind why they are acting a certain way. Think about what they need (emotionally speaking).

Attribute to children the best possible motive consistent with the facts -  Help kids develop good values by treating them as if they were already motivated by those values and they'll come to believe the best about themselves and live up to our trust in them.  Mischief often can be explained by a simple lack of skills or guidance, an innocent desire to explore, and inability to for see what happens when you take a thinking and do this to it.

Don't be rigid - Make it clear to your kids when you waive the rules for special occasions that this is a special exception. This can help you be flexible while helping the kids understand that it's not a new way of doing things. 

Don't be in a hurry - Rather than trying to change your child's behavior it usually makes more sense to change the environment.   "Tell me when you're ready."  By patiently laying out reasons, we do 2 things. First let our kids know what's important to us and why. Second, we engage their minds and help them reflect and wrestle with moral questions.

Time out (a calming down period) - First we should be to ask our kid what's going on and then remind them that what he does has an impact on other people, explain why some ways of acting just aren't acceptable, and problem solve together, etc. Offering a child of choice of retreating to a comfortable and comforting place when he's going berserk should be our second choice.  There's also nothing wrong with making it clear to our kids that parent's sometimes need to take a time-out to calm down so we don't do or say something we'll regret.

Praise - Look at the underlying significance of what we say and how it's heard rather than just try to use or avoid certain words. Allow yourself a transitional period  during which you might continue to offer evaluations but also offer descriptions and questions.
Sometimes when we feel we need to say something, we can simply point out what we've seen and allow the child to decide how to feel about it, rather than telling her how.  If your child does something caring or generous, you might gently draw his attention to the effect of his action on the other person. If your child shows you something they've created, ask whether they like it and why.
-Sometimes we need to say nothing and just pay attention.
-Describe, rather than evaluate what you see: "Hey, you drew something new on those feet. They've got toes". 
-Explain the effects  of your child's action on other people: "You set the table! Boy that makes things a lot easier on me while I'm cooking!
-Inviting reflection: "How did you come up with that way of grabbing the reader's attention in the beginning?"
-Asking, rather than judging: "What made you decide to give some of your brownie to Deirdre when you didn't have to?

What about at school? - Are their goals to meet children's needs? Are troublesome behaviors seen as problems to be solved? Do teachers see it as their job to help kids learn to make good decisions? Are children encouraged to collaborate with one another? Would you feel unconditionally accepted and want to be there?  Your goal is to work together, to take everyone's needs into account- not just your child's but all the children and adults. Focus on reasons and values. Lead children to consider the consequences of his actions to others and encourage him to think.  Let him know he's appreciated for who he is, not only for what he does.

When they have to but don't want to:
-Be honest with them and explain why
-Turn it into a game
-Set an example
-Give them as much choice as possible
-Acknowledge (out loud) our understanding of how that feels to the child (what is their perspective).

 This is an amazing book which helps us consider not only how we raise our children to be happy, but how we raise our kids to be concerned about whether other people are happy!
I definitely suggest you read this book as it will open your eyes to better options when disciplining (teaching) children!

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