I’ve struggled with this post for the longest. I wasn’t sure how I was going to tackle this book: Unconditional Parenting by Alfie Kohn. This is a topic that I started to discuss in an earlier post.

After going through this book more than once I can finally sum it all up in one word–respect.

For the most part, this book focuses on one of the two major parts of behavioral psychology: operant conditioning.

“Operant conditioning is a method of learning that occurs through rewards and punishments for behavior.” (operant conditioning was coined by B.F. Skinner–a behaviorist).

Most, if not all, parenting books will focus on operant conditioning; how to get our children to do what we want through punishments and rewards.

Behaviorist believe that a person’s behavior is 100% caused by their environment. They don’t take into account feelings, or internal thought process–free will is irrelevant.

So, in the spirit of operant behaviorism, our actions can cause or shape a person to behave in a way that is pleasing to us. This is usually done through rewards and punishments.

What does this have to do with us?

As it turns out, most of us usually rely on these principles to have our child do what we want. We learned this from how we were raised, and practices that were applied to us (getting rewarded for good grades, punished for speaking out of turn–through school and home). In a way, we were conditioned to be conditional.

For now, it seems that these behavior modifications work. The problem that Kohn and other psychologist brings up is that does not work in the long run.

For example, you can use your size to enforce a rule, after all you are bigger than your child, but when you are no longer bigger than your child, brute force simply does not work. We all know there will be a time when our children will be stronger than us.

It has been argued that punishments just doesn’t work.

Yes, the child will conform in the way that you’re demanding (at the time), but what you are losing is the respect from that child.

Most parents find this concept scary because without punishments, some parents feel that they have no authority. However, the truth is, consequences should be meaningful–if a child draws on the wall, they can help clean it up.

If our children only see us as rule enforcers, we start to lose that open dialogue with them before it begins.

This brings me back to respect. When you finally break it all down, and take away all the extra lights and noise, everything comes down to respect.

Can you respect and love someone who is purposely going out of their way to make you miserable?

Can you respect someone who only rewards you for the answer that they want, instead of the answer that you are able to give?

How about–would you feel valued as an employee if your boss treated you like crap, you were expected to still do your share of work, and now and then you’ll get a reward for your hard work? Does that reward erase you feeling less than a person? (if it wasn’t for this economy, most people I know would leave this type of position)

All the luxuries and respect that we (adults) tend to enjoy, we forget that our children are people too, and like any person, they like to be treated with respect.

In short, we just need to really internalize the Golden Rule: Do unto others, as you would want others to do unto you.

Kohn does goes into more detail about the psychological consequences of pushing a child to succeed, and exerting our will on our kids.

Of course he also goes into ways we can make some improvements, but he’s not positioning himself as someone who has all the answers (as he makes mistakes with his children).

If anything, if you are interested in child psychology and behaviorism, I fully recommend reading this book. If you are interested in looking at parenting techniques through a different set of glasses, then yeah, read this book.

However, if you easily feel threatened, and feel like he’s talking directly towards you, while pointing his finger and laughing the whole time, then I think you should skip it and pick up something umm, gentler.

Read an excerpt of this book here.

Inspiration: Unconditional Parenting by Alfie Kohn

Additional Reading: Parenting with Dignity, B.F. Skinner