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Becoming an Unconditional Parent

Have you considered how ‘conditional’ life is and especially how conditional it is for children?

I've been confronted with the notion of becoming an ‘unconditional parent’. As parents, we often unconsciously set conditions and rules for our children that rob them of the chance to learn how to make good choices and why they should make good decisions so as to empower themselves. For example here are some common ‘conditional’ statements

Becoming an Unconditional Parent

"If you eat all your vegetables, then you can have..."

“If you don’t do your homework, then there will be no …”

"If you have a good rest now, then you'll be able to..."

“If you get good grades at school, then you will…”

“If you can’t speak respectfully to me then you will not …”

Although I realised all my words were given with the best of intentions and from a place of love, I saw that it's constantly conditional. Yes, like you I want my child to be respectful, eat healthy food, do well at school and be happy along with all of the other wishes.

Parents want their children to have embrace all life has to offer, but are we creating a ‘conditional’ child? Telling children what to do and what to think and conditionally rewarding/punishing them based on their achievement/non-achievement of these expectations means we are setting our children up for one of two things:

Obedience – doing everything they’re told in order to get the reward and avoid the punishment or

Rebellion – going against everything and anything we say irrespective of the rewards or punishment!

Both of these outcomes are detrimental to your relationship with your children and for the wellbeing of your children. Rebellion destroys your ability to effectively communicate with each other and in an attempt to establish their identity and individuality, your children may do something dangerous and harm themselves. On the other hand, unconditionally obedient children are doomed to spend life trapped by other people's expectations and becomes ‘yes men’ or ‘yes women’. No loving parent would want either of these positions for their children!

The best approach is to simply inspire, empower and help your children to truly understand 'The Why' behind an action or behaviour and to empower them to make the right choices in life for their wellbeing and the wellbeing of others.

Parents often use rewards and praise to encourage good behaviour in their children, and consequences and punishments to discipline children for bad behaviour. I’m often asked about the best kinds of rewards to use and the most effective methods of discipline. Instead of answering these questions, I’d like to pose another for parents to consider, namely: is a reward/punishment approach to parenting supportive for children?

In his book, Unconditional parenting, Alfie Kohn provides a comprehensive summary of the findings from years of research that have shown that ‘conditional parenting’ has anegative impact on children’s self-esteem and behaviour. Conditional parenting is when parents either withdraw their love and/or punish their children for what they perceive to be ‘bad’ behaviour, and reward or praise children for their ‘good’behaviour.

This book is an insightful but confronting read, as it challenges many of the conventional approaches to parenting we all use, such as time out when children misbehave and praise for good behaviour. Instead Kohn offers alternatives to conditional parenting for supporting our children’s day-to-day development and when dealing with behavioural challenges.

His approach is that of accepting and loving our children unconditionally – no strings attached. Unconditional parenting isn’t about letting children ‘run wild’ but rather taking a lovingly active, protective and educational role in our children’s lives so they learn how to be in the world. Imagine what it would have been like to grow up loved unconditionally … not to have to be or do anything to earn your parents’ love.

Perhaps this is what authentic parenting is about.


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