Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Conditional Parenting

There was an interesting article in the NY Times today about "conditional parenting," which the author describes as a style of child rearing in which parents "turn up the affection when they’re good, withhold affection when they’re not." The author points to evidence that this parenting style may create more compliance in children, but that it also creates more psychological issues when children become adults. The author criticizes Supernanny Jo Frost and Dr. Phil as people who advocate for conditional parenting. This article is currently the most popular on the NY Times site.

The author doesn't say much about his style of "unconditional parenting," only that "In practice, according to an impressive collection of data by Dr. Deci and others, unconditional acceptance by parents as well as teachers should be accompanied by “autonomy support”: explaining reasons for requests, maximizing opportunities for the child to participate in making decisions, being encouraging without manipulating, and actively imagining how things look from the child’s point of view."

I don't know about this. If anyone has ever tried to "reason" with a three year old as to why he shouldn't hit his baby sister, it doesn't work. Kids are kids. They think differently from adults. They haven't yet developed higher logical skills, and at their young age, they shouldn't need these skills.

I like Supernanny. She uses the time out, then she follows it with an explanation. I agree that there is probably psychological damage that comes from punishments, but I wonder if the damage is worse than running a home with no discipline. I know lots of parents who never discipline their kids. I also know parents who threaten their kids but never follow up. While I strongly disagree with spanking, and while I see the problems with conditional parenting, I think the alternative to conditional parenting is much worse. I think it should be possible to use a time out without expressing a withdrawal of love.

What are your views on discipline?


O.W. said...

I don't know how firm my philosophies on discipline are but I'm 100% committed to the conviction that modern parenting is an unbelievably convoluted practice.

Anonymous said...

we use a combination of discipline in our home. there's a lot of talking, time outs/go to your room and follow through . . . i have several friends who let their children run "free" and it's disruptive to everyone around them and the parents, too.

bigWOWO said...


I totally agree. I've heard it gets even more complex when your kids enter their teens. I'm totally not looking forward to that.


It's crazy, isn't it? Something has to be done, but some parents don't see it. I try to stay away from families where there's no discipline at all.

Obiwanhavanese said...

Children need limits and I personally don't believe in letting them run free. I think many parents today decided not to spank their children because they remember how traumatic it was for them (well it was for me anyway). Bottom line is that we are try our best to raise happy, healthy, kind and compassionate human beings.

Keith Wilcox said...

I've oscillated a little on this issue. Sometimes I feel so guilty for having to punish my kids that I relent and try to reason with them instead. But, like you say, I keep coming back to the fact that they simply can't be reasoned with sometimes. It's true that we feel guilty for possibly inflicting some emotional damage, but that is better than a lawless environment where right and wrong are not understood. Excellent

thisislarry said...

One person's 'emotional damage' is another's 'healthy respect for authority'


I am not the nicest dad in the neighborhood, but once I was OK with that, it made parenting much easier.

I think follow thru is the most important thing. After a few rounds of toothless threats, any kid will realize the boundaries of acceptable behavior are malleable.

Now if only we had the same fortitude when dealing with financial firms gone wild.

bigWOWO said...

Follow through is definitely most important. The last thing we want to be as parents is inconsistent!

Anonymous said...

As a single working/stuyding parent, living in Asia, WITH THE WORLD'S MOST ACTIVE 3 YEAR OLD (had to put that in caps, sorry!)I find that the thing that works for us is 1) a list of basic rules (mostly about hitting/biting/throwing - her big issues) 2) strict following of the rules (unless she's sick or going through a massive upheaval of some kind - like a move to a new house) 3) time-out/loss of toys/outings for not following the rules.

So far the age of 3 has been really, really rough. I can tell that she's learning, and 'coming along' as they say, but it's been a slow and hard process. My big struggles are to be firm but still calm. I tend to lose my temper and yell when I'm really really stressed or exhausted. Just this morning we had the mother of all meltdowns because she poured her juice on the floor and then wouldn't help me clean it up. I aged about 10 years trying NOT to lose my temper while repeating again and again and again (gently/firmly) that the rule in OUR house is that if you spill something on purpose then you must clan it up. Stuff like that is hard.

So I think - going back to your question about "conditional parenting" - the real trick in raising kids to be polite and productive but still aware that they are fully loved is to maintain *that* balance: firm, clear rules combined with gentleness and love.

I know that 'logical consequences' and time-outs and rule-based parenting is a little passe but it works for me. I hope. ^^Y

thisislarry said...

Not meant to be directed specifically at Melissa, but her comment makes me think:

I dont mind showing my kids when I'm angry -I don't love being angry, but I'd rather have them know what anger is (and how to deal with it?) in a safer home environment, than be introduced to it out in the world.

It should be OK as a parent to be visibly angry when your child does something that really makes you angry.

Rain Racer said...

Seems to me that conditional parenting is just another name for Mom or Dad being upset when the kids do something wrong. It is not so much a "withdrawal of love" because, afterall, you can't turn love on and off like a light switch. I think the healthiest approach to discipline is when the kids learn what is right/wrong with the knowledge that Mom and Dad still love them when they screw up but that doesn't make screwing up okay.

Obiwanhavanese said...

@Rain Racer, I think that's such a good point. You never turn the love switch on and off, it's on all the time. Think of it this way if you didn't love them you really wouldn't care if they did something wrong. It's like when you see other kids out and about unless they're affecting something you're doing (like hitting your kid) you tend to leave them alone without really intervening. We do because we care and love.

abu-maya said...

I strongly agree with the approach and methodology of the article author (Alfie Kohn) although I understand the common perspective that his approach is not effective, unrealistic, etc.

Throughout human evolution, cultures have developed many disparate methods of parenting. It was common in the dominant culture of the United States just one or two generations ago to physically attack children when they misbehaved. Now the dominant culture of the US frowns on the corporal punishment of children.

There are an infinite number of methods that can be used to raise kids. All parenting methods are not equal and some methods are "better" than others. The factors that determine which methods are "better" than others are based on cultural and personal values.

I believe that Alfie Kohn's methods of unconditional parenting are the most effective and rational methods for those who value human rights, non-violence, creativity, and other humanist/liberal/modern values.

Unconditional parenting IS possible, it's just not for everyone. Just like the vast majority of people could never fathom becoming vegetarian but we all know that life-long vegetarians do exist.