Archive for the ‘unconditional parenting’ Category

Say “I’m Sorry”: Teaching Kids Good Manners

Well, actually, I figured out that it is not about “teaching kids to have good manners.”

It’s not about teaching my child to say please when she wants something.

It’s not about teaching my child to say thank you when she has received something.

It’s not about teaching my child to say sorry when she has hurt someone or something.

Those awkward moments grate on me, when others (or the voice in my head) expect my daughter to say or do something to show she is good-mannered. I want my daughter to feel what true compassion feels like, what true gratitude feels like, what a true request feels like. When I try to do these things we, as parents, should be “getting our children” to do, I have found these things hard to manage myself.

I have realized that my child’s manners are all about me and my most powerful parenting tool: my example.

It is about me saying please when I ask something of her.

How many times a day do you ask your child to do something or not to do something? How many times do you say please? When you are out at the store or running errands, how many times do you say please when you are asking someone to do something?

Part of Nonviolent Communication is to make requests (as opposed to demands). It is difficult sometimes to maintain a headspace where I am asking my daughter to do something instead of demanding or commanding. Saying “please” reminds me that I  want her to choose to do what I am asking, not just to do what I say.

It’s about me saying thank you when she gives me something or does something for me.

Out of the three of these, I do the best on this one, but only because gratitude is something I have integrated into my whole life. Still, I often have to make a point to stop, recognize and acknowledge the gratitude I feel for my daughter, who she is and what she does.

As parents, we give and give and give to our children. I feel joyously connected and humbled when my child says “Thank you, mama” for doing something that felt important to her. Makes it all worthwhile. (And keep my attitude in check!)

It’s about me saying I am sorry when I have done something I wish I had done differently.

Marshall B. Rosenberg, of the Center for Nonviolent Communication, has a powerful perspective on “sorry” and what we might say instead that would be more accurate and meaningful.) He describe the feeling of sorry without using the word sorry. It’s about me understanding what need I was trying to meet in the moment, doing what I did or saying what I said, and also understanding what need I did not get met by my actions and words.

It is much clearer for me, knowing and acknowledging what I wish I would have done and how I feel hurt/sad that I wasn’t able to meet the needs of myself and others, than saying “I’m sorry.” I actually say I’m sorry too much, almost without thinking. I have recognized this in myself and want to set an example for my children that is mindful.


All these efforts to use my example to show my daughter what we value as a family actually has proven to be effective in my life.

The most recent example went right to my heart:

My daughter was having feelings when I was attending to her brother for something. She hit me. (She’s been having bigger feelings, for the bigger number of years she is, perhaps.)

She stopped, her face fell from angry to desperately sad as she said, “I’m sorry I hit you, mama,” and crawled up next to me and then into my lap to sit and rock for a few minutes.

This girl knew what the meaning of sorry was. She felt that she was trying to get her need for closeness met but disrespected and hurt me in the process. She shifted to doing something that actually got her needs met, acknowledging with an “I’m sorry” that what she had done was, as Rosenberg says, “a tragic expression of an unmet need.”

We cuddled close like when she was a baby, renewing and reaffirming our bond as mother and daughter. It was a precious moment.

Spontaneous. Unforced. From the heart.

Just like “good manners” ought to be…



Unconditional Parenting: Chapter 9: Choices for Children


  • Autonomy: “a feeling that we are the initiators of much of what we do”
  • The act of choosing is more important than the choices themselves. (169)
  • Drawbacks of constricted autonomy (169)
    • aggravation
    • depression
    • physical illness
    • see Chapter 3
  • Benefits of choice (168-9)
    • Young children are more likely to do what is asked and less likely to misbehave.
    • Teenagers are more apt to share, feel better about themselves, like school more, and stay out of trouble.
    • College students are more likely to feel confident about themselves and persist in the face of difficulty or failure.
  • Summary of research: “The way kids learn to make good decisions is by making decisions, not by following directions.” (169)
  • Not just freedom to choose that makes a difference, it’s the parent-child interactions and conversations that have an impact. (172)
  • When children know that things can be negotiated they tend to stop challenging decisions. (176)
  • Children are less likely to to resist decisions they helped to make. (176)
  • Children really respond when they are treated with respect, involved in problem solving and assumed to be well-intentioned. (174)
  • Choice should be given in more than just trivial matters.
  • When they have to do something, but don’t want to….
    • Use the least intrusive strategy.
    • Be honest.
    • Explain the rationale.
    • Turn it into a game.
    • Set an example.
    • Give as much choice as possible.
  • Dealing with tantrums
    • Rule #1: Ignore everyone around you.
    • Rule #2: Imagine the situation from your child’s point of view.


  • What are some specific situations or trouble spots that come up in which you can offer choices or work with your child to set limits?
  • What do you observe when you give choices versus times when you don’t?


* Summaries of chapters 1-8 

Unconditional Parenting: Chapter 8: Love without Strings Attached

Approaching (shifting to) Unconditionality (p. 141)

  • Be mindful of parenting unconditionally, thinking and reflecting.
  • Consider yourself on the other end of your words and actions. Would you feel loved and accepted unconditionally?

To Minimize (p. 143)

  • Limit the number of criticisms. (Be choosy.)
  • Limit the scope of each criticism. (Be specific.)
  • Limit the intensity of each criticism. (Be gentle.)
  • Look for alternatives to criticism. (Say what you see and ask questions.)
  • Move beyond tit for tat (and winning).

To Maximize (p. 146)

  • Help them see effects on others.
  • Stay positive as much as possible.
  • Keep in mind why the child is acting that way. See the “vulnerable child behind the bothersome or menacing exterior.”
  • Keep at it.


  •  Our words and actions can be instruments of control or expressions of love (not both). (p. 153)
  • A spoiled child means they have too much of what they want (stuff) and not enough of what they need (unconditional love). (p.153)
  • Children need your affection, attention (regardless of mood or circumstance), to feel you are delighted to be with them, to know you care no matter what.
  • Praise is more what parents need to say than what children need to hear. (p.155)
  • “When unconditional love and genuine enthusiasm are always present, “Good job!” isn’t necessary; when they’re absent, “Good job!” won’t help. (p.155)
  • When thinking of giving a compliment, consider 3 things (pp. 158-9):
    • Why: Intended to make someone feel good or to control or influence an outcome?
    • To Whom: Adult to adult is more equal than adult to child, so we need to be more careful speaking with children.
    • What Effects: Watch for the effects of your words and actions.
  • Children most need love when they fall short.
  • Generally, school is a conditional environment which may clash with your goals to be more unconditional.


  • How does your child seem to take your words and actions?
  • What is your goal in praising or complimenting your child?
  • If you had to pick your battles, which would you choose?

Unconditional Parenting: Chapter 7: Principles of Unconditional Parenting

MAIN POINT: Shift from asking “How do I get my child to do what I say” to asking “What does my child need and how can I meet those needs? (p. 118)


  • There is no formula, so every parent/caregiver needs to “decide whether each idea sound reasonable, and, if so, how it may apply to raising your own child(ren).” (pp. 117-8)
  • It is challenging to “work with” children, as it asks more of an adult than “doing to” requires. (p. 118)
  • Must commit to taking children seriouslyto focus on their needs and to work with them to find solutions. (p.119)
    • express unconditional love
    • give children more chances to make decisions
    • imagine how things look (and feel) from your child’s perspective

The Guiding Principles

  1. Be reflective. (The more you understand “what drives you crazy and why,” the more you can understand how your needs and beliefs affect how you are with your children. pp. 120-1)
  2. Reconsider your requests. (Before working to get your child to do what you want, consider whether your request is as reasonable, necessary, valuable or desirable as you seem to think it is. Sometimes the problem is with the request, not the child. pp. 121-2)
  3. Keep your eye on long-term goals. (When you focus on more than getting your child to obey, you can use better parenting skills and get better results. Example: Problem solving with your child who has spilled a drink moves you closer towards your goal of helping them be a compassionate person than just getting them to not make a mess through a range of punishments or rewards. (pp. 122-3)
  4. Put the relationship first. (Being right, being in control, and having kids do what we want is not as important as having children feel safe and trusting. In fact, when children feel safe and trusting, and have a sense of autonomy they are more likely to tell about their mistakes and listen when we say something important. p.123)
  5. Change how you see, not just how you act. (Misbehavior can be either a teachable moment to involve the child in problem solving or a call for punishment/consequences. p.124)
  6. R-E-S-P-E-C-T. (Loving a child does not necessarily mean respecting them. Respecting their ideas, opinions, feelings, questions and concerns goes a long way towards taking children seriously. pp. 124-5)
  7. Be authentic. (You have needs, feelings, thoughts. You don’t know sometimes and do the wrong thing sometimes. Apologize. Acknowledge your humanity. pp. 125-7)
  8. Talk less; ask more. (Step one is to figure out what children need. Ask questions that have more than one answer or that you are unsure how your child will answer. Sometimes children just need a hug or a kiss or a loved one to stay close. pp. 127-9)
  9. Keep their ages in mind. (Yes, children are incredibly capable, but some things are unrealistically high expectations. pp.129-130)
  10. “Attribute to children the best possible motive consistent with the facts. (First, we don’t know for sure why a child acted as they did. Second, our beliefs create a self-fulfilling prophecy. pp. 130-3)
  11. Don’t stick your no’s in unnecessarily. (Pick your battles, and say yes as much as possible. Try to think through the reason for your answer of “yes” or “no.” pp. 133-6)
  12. Don’t be rigid. (Flexibility and spontaneity allow parents/caregivers to meet the needs of different children and to have the freedom to respond uniquely to each situation. Consistently unreasonable reactions, limitations and expectations are undesirable, despite a child’s need for predictability. pp. 136-7)
  13. Don’t be in a hurry. (Work and think ahead to reduce the limitations of time constraints that often lead parents to coercive tactics. This also means enjoy your children while they are at the stage they are because they change quickly and childhood goes by fast. pp.138-9)


  • Which of these principles seems to pose the toughest challenge for you? Which might come easier to you?
  • What are some requests that parents (yourself included?) usually make of children that may actually be unreasonable or unnecessary?
  • What are your needs, and how might they come up during interactions with your child?
  • What do you believe your child needs? How can you help them get their needs met?

Unconditional Parenting: Chapter 6: What Holds Us Back?


  • Why do people parent conditionally if it is not doing what parents think it is doing, if it is producing results parents aren’t intending?
    • What we see and hear (pp. 94-97)
    • What we believe (pp. 97-105)
    • What we feel (pp. 105-107)
    • What we fear (pp. 107-116)
  • Our society is unfriendly towards children, believing them to be rude, lazy, irresponsible and lacking in values. (p.97)
  • If you don’t trust children, then you go out of your way to control them. (p.98)
  • If you believe that kids are insufficiently controlled, you are more likely to gravitate towards a role that involves more control and more “discipline.” (p.99)
  • Parenting is portrayed as a competition with children to outmaneuver, outwit, triumph and win the battle. (p.100)
  • Expectations that overestimate children’s capabilities lead parents to feel frustrated and angry and to hold children accountable through control (punishments and rewards). (p. 100)
  • Our family of origin influences whether we respect or disrespect our children, what makes us angry and frustrated, how we express our emotions. (p.105)
  • Some parental fearsmay be:
    • parental inadequacy
    • powerlessness
    • being judged
    • children’s safety
    • permissiveness
  • “Doing with” asks more of us than “doing to” all influence us to take the somewhat easier route of rewards and punishment.


  • What does a child’s misbehavior actually mean? What needs might a child be trying to meet? How might we, as parents and caregivers, use our understanding of a child’s need to respond with respect? (p.99)
  • While parents may be controlling more and more on the homefront, schools also present places of control for children. Unless homeschooled or unschooled, most children spend the majority of the day having someone direct them. If school is a large amount of time in the life of a child, not to mentioned scheduled activities, how does this change the need for the home environment to offer a degree of safe choice and freedom? 
  • What role do you think media portrayals of children and parents/adults play in how we parent (or are encouraged to parent)?
  • How does what we do with our children and how we are with them have more to do with our needs, our fears, our upbringing than what is best or what we actually want for them? (What beliefs, fears, feelings or experiences about children and life influence your parenting?)

Unconditional Parenting: Chapter 5: Pushed to Succeed


  • Some parents are so focused on future success that the whole of the child’s present is consumed by it. (p. 75)
  • Focus on success shifts learning from “What does this mean?” to “Do we need to know this?” (p. 75)
  • Comparing children to others can cause them to view others as obstacles and base their self esteem on performance and what other think. p. 76)
  • Kohn suggests that it isn’t how much we do for our children but what we do for our children that is important. (p. 77)
  • He also suggests we consider “for whom we are doing our parenting?”
  • Pressure to succes in school (pp. 79-85) and athletics (pp. 85-88) actually backfires (just like use of control) and ends up leading to less success.
  • Children pushed to succeed often have a fear of failure that causes them to put in less effort to succeed in order to not have to face the possibility of failure. (If you don’t try then you can’t win but you can’t lose either.)


  • Did/do you feel motivated to learn for the sake of learning or do you recall having felt overly focused on the outcome (success or failure)?
  • When have you felt the pressure of success affecting your parenting/child? (height/weight percentages? eating and sleeping of infants and toddlers? walking? talking? reading? …..)
  • When you ask yourself “For whom am I doing my parenting?” when do you get the answer that you are doing it for yourself versus doing it for your child?

Unconditional Parenting: Chapter 4: Punitive Damages


  • Research has shown that punishment is “ineffectual over the long term as a technique for eliminating the kind of behavior towrad which it is direct.” (pp. 63-4)
  • Punishment has recently been repackaged as “consequences.” (p. 65)
  • Warnings about the consequences to follow  (punishment–loss of privilege or something else unpleasant) end up being threats that reveal distrust that children want to or will do the right thing if there is no punishment. (p. 65)
  • Natural consequences (Example: forgetting lunch means going hungry) can be experienced by the child as the adult in their life refusing to help. (p. 66)
  • “The more you rely on punishment, ‘the less real influence you’ll have on their lives.'” (p. 68)
  • Why punishment doesn’t work (p. 67-71): makes people mad, models use of power, loses effectiveness, erodes our relationships with our kids, distracts kids from the important issues, makes kids self-centered.
  • Children more likely to ask “What do the grown ups with the power want me to do and what will happen to me if I don’t? versus “What kind of person do I want to be?”
  • Punishing out of love is confusing to children.
  • There is a continuum of conditional parenting(doing to):
    • harsh corporeal punishment       
    • milder spankings      
    • other punishments       
    • tangible rewards       
    • verbal rewards
  • Goal is to get off the “doing to” continuum entirely and moving towards a “working with.”


  • Do you agree that consequences are punishments wrapped up in a new package? Why or why not?
  • When have you found yourself along the conditional parenting continuum? As a child? As a parent/caregiver?
  • What is a time/situation in which you found a solution other than something along the conditional parenting continuum? What led you to that action/thought/solution instead of something conditional?
  • What do you think helps you move towards a working with approach rather than getting stuck in a doing to kind of reaction?
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