Posts Tagged ‘book club’

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?

Unconditional Parenting: Chapter 3: Too Much Control

This chapter really hit me because, as I describe in my Tandem Nurturer posts, we are facing major control issues here with a new baby in the house. If you are willing and able, please share a situation or solution around control that you have experienced as a parent or caregiver. Then we can work together to come up with ideas for each other. Thank you!


  • Observe other parents/caregivers next time you are out (playground, store, etc.). What tone and words are parents using with their children? What are children getting in trouble for? Is the parent response reasonable?  [The point is not to judge but to see and reflect. No one can know all the circumstances of a person or situation from looking for a few minutes from the outside.] (pp. 46-7)
  • Children whose experience is of feeling controlled may only feel loved if they conform to demands. (p. 47)
  • “For every example of a child who is permitted to run wild in a public place, there are hundreds of children being restricted unnecessarily, yelled at, threatened, or bullied by their parents; children whose protests are ignored and whose questions are dismissedout of hand; children who have become accustomed to hearing an automatic ‘No’ in response to their requests, and a ‘Because I said so!’ if they ask for a reason.” (pp. 47-8)
  • “The dominant problem with parenting in our society isn’t permissiveness, but the fear of permissiveness. We’re so worried about spoiling kids that we often end up overcontrolling them.” (p. 49)
  • Children who do what they are told generally have parents who respect them and their feelings, minimize use of control, offer reasons and explanations, listen to objections, and give children more say (especially in how to play). (pp. 51-20)
  • Excessive control leads to a feeling of powerlessness in the child which leads to anger. (p. 55)
  • Overcontrol can lead to a loss of self-regulation in a child. This can negatively affect relationship with food, moral conscience and internal compass, interest level and ability to deal with frustration. Children who have parents who do things for them that they can do for themselves can end up with a lower skill level. (pp/ 57-61)
  • Structure is needed by children, but should be reasonable, flexible, and with the child’s participation if possible. (p. 61)
  • Main question: How can we, as caregivers, offer guidance and set limits without overcontrol? (p. 49)
  • THE GOAL: To help children gain control of their own lives. (p. 62)


  • When do you find yourself leaning towards a more controlling approach to your child? What do you think leads to that reaction? Do you notice any patterns?
  • How important do you believe it is to talk about feelings with your child, for them to know about feelings? How (often) do you talk about feelings in your home? (with your partner or housemate or other family member/friend if you don’t have an older child) (p. 55)
  • Do you agree that children are born able to self-regulate? How does that belief fit (or not) with the parenting advice you have read/heard? (around eating, sleeping, pottying, etc.) (p. 58)
  • When do you find it hard or easy to let go of control and give your child control and power?
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