Unconditional Parenting: Moving from Rewards and Punishments to Love and Reason

How we feel about our kids isn’t as important as how they experience those feelings and how they regard the way we treat them — Alfie Kohn

What is this book about?

Unconditional Parenting” is written by Alfie Kohn, author of many books on parenting and education. He is an outspoken critic of traditional schooling; specifically its reliance on disciplines, grades and examinations.

“Unconditional Parenting” is a book intended to make parents move away from a carrot and stick approach to parenting with unconditional love and acceptance.

What does it cover?

The premise of the book is that current parental techniques are inappropriate to bring up children given the parents’ long term goals. These techniques are based on the behaviorist school of thought propounded by Skinner; that in turn were based on animal behaviour control techniques. As a side note, most freemium games, lotteries, chits etc. are based on human behaviour as observed by Skinner (read up on Skinner’s box for more information). Coming back on topic, the author suggests moving away from time-outs, gold stars etc. and instead talks about bringing up one’s child with unconditional love and affection. Corporal punishments, stars, time-outs, carrot/stick policies etc. are all fundamentally telling one’s child that our love is conditionally based on their behaviour.

The book is divided into 10 chapters. It starts by talking about conditional parenting. The next topic to be covered is the danger of giving and withholding love through control, rewards (stars, bribes etc.) and punishment (time-outs, corporal etc.). It then moves on to what holds parents from adopting different styles of parenting from what they are used to. Finally, the principles of unconditional parenting are explained.

How is it written?

Alfie Kohn has written this book in a conversational style. There are a lot of examples and anecdotes used to explain the fundamental concepts. This is applicable both in the case of conditional and unconditional parenting.

What did I like?

The one thing that stood out for me, when compared to other parenting books, is the presence of concrete action items for moving to unconditional parenting. Alfie Kohn compares conditional to unconditional parenting using examples to show us how these styles differ. This is huge in its impact since it shows us how simple actions and thoughtless reactions can have huge consequences for a child’s growth.

What did I not like?

There is really not much that I did not like about this book.

My Recommendation

I found this book to be one of the best I have ever read since it had a huge impact on me. I had to put down this book many times and think over what was being said. I was able to start comprehending some of the behaviours which have become a conditional reflex for many of us as well as how these behaviours perpetuate themselves when we treat our kids in the same way. Our education system and cultural values are unfortunately not geared to letting our children live the best lives that they can.

For parents & married couples, this book is a must read to understand how we can do a different job of bringing up our children as opposed to the earlier generations. Bachelors/bachelorettes can read this book to understand how their current behaviour patterns are rooted in their past.


Originally published at Digital Amrit.