📕 The book: Unconditional Parenting, Alfie Kohn
Intended audience: probably parents on how to better parent.
How I read it: deconstructing my childhood, understanding how I treat myself now, keeping lots of notes for when I (hopefully) get to be a parent.
🧠 My Thoughts:
The book every member of the human species should read. One of those sources of information that is never too soon or too late to learn.
Although directed at a different target audience (I’m assuming soon-to-be-parents or parents of young children) this book turned out to be one of my favourites. Through explaining what’s wrong with our generally-accepted methods of parenting, it deconstructs just how we’ve developed self-hatred, insecurity, conditional love towards ourselves and multiple other maladaptive behaviours.
Furthermore, to me it not only shows how our parents may have behaved un-ideally with us, but through that also how we’re bad parents to ourselves. And if you are or ever planning to be a parent, a great cautionary tale for your own children.
It’s just a brilliant deconstruction of behaviour that I think would make anyone so much better off for reading it.
🪄 Actionable Takeaways:
Rewards or punishment are terrible ways to change behaviour in the long term. When people are rewarded (verbally or otherwise) for doing something, they subsequently become considerably less interested in doing it for themselves.
Reward for doing what others want you to (or the requirements you set yourself) teaches you that love is conditional, that it lasts as long as you do exactly what others want.
The more emphasis there is on “results” and “accountability” the less well children tend to do in school. The same can be applied to yourself. Trying to focus on what you actually want to do and why is a much better way to ensure you actually become passionate (and therefore get better results) in what you’re doing.
To force yourself or your children to change their behaviour by punishing or withdrawing (attention or love) from them is a terrible idea. It makes you focus on the consequences of your actions only on yourself, leading people to be self-centred and selfish which is rarely the goal.
By exhorting, pushing children to work harder, they can internalise these pressures and carry them throughout their life. The motivation to “study and work hard” may become internal, but it really isn’t intrinsic. The result is dissatisfaction and worsening results in the future.
We should treat children as valuable in their own right, not just as the adults that they will grow up to be. In the same way when setting goals for ourselves, we should value the state we are in now, rather than just the place we want to get to.
People don’t get better at coping with unhappiness because they were deliberately made unhappy when they were young. Actually having healthy standards and examples of self-love and compassion are a much better formula for coping with the difficulties of life.
❤️ Favourite quotes:
Emotional abuse: Number two on the list, right after “persistent criticism, sarcasm, hostility, or blaming,” is “conditional parenting, in which the level of care shown to a child is made contingent on his or her behaviours or actions.”
What matters is the message our kids receive, not the one we think we’re sending.
“the more conditional the support [one receives], the lower one’s perceptions of overall worth as a person.”
Studies have repeatedly shown, for instance, that students tend to learn better, all else being equal, when no A’s are used to reward them—that is, in classrooms where descriptions of students’ performance are used without any letter or number grades attached.
If you pay children for trying to solve a puzzle, they’ll tend to stop playing with it after the experiment is over—while those who were paid nothing are apt to keep at it on their own time.
Praise isn’t just different from unconditional love; it’s the polar opposite. It’s a way of saying to children: “You have to jump through my hoops in order for me to express support and delight.”
People with something close to “true”—or unconditional—self-esteem “would probably feel pleased or excited when they succeed and disappointed when they fail. But their feelings of worth as people would not fluctuate as a function of those accomplishments, so they would not feel aggrandized and superior when they succeed or depressed and worthless when they fail.”
Positive judgments don’t cancel out negative judgments, because the problem is with judgment itself.
A considerable body of evidence suggests that when children are led to become preoccupied with how well they’re doing, they often take less pleasure from what they’re doing.