I noticed this book in my local library when I was searching for yet another sleep-help book. The book’s full title is Unconditional Parenting: Moving from Rewards and Punishments to Reason and Love. Great title. While my love for my children is not conditional, I fear that my parenting has been.
It was my father-in-law who introduced the concept of a ‘deal’ to the Abomb when he was about 18 months.
You can have the truck after we have a cuddle. That’s the deal, OK?
Meant in good spirits and kind of cute to have your 18 month old asking you whether it’s a deal.
But the concept of a ‘deal’ forms the basis of much parenting. How do I get my child to do something I want them to do? I offer a reward or a punishment. Easy. Child complies. Receives or avoids something in return.
This approach has always made me feel slightly uncomfortable. Sometimes it feels as if my whole day is deal brokering. And, of course, as with anything that is used consistently and inappropriately over time, it works less and less.
So now, with a thorough understanding about how deals work, my 4 year old says, without irony, so here’s how we’ll do it Mummy, you get me some watermelon and then I’ll turn the TV off.
Cringe. Deals are no longer funny or cute. They push my buttons.
Kohn is on the money when he says that while the use of rewards or punishments my help you control the situation with your child and help you achieve what you want, it doesn’t foster any meaningful relationship or intellectual engagement on the child’s part.
Trouble is, I’ve been relying on it so long, it’s sort of how we work. The Abomb gets it, he doesn’t always comply, but he gets the reasoning and more often than not he’ll do it. Sdash is learning it quickly too. If you get into bed, I’ll bring you a cracker is such an easy way of putting a resistant child to bed. But, it just feels so cheap you know?
My dream is that I will be able to explain to my child what I need doing or not doing and they, albeit begrudgingly, will understand. They may not want to do it and they may voice this. They may not even comply with my request but the process will be different. I won’t be constantly thinking what it is I can exchange with them to get what I want.
I found that many of the principles of Unconditional Parenting resonated with me and made me self-reflect deeply about the way I parent.
In the next post I’ll provide an outline of these principles.