Monday, September 5, 2011

Unconditional Parenting

Earlier in the summer I read the book Unconditional Parenting by Alfie Kohn.  Kohn wrote a book about the downfalls of homework, which was interesting, so I thought his parenting book would be up my alley.  Also, I have been incredibly short with Raina and I realized that having new parenting tools in my toolkit could only be an asset.
Kohn criticizes most parenting books because they embrace, what he calls "conditional parenting" or what I call "love with a lot of baggage."  He lumps spanking and praise into the same harmful category; the first because physically hurting someone you love is inappropriate and the second because "good job" praise or reward stickers or its ilk hamper intrinsic motivation.  He spends a lot of time pressing this point, which is also argued in Daniel Pink's Drive, because so much of modern parenting has become a continuous negotiation of parents versus child.  At least my household is in a constant state of negotiation, which initially I liked but now (three years later) realize I fully despise.
Unconditional parenting is about unconditional love and allowing children control and agency and trusting them to make decisions and recognizing that adult's unfair and unrealistic expectations are the adult's problem and not the child's fault when the kid cannot meet those developmentally inappropriate goals.

Some of my take-aways:
I have to stop telling my daughter to say she's sorry when she's really not.  Teaching her to lie does not teach her empathy.

Expecting my child to act older than she is sets us all up for failure.

Control is key, and my kids deserve more of a vote about their lives and what happens in it.  Some of that is as simple as letting them pick out the daily outfit (which means Lola wears the same three shirts, sometimes in the same day!).  During our stay-at-home time, Raina and I made a list of things we really wanted to do that day and we each contributed half of the items.  Those days were exceptionally easy in terms of parenting because Raina 1) had bought in to the day and 2) she knew that pretty soon we'd be doing something she really wanted to do. 

Finally, we need to pick our battles and say no when it really matters, rather than all the time.  This one is hard -- "no" has become a rather common word in my house -- so we'll be working on this one a while.

Little Miss (We Hope Will Be) Independent

Raina's reaction to new experiences is to hesitate, clutch a parent, and sometimes cry and refuse to engage. Numerous times we signed Raina up for some activity and then spent the whole time convincing her to try it. (With t-ball we utterly failed.) Over time we have pieced a process together that enables some amount of success: 1) anticipate all the possible things that would happen, 2) give Raina lots of advance notice of these possibilities, 3) offer an "if - then" bribe, and 4) talk up her bravery.

The buzzword of Raina's first grade classroom is "independently" and I've heard Raina refer to it a few times now.  Maybe this year she'll be more willing to try these things independently.


How will Raina cope with death?

Eric is in a band, the Meteor Pilots, with a hilarious man named Gary.  Soon after Lola was born, Raina started to accompany Eric to his weekly band practice.  She would listen to the music, wander around, and play with LaVerne (Gary's wife).  Gary and LaVerne are in their mid-50's and thoroughly enjoy their weekly allotment of Raina time.

Gary and LaVerne had an adorable dog named DiMaggio and Raina loved on him frequently.  Sadly, DiMaggio passed away.  Raina has talked about death before and she knows that it is upsetting to others, but she's never known anyone who has passed away.  I really have no idea how she will react when we tell her.

post-note:  Raina seemed totally fine.  She's asked a fair number of questions, and we talked for a little bit, but the shock for which I was mentally preparing never materialized.

My Do It!

Lola officially has arrived at the independence stage of two-year-old development.  I have not-so-fond memories of Raina at this age:  meltdowns and screaming "MYSELF!" until we left her alone to figure it out solo.  Lola's phrase is "My do it!" and she shouts it with more forceful insistence the more we try to help her.  She has plenty of gumption -- who else would grab the step stool from the kitchen and carry it to the opposite end of the house just so she could turn on a lightswitch? -- but it is incredibly time-consuming and it wears me out.  I just have to remind myself to ask her before I do anything and to budget in an extra 5 minutes for every event. 

The flip-side is that Lola is determined to do everything that everyone else can do and she perserveres. Today the family did a 2+ mile hike with plenty of steep hills and Lola took it like the champ she is.  She only needed real help for about 15 seconds of effort.  Fantastic!