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Expert: Instead of Timeouts, Just Say 'Yes'

alfie-kohn-no-timeouts-unconditional-parentingAlfie Kohn thinks you shouldn’t punish your kids. He also thinks you shouldn’t reward them. By doing so, you’re teaching them that you love them only when they behave and demonstrate new skills. So, no timeouts and, also, no gold stars.

But kids, right? They can’t be trusted to raise themselves. So why is this Kohn guy trying to get parents to be so permissive, to let them run around wild and turn into narcississtic, rule-ignoring embarrassments who won’t show up to work on time … if at all?

Kohn, responding to the criticism of his New York Times piece in which he said kids interpret timeouts as conditional love, explains in the Times blog Motherlode what parents can do to teach their kids the ways of the world without using timeouts or praise.

But first, he gives a short explanation of how timeouts (or constant praise like “good job!”) can insinuate conditional love:

Somehow we have to communicate that we love them even when we’re not thrilled with what they’re doing. However, the recommendation to make that distinction is sometimes tossed around a little too casually. The fact is that it’s often hard even for an adult, much less a child, to make sense of it. “We accept you, but not how you act” is particularly unpersuasive if very few of the child’s actions find favor with us. What is this elusive “me” you claim to love, the child may wonder, when all I hear from you is disapproval? As Thomas Gordon pointed out, “Parents who find unacceptable a great many things that their children do or say will inevitably foster in these children a deep feeling that they are unacceptable as persons.” That doesn’t change just because the parents remember to say soothingly, “We love you, honey, we just hate almost everything you do.”

Now, the mind-shift for many parents: instead of “doing-to” parenting, switching to working with kids to solve problems. (Be sure to read his short explanation if you automatically think “working with” means “total permissiveness.”)

He outlines 10 points, though he hardly calls it a script to work from. One basic requirement is trying to see a situation from the child’s perspective. Also, try not to be such a perfect parent for your kid — let them see you’re human. Put the relationship first.

Number 6 is particularly important, I think, and something that a society as a whole could work on:

6. “Attribute to children the best possible motive consistent with the facts.”
Nel Noddings reminds us that kids will live up to, or down to, our expectations, so it’s better to assume the best when we don’t know for sure why they did what they did.

Number 7, for me, is the hardest — but totally worth trying (and trying again, and again and again):

7. Try to say yes.
Don’t function on autoparent and unnecessarily deny children the chance to do unusual things. People don’t get better at coping with frustration as a result of having been deliberately frustrated when they’re young.

There were alot of comments over at this post, with parents very committed to timeouts and other discipline techniques that Kohn considers “conditional love” messages to kids. But now that he’s given more specifics, what do you think? Still a recipe for raising a generation of anarchists? Or does it make more sense — and look similar to what you’re already doing?

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Photo: New York Times

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