Alfie Kohn speaks about the difference between getting children to behave well and to be good human beings.
Parenting is one of the many mysteries few people, particularly parents, have unravelled. Alfie Kohn, author of 12 books on human behaviour, parenting and education, comes up with some more ideas that are very appealing but only make it all the more confusing. “Most books and seminars on parenting are not geared towards producing a good human being. They are more concerned with ensuring compliance and so they tend to rely on the typical strategies parents use which is generally some form of bribes and threats which we prefer to call positive re-enforcement and logical consequences so that we can feel better about manipulating kids. My interest is helping parents keep their eyes on long term more ambitious approach…to develop a working with approach…and one essential feature of this approach is making sure kids know they are unconditionally accepted. That means they know that they are loved for who they are and not for what they do.
The reward and punishment idea has not done well. Sometimes you can see the results immediately and sometimes over time. Two studies have found that children who are constantly rewarded and praised by their parents are somewhat less generous than their peers…that would surprise many people. Parents have been told to use carrots instead of sticks. Rewards and punishments are two sides of the same coin. At home or in the workplace, no controlled study has ever found a long term enhancement in the quality of work due to reward system… Rewards and punishment is easier….controlling leads to doing it on the sly. It is impossible to control children…few people understand that it is because of desire to control…vast number of parents blame children…”
Kohn advocated unconditional parenting. However, accepting them unconditionally is not the sum total of being good parents. Setting an example, giving them more say over things that matter and giving them a chance to make more of their own decisions, not by giving directions, are some of the other desired inputs. He says get feedback from kids, do not judge them. He makes some subtle differences about praising a child and suggesting that the child has some skill which the child could explore further. This way, he says, we avoid the idea that the child thinks that only if he does something praiseworthy all the time will he or she be loved.
Kohn is right when he says, “There are times when we parents and teachers need time out…when we feel we are going to lose out…it is best then to move away… we should not give time out… that is a rather cruel one. A teacher in Japan sees kids holding rocks to throw …teacher says you have to be careful and knocks the rock against her own self to show it can hurt. Kids do something to hurt others, they do not know. My job is to respect you enough that you have enough information so you will not do it. Instead of snatching the rock away …that shows you do not trust.”
Kohn says over controlled kids behave badly when out of the control ambit, that it is important to use logic like saying, “I love you too much to let you go into the street…where do you think you can go to play which is safer…” instead of dragging the child indoors and let him or her bawl. He laments our lack of tolerance for children’s noisy exploration and play…be willing to rethink your requests, he says.
“I treat sibling complex as a problem to be solved. We are subtly setting kids against each other…creating competition for our affection…who can get their pyjamas on fastest…we get kids to rush because it suits our need…”
So do not trample on the kids because you want instant peace, build in them such skills as they will need to deal with the world and that takes patience and tolerance.