Monday, October 12, 2009

Conditional Parenting

If the day ever came when we were able to accept ourselves and our children exactly as we and they are, then, I believe, we would have come very close to an ultimate understanding of what “good” parenting means. It’s part of being human to fall short of that total acceptance – and often far short. But one of the most important gifts a parent can give a child is the gift of accepting that child’s uniqueness. –Mister Rogers

About a month ago, former Woodland Park parent Sarah sent me a link to an article from the New York Times that examines the practice of “conditional parenting,” which is a parenting approach that advocates withholding acceptance, approval, praise, and even love as a way to get one’s child to do what one wants. I know, it sounds awful, but it’s exactly the technique being advocated by such popular leading lights as Dr. Phil McGraw (who is not actually a doctor) and The Supernanny (Jo Frost).

I don’t need research to know that this is a horrible idea (although the article does site several studies that show long term harmful results). Using our love and acceptance as a kind of currency to buy certain behaviors, cheapens what it means to love our children. In fact, I wonder if it can really even be called love when it’s used as a tool of control and manipulation. This isn’t to suggest that the alternative is blindly heaping praise on children. That’s just another form of conditional parenting (e.g., I’m giving you this love an attention because you did X or Y).

In practice . . . unconditional acceptance by parents as well as teachers should be accompanied by “autonomy support”: explaining reasons for requests, maximizing opportunities for the child to participate in making decisions, being encouraging without manipulating, and actively imagining how things look from the child’s point of view.

That’s certainly how I like to be supported. Maybe the bottom line is to treat children like people.

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1 comment:

Eternal Lizdom said...

I read Dr Phil's book many years ago. And I've watched his show off and on for years- mostly because I like the background noise at work so I half pay attention. I'm not a fan but I do know a lot about him- if that makes sense.

I've never heard anything from him that indicates to me that a parent should withold love from a child. In fact, the whole idea of parents being the "soft place" for a child- even as an adult- to fall came from Dr. Phil.

I'm really not trying to defend the guy- it just doesn't fit with my own experience.

I think the bigger issue is people taking parenting direction from media stars. I've always felt that if you have to turn to Supernanny or Dr Phil- you must be in a very out of control, low place. These folks aren't teaching parenting for the sake of bettering the best profession on earth. These folks are trying to teach some rescue tactics to people who have been floundering the whole way so far.