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'Unconditional Parenting'

When it comes to parenting techniques and getting your children to behave, conventional wisdom suggests rewarding kids for good behavior and punishing them if they're bad.

Well, there's a new book that challenges those theories and says you should forget all of those techniques. It's called "Unconditional Parenting."

Author Alfie Kohn visits The Early Show to share what he believes parents are really supposed to be doing with children.

Kohn's theory is that when you either punish your child for being bad, or reward them for being good, you're passing along the message that you only love them when they're behaving the way you want them to (or that you don't love them when they don't behave the way you want them to).

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Using these practices, Kohn says parents are teaching children they only love them conditionally. His philosophy, which is that children need to be secure in the fact that they are loved unconditionally, can only be expressed by being more patient and really trying to deal with the underlying factors that cause children to "misbehave."

He tells co-anchor Rene Syler, "Punishment and rewards only get them to think about the consequences to themselves with the result that they become more self-centered rather than concerned about others' well-being."

He emphasizes that the more we listen to kids, try to understand their perspectives, really talk to them and help them understand why we believe certain things, the more likely the children will be to listen to us and behave the way we want them to.

He says,"We don't have time at the grocery store do the kind of long-term relationship building, but we have time over the course of their lives, and if we don't do it, there's only going to be more tantrums."

Although he doesn't offer specific tips to counter specific problems, there are some tips he gives that all parents can use to let their kids know they're loved unconditionally.

Talk Less, Ask More
Kohn says, "How can you help your child to be part of the decision making in this family more? For an older child, you can ask them what they consider to be a reasonable curfew, or for a younger kid you could ask them how many cookies they think it's reasonable to eat when dinner is in an hour. The way kids learn to make decisions is by doing it."

Reconsider Your Request

He explains, "Does it really have to be done right this minute or exactly the way you would do it? Often times, if you back off and give the child the space to do it their way and on their time, you will find they'll be more prone to do it in the end."

Put The Relationship First

"So often we sacrifice the connection we have with our children in order to maximize control, and that's exactly wrong," Kohn says, "Before we put our foot down or do anything that might make the child feel they're not loved and accepted, we should think: 'Is it worth it?' "

Show Unconditional Love, Not Praise

He says, "Despite what people think, it's not the same thing.

"Overall, parents need to start thinking about what they're doing and what they're asking their kids to do. Instead of asking: 'How can I get my kid to do x?" We need to think: "Is it reasonable to get them to do it?' Maybe the problem is with what I'm asking my child to do. Maybe it's for my own convenience and it's not necessary. Maybe, on second thought, you'll think it really IS that important, but sometimes you want to rethink the request.

"Throughout the book, I talk about the difference between 'doing-to' and 'working with,' and here's the difference: to do things to kids to get them to cooperate is to use the traditional forms of discipline, which is bribes and threats and to act on children to get them to obey mindlessly. It's very counterproductive, but it's quick and easy. It takes no time, care or courage. On the other hand, working with takes all of those things (time, care and courage) and requires us to do things like meeting their needs, respecting them and letting them know that they're loved. All the things in the book that I suggest are ways of working with children."

Read an excerpt from Chapter 1:

Conditional Parenting

I have sometimes derived comfort from the idea that, despite all the mistakes I've made (and will continue to make) as a parent, my children will turn out just fine for the simple reason that I really love them. After all, love heals all wounds. All you need is love. Love means never having to say you're sorry about how you lost your temper this morning in the kitchen.
This reassuring notion is based on the idea that there exists a thing called Parental Love, a single substance that you can supply to your children in greater or lesser quantities. (Greater, of course, is better.) But what if this assumption turns out to be fatally simplistic? What if there actually are different ways of loving a child, and not all of them are equally desirable? The psychoanalyst Alice Miller once observed that it's possible to love a child "passionately--but not in the way he needs to be loved." If she's right, the relevant question isn't just whether--or even how much--we love our kids. It also matters how we love them.

Once that's understood, we could pretty quickly come up with a long list of different types of parental love, along with suggestions about which are better. This book looks at one such distinction--namely, between loving kids for what they do and loving them for who they are. The first sort of love is conditional, which means children must earn it by acting in ways we deem appropriate, or by performing up to our standards. The second sort of love is unconditional: It doesn't hinge on how they act, whether they're successful or well behaved or anything else.

I want to defend the idea of unconditional parenting on the basis of both a value judgment and a prediction. The value judgment is, very simply, that children shouldn't have to earn our approval. We ought to love them, as my friend Deborah says, "for no good reason." Furthermore, what counts is not just that we believe we love them unconditionally, but that they feel loved in that way.

The prediction, meanwhile, is that loving children unconditionally will have a positive effect. It's not only the right thing to do, morally speaking, but also a smart thing to do. Children need to be loved as they are, and for who they are. When that happens, they can accept themselves as fundamentally good people, even when they screw up or fall short. And with this basic need met, they're also freer to accept (and help) other people. Unconditional love, in short, is wha

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