Unconditional parenting

Becoming a parent is a funny thing. You know it’s coming, and yet you have no idea what’s coming for you.

Being a parent is, of course, what we really mean when talking about parenthood. It’s something that comes with the ultimate responsibility, and yet many to-be or freshly baked parents don’t really prepare for it. Some people never have the need to question their approach to parenting at all. I assume the logic is something like “I have more or less successfully lived my own life for x years, surely I will be able to be a good enough role model to equip my child with whatever he needs to live a happy life. Also, they don’t make people take exams on how to be a parent before actually being one - how hard can it be then?”.

The outcome is simple: The less you actively think about and question your role as a parent and your parenting style, the more you will make your child experience a childhood similar to yours - i.e. the more you will be like your own parents. Now, depending on your parents, that might be a very good thing, but better to not leave things to chance.

One topic that I read about is unconditional parenting (go check out Alfie Kohn’s website to learn more), which I would transcribe as unconditionally loving your child. Obviously, this should be the default parenting style (for if the parents cannot love their child unconditionally, how could anybody else, including the child?), but it seems this is not the case. Every time you hear a parent say “Well done!”, what you really hear is a parent judging their child (yes yes, they mean well). What would that parent say if whatever the child did would not merit a “well done”, I wonder?

Conditional parenting is one of those things that once you start noticing it, you cannot stop noticing it. It’s everywhere, it seems like the default parenting style of today’s world. Having, at least to some extent, been on the receiving end of it myself, I know that conditional parenting has deep, long-lasting negative effects, so let me try to do my part in bringing more unconditional love to the world by sharing some of the rules that I try to parent by:

  • Reduce praise to an absolute minimum. Children should do what they do because they’re curious and interested in it, not because they want to get your praise. Instead of praising, you could, depending on the situation, simply say nothing, say what you just saw or ask the child questions about what he is doing.
  • Don’t tell your child what to say in a given situation, instead have faith that she will learn herself both how to express her feelings and what might be appropriate. Only then can you be sure her “thank you” comes right from the heart, and not because she’s mindlessly following a certain protocol that she knows will get her out of an uncomfortable situation.
  • Let your child make his own decisions and let him take the lead whenever feasible. Let him participate in decisions that affect everybody (activities for the day, meals, …). You might think you know better, but how can you be sure if you have never truly tasted bananas with ketchup before?
  • Ask questions without questioning your child. Be curious about your child’s ideas and thoughts without actually questioning them. It will help your child feel appreciated, trust her own thoughts and be able to express those thoughts.
  • When things go wrong, remain calm. Depending on what happened, your child most likely already feels about it and needs to know that you love him regardless of what just happened.
  • Encourage your child. As long as nobody can get hurt or things can go wrong in some other way, let your child do what she wants to do - exploring the world is part of life!

Obviously I’m not an expert when it comes to parenting (who is, really?), but if some of the things I wrote above irritated or even upset you (sorry about that!), I encourage you to give some of those rules a try for a couple of weeks and observe how your child reacts to the change - I’m confident that you’ll be surprised!


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