I just started reading a book by Alfie Kohn, called Unconditional Parenting. It's the second of Kohn's books I've read, and I gladly admit that the first one, Punished by Rewards, made a significant impact on my life, on Kristin's, and on our kids'. Punished by Rewards set us off on a different model of parenting, on in which we try to eliminate the use of punishments and rewards, and, ironically, the journey has been incredibly rewarding.
I read Punished by Rewards shortly after Trin was born, back in 2000. Kristin was the primary earner in those days, and the easiest (only) way I could get Trin to take a nap was to drive him around in the car until he fell asleep. Then I'd go home, park in the driveway, and read. I read a lot of good books then – it was like going to college and actually having the time to complete the assigned texts. Punished by Rewards was an eye-opener, as Alfie showed with convincing evidence, specific research, and well reasoned arguments how people, both kids and adults, act more effectively when working for intrinsic (self-generated) motivations than when working for extrinsic motivations (rewards from others). The book's ideas created a fork in the road, and Kristin and I both gladly took it.
Which is not to say that I immediately overcame 40-odd years of social and cultural conditioning in behaviorist philosophy – or 8,000 years, if you want to count all the legacy of the Hebrew patriarchal structure that permeates our culture.
Other books followed. The works of John Holt added to the philosophical underpinnings, along with Grace Llewellan and Eckhart Tolle. Then, at a La Leche League conference in 2001 or 2002, we listened to a talk by Inbal Kashtan on Non-Violent Communication, and began to learn the practical language of non-judgment, of human needs and connection.
Let me leave you with a couple of early quotes from Unconditional Parenting:
"At least in part, then, conditional parenting is based on the deeply cynical belief that accepting kids for who they are just frees them to be bad because, well, that's who they are."
"… the choice between conditional and unconditional parenting is a choice between radically different views of human nature."
"Compulsory apologies mostly train children to say things they don't mean – that is, to lie."
"Unconditional parenting assumes that behaviors are just the outward expression of feelings and thoughts, needs and intentions. In a nutshell, it's the child who engages in a behavior, not just the behavior itself, that matters."
For explanation on any unfamiliar terms – well, read the book.