Thoughts on unconditional/connection parenting

“What counts is not just that we believe we love them unconditionally, but that they feel loved in that way.” ~ Alfie Kohn

“The model of parenting most of us grew up with was authoritarian parenting, which is based on fear.  Some of us may have grown up with permissive parenting, which is also based on fear.  Authoritarian parenting is based on the child’s fear of losing the parent’s love.  Permissive parenting is based on the parent’s fear of losing the child’s love.  Connection parenting is based on love instead of fear.” ~ Pam Leo

I realize that this isn’t a parenting blog, but I have had some huge parenting realizations in the past couple of weeks and they’ve led to a significant change in my view of myself, of my daughter, of my role as a mother, and even in my levels of patience and energy.   I had to share.  Please don’t feel at all judged or threatened if you disagree with me.

My daughter’s intense separation anxiety has returned after leaving for a few months.  It’s apparent during the day but we see it most with bedtime’s necessary separation and then those middle-of-the-night wake-ups that turn into hours of struggle for all three of us.  But that’s neither here nor there.  What I have learned is about parenting the whole child; about addressing the underlying issues rather than the behavior.

I have never believed in time-outs and I’ve always been gentle and respectful with my sweet girl.  She has natural consequences, of course, for certain actions that are not acceptable.  However, since learning more about unconditional parenting, I’ve learned that positive reinforcement (practically my middle name) can be just as detrimental as punishment because they’re both about short-term control of our kids.   I don’t want my daughter to think she has to earn my love or my approval.  I want her to know that I love her every moment and for always.

What replaces both discipline techniques is attention.  Awareness.  Presence.  That is what my daughter wants and needs and that’s what I’ve been giving her these past couple of weeks.  It has helped me see her as a whole person and learn more about her reasons and fears behind her behavior.  It has allowed us to talk more about why certain undesirable behaviors are not accepted.  And this is huge… I am able to be authentic in my relationship with her.

I hope that I’m on a path that will help my daughter become intrinsically motivated to be her own person.  It has already helped encourage her to play more by herself, which allows me to do more things around the house.  I can see that she is becoming empathetic… as much as a 3-year-old can.  I have become much less controlling (which I am actually enjoying… whew) with my daughter and a lot more permissive and forgiving with myself (hallelujah!).  For once, I’m not too worried about my to-do list.

Most amazingly, I don’t see her as I sometimes did before… as wonderful but also an interruption of what I’d rather be doing, of the cause of my exhaustion and frustration.  I see her as a gift.  I miss her when we are apart and I enjoy her when we’re together.  That’s a huge difference.

I encourage you to learn more about this.  I’m happy to share the titles of the books I’ve been reading that has led to my mental shift.  “We’re not talking about spoiling kids or taking a hands-off approach to raising them.  Unconditional parents play an active role in their lives of their children, protecting them and helping them learn right from wrong.” (Alfie Kohn, Unconditional Parenting)
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23 thoughts on “Thoughts on unconditional/connection parenting

  1. Naomi. this is fabulously beautiful!
    I wish I’d have discovered this treasure
    when my grown children
    were still littles……so much ripe, lifegiving wisdom
    here.
    Fear never leads to the good stuff.
    Cheering! cheering wildly in your corner:)
    -Jennifer

  2. I’m glad to hear things are better. I’m wondering: how can you only have natural consequences? If a child runs into the street, the natural consequence is getting run over. Of course, that’s unacceptable. When gentle explanation doesn’t result in a change of behavior, a logical consequence is that he must go into the house and not have the fun of playing outside. When behavior is unacceptable, a logical consequence is the time out. This isn’t based on anger, but consequences. It isn’t a withdrawal of love, but giving the child boundaries that they need to feel secure in their world. They know the ground rules and the consequences when those rules are broken. It gives them a sense of security in their world.

    • That’s true, Cheryl. We actually struggled with a logical consequence for not holding hands in a parking lot recently and ended up using a consequence that was meaningful to her (no chocolate milk that day). I think that when behavior is unacceptable, the time out should involve both child and parent. Leave the situation (or the restaurant or the store) or distance yourselves from others and calmly express “we do not hit” or whatever. “I’m not going to let you do that. If it happens again, we are going home.” I’m sure every child is different, but for mine, a forced separation would be beyond harsh.
      I totally agree kids need limits and that our job is to guide them as far as what is acceptable in the world.
      Thanks for commenting.

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  4. beautiful post. parenting is such a journey, right? I “thought” i would be a certain type of parent. But now I am the type of parent my daughter needs. I’m sure if we had other children they might need a different type of parent too. Being present with their needs and their soul is way more important that “doing it right”. Thanks so much!

  5. I am not a parent but I would like to know more. I think it would be helpful to understanding one another in general. I did a little bit of research on Alfie Kohn to try to better understand. I hope you will write more on this or point me in the direction of something to read.

    • Patti, I’m glad you’re interested! Look for these books…
      Beyond Discipline and Unconditional Parenting by Alfie Kohn, Parenting From Your Heart by Inbal Kashtan, Raising Children Compassionately by Marshall Rosenberg, Respectful Parents, Respectful Kids by Sura Hart and Victoria Kindle Hodson, Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline by Becky A. Bailey, and How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish.
      I’m still making my way through them but let me know how they are for you if you read them. 🙂

  6. Naomi, I loved this post. Giving attention and awareness to a child is such an important thing to remember. Thanks for the reminder. That quote at the beginning about loving unconditionally was so powerful. Thanks for writing this, very thought provoking.

  7. I loved this post. Giving a child attention and awareness rather than just blind discipline is such an important thing to remember. Thanks for the reminder. The quote at the beginning about loving unconditionally is powerful. Great great post Naomi.

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  9. Naomi, I am just now catching up on your blog and this post really speaks to me. I have been reading Naomi Aldort’s Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves and I have read many articles by Alfie Kohn and his book Punished by Rewards. I used to say my child would be my greatest teacher without truly understanding what that would mean, but as the challenges get different and at times more trying I realize how true it is. I have to dig deep into myself and be honest about myself before getting upset or making unreasonable demands on my child. I also realize that shutting out well-meaning advice and the slew of parenting articles about the one right way to get your kid to do XYZ helps reduce the stress I might feel about parenting from my heart.

  10. I feel like I could talk to you for hours on this issue of unconditional parenting, so I will just add, I feel the same way as you do that I don’t want my son to feel he has to do something so I will love him. I have also had to revisit how I was raised, to realize that that is exactly how I was parented and shifting out of those familier spaces takes practice and I try to be gentle with myself, but honest with myself and my son when I slip up.

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  13. What a wonderful post… beautiful paintings too. Brings back memories of when my girls were much younger. They are young adults now. 🙂 Thanks for your patience! 🙂

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