Alfie Kohn on re-framing parenting
Why using things like rewards and punishments actually make it less likely that your kids turn out the way you want them to
If you haven’t come across Alfie Kohn yet, stop reading this and check out his book Unconditional Parenting. Seriously, go right now, here’s the link.
Unconditional Parenting is an absolute game changer when it comes to re-framing how to show up as a parent.
I found re-listening to the conversation I had with Alfie back in 2021 super useful so thought I’d re-share it this week.
Before Alfie became a parent he had done some initial research that led to a couple of earlier books, including one called Punished by Rewards that found that rewards, like punishments, are not only ineffective, but also counterproductive. That the carrot and stick or bribe and threat approach with kids, and for that matter with students in school, and employees in the workplace, always backfires, that it's a way of doing things to people instead of working with them.
He came to realise that the case against traditional parenting, was even worse, even more disturbing, because it turns out that rewards, such as praise—which is after all just a verbal doggy biscuit extended to kids to get them to do what we want—ends up communicating the idea that our affection for them, our love and our care, is conditional, that they have to jump through our hoops and that there are strings attached to our love. Whereas really what kids need is not just to be loved, but to be loved unconditionally. That is, even when they screw up or fall short.
What Alfie gets at is that trying to shape our children’s behaviour is at best short term thinking, and at worst manipulation. Whereas getting to understand what our child needs and helping them develop their own agency and decision making is much more long-term thinking with manifold benefits for both us and them.
I hope you enjoy this listen as much as I did.
PS If you could leave a review for the podcast that would be mega!