10 Principles of Unconditional Parenting

We live in a conditional world, and many realize the inherently dangerous nature of treating one another in this manner. When we treat our children as if our love is conditional, meaning they have to do something to receive it, we are abandoning our responsibility as parents to love our children no matter what. According to Alfie Kohn, writer and speaker on issues related to human behavior, education, and parenting, what our children most need from us as parents is unconditional love.

The Ten Principles

While these points of philosophy offer a helpful base for what Alfie is trying to convey, I highly recommend visiting the Alfie Kohn website to read more of his work, or purchase the Unconditional Parenting DVD. Your life as a parent will not be the same.

  1. Consider your requests – Maybe it is in what/how you have requested that the child is not responding favorably. Maybe you need to re-think what you are doing. Are you sure you want to trick the kid to get her to do what you want?
  2. Put the relationship first – Being right isn’t necessarily what matters; it matters very little if your children stiffen when you walk into the room. What matters is the connection, the alliance, mutual respect. From a practical perspective, the relationship counts, where the child feels safe enough to explain why she did something wrong. When you put your foot down, is it worth any potential injury to the relationship?
  3. The love has to be unconditional – Love withdrawal is conditional love. When it does work, the price you are paying is too high. It says, “You have to earn my love.” You go away from me or I go away from you equals banishment. Kids need love that never stops coming, affection that does not have to be earned. “No matter what you do, I will never stop loving you.” Stop that which gives the opposite message (i.e. positive reinforcement when they are good). Items can be a display of love or a tool to control – you cannot have it both ways. When we praise them for making our lives easy, they look for that. More praise, the more insecure they become, the more dependent they become on our approval. They have to know they are loved even when they screw up or fall short. They need to know they are loved for who they are, not what they do. Time out is okay when the child decides and the time is something that helps the child center – something fun, diverting.
  4. Imagine how kids see things – Look at the world from their point of view! The more you do that, the better a parent you tend to be. When I say, “X,” how does she feel? Imagine how your friends (or relatives) seem to your child. From a young child’s point of view, we’re often interfering with what looks fun.
  5. Be authentic – Do not forget your humanity. Don’t pretend to be more competent than you are, apologize to your child every so often ~ you’ll find a reason.
  6. Talk less, ask more – Listen, respond, elicit, imagine her perspective. This can make you a better partner, manager, colleague, too. Consider your perspective. Effective parenting includes listening.
  7. Assume the best  – A tribute to children: assume the best possible motive consistent with the facts. Why assume the child was trying to make you unhappy? Children of a certain age cannot understand promises or sitting still for a long family dinner. Don’t assume the worst. We do not always know why kids do things. Kids live down to our negative expectations. Assume the best.
  8. Try to say yes, when you can – Do not say no constantly. Sometimes you have to say no. Kids don’t get better at coping with unhappiness when they were made unhappy deliberately when they were young. If you say yes twice as often as you do now, they will still get plenty of opportunities with frustration. Pick your battles. This is not to say yes out of laziness. Provide guidance, support, and mindful parenting. Say yes as often as you can.
  9. Don’t be rigid – Wave the rules. Be flexible. Respond differently to different children and situations, understanding the context. Predictability is good, but don’t make a fetish of it. United front is dishonest. It’s more useful for kids to see we honestly disagree and can talk it out.
  10. Let kids decide whenever possible – Support their autonomy, bring them in on the decision-making. Children will feel better about themselves. The way kids make good decisions is by making decisions. Let them decide unless there is a compelling reason not to.

Consider embracing and/or meditating with one principle per month. See how it is already at work in your life or how you can bring it in a bit more to influence family harmony. If you’ve already read Unconditional Parenting, how is it affecting your day-to-day parenting experience?

This article has been edited from a previously published version at HubPages.com.

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About The Author: Amy

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Amy Phoenix is a gentle yet direct mom of five and author of Presence Parenting, a space to address the presence we bring to parenting, especially when feeling frustration, anger or rage.

7 Responses to 10 Principles of Unconditional Parenting

  1. Paige @ Parenting Gently  

    Thanks for featuring these ten principles I think they are so important and will give some great food for thought to Carnival visitors!

  2. Mary @ A Teachable Mom  

    Thank you for reviewing these ideas. I especially needed to hear #7 and #10 today. My older daughter often gets angry when I don’t include her in decisions. I often assume she should know better rather than assume the best of her – that’s she’s doing the best she can, just like I am. I’m grateful to be learning/teachable! Thanks!

    • Amy  

      Very pertinent points, Mary. I am always humbled by these principles and also feel very grateful to be learning and teachable! It’s so freeing to learn along with our children. 🙂

  3. Emily Bartnikowski  

    One of the things that helps me with #4 is reading The World of the Child by Aline Wolf. It’s a quick little fable, but it certainly helps with perspective and compassion.

    Thanks for the rest of the tips!

    • Amy  

      Thank you for sharing that, Emily, I will check out the story. I find sitting down observing and really letting all of my preconceived notions fall away also helps me to see the world how a child may. It’s a practice, and important to recall in moments of heightened emotion. 🙂

  4. Mama Mo @ Attached at the Nip

    Reading Unconditional Parenting changed the way I approached parenting. It was literally a watershed moment.

    The principles that stand out to me the most, the ones that I find myself consciously thinking about are 4 and 7. I remind myself as I go about the day with two year old twin boys, how difficult must life be when you can’t reach objects you want, can’t open the fridge to get the food you want, can’t determine where you’re going, or any number of abilities adults take for granted. I try to take the perspective of my boys, then I try to say yes. (Hey, that’s 8!)

    And when I assume the best of them, it makes everyone happier. It just creates an atmosphere of relaxed enjoyment.

    Thank you for sharing this list, and I highly recommend Mr. Kohn’s book!