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Unconditional Parenting: Moving from Rewards and Punishments to Love and Reason

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Most parenting guides begin with the question "How can we get kids to do what they're told?" — and then proceed to offer various techniques for controlling them. In this truly groundbreaking book, nationally respected educator Alfie Kohn begins instead by asking "What do kids need — and how can we meet those needs?" What follows from that question are ideas for working with children rather than doing things to them.
One basic need all children have, Kohn argues, is to be loved unconditionally, to know that they will be accepted even if they screw up or fall short. Yet conventional approaches to parenting such as punishments (including "time-outs"), rewards (including positive reinforcement), and other forms of control teach children that they are loved only when they please us or impress us. Kohn cites a body of powerful, and largely unknown, research detailing the damage caused by leading children to believe they must earn our approval. That's precisely the message children derive from common discipline techniques, even though it's not the message most parents intend to send.
More than just another book about discipline, though, Unconditional Parenting addresses the ways parents think about, feel about, and act with their children. It invites them to question their most basic assumptions about raising kids while offering a wealth of practical strategies for shifting from "doing to" to "working with" parenting — including how to replace praise with the unconditional support that children need to grow into healthy, caring, responsible people. This is an eye-opening, paradigm-shattering book that will reconnect readers to their own best instincts and inspire them to become better parents.

272 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 2005

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About the author

Alfie Kohn

22 books454 followers
Alfie Kohn writes and speaks widely on human behavior, education, and parenting. The author of fourteen books and scores of articles, he lectures at education conferences and universities as well as to parent groups and corporations.

Kohn's criticisms of competition and rewards have been widely discussed and debated, and he has been described in Time magazine as "perhaps the country's most outspoken critic of education's fixation on grades [and] test scores."

Kohn lives (actually) in the Boston area with his wife and two children, and (virtually) at www.alfiekohn.org.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 908 reviews
Profile Image for Christine Cavalier.
34 reviews115 followers
May 14, 2012

And not in a good way.

Before I give you more details on my review, let me give you some of my background.

I have a 6-year-old son and a 12-year-old daughter. I also have a BS in Psych and a Masters in Ed Psych. I study behavior and psychology as a hobby as well as use it in my freelance writing career. I read pop psych books like others devour romance novels or baseball statistics (check out my Social Media reading list or my behavioral economics list for my favorite books in these areas).

To top this all off, I breast fed my babies until they were both over two years of age. I'm a middle-of-the-road Democrat. I'm married to a PhD in Philosophy. This book seems like it was custom-written for the white- suburban-college-educated mommy that I am.

Except it isn't. I'm not sure I know for whom this book was written, because it doesn't present any solid information in a way that is applicable or helpful.

Kohn has made a career rallying against behaviorism. Behaviorism, as a theory, works very well. It is fully supported by years of research. Yes, most academics would agree that a purely behavioral approach to any endeavor lacks long-term effectiveness in humans. That's where the Cognition theories come in to pick up the slack. These two theories of human behavior and motivation, used in conjunction, have been proven worthy repeatedly in helping people learn, grow, and lead better lives. Kohn rejects the Behaviorism outright and focuses solely on the Cognition. Just as a purely behavioral approach reduces humans to unconscious animals, a purely cognitive approach elevates humans to an impossible, advanced-aliens-from-outer-space level. Alone, neither theory works all that well across the board.

Along with Kohn's pedantic writing style is a disturbing lack of cited research to back up his wide statements about the effects of certain parenting solutions. This is a deal-breaker for any parenting book. You just can't take parenting psychology seriously without copious amounts of cited research. In fact, you should be very suspicious of such a book.

That being said, let's take a look at the not-new theories Kohn presents.

While I accept some of Kohn's premises (respect children's ability to make decisions, expect age-appropriate, ability-appropriate behavior), I disagree with his disregard of parents' emotions and feelings. Kohn expects the parent to be ever self-sacrificing, ever-searching for pure motivations behind their children's behavior.

Children can be immoral, selfish, violent, abusing, manipulative horrible little animals, just like any other humans.

Yes, the Ideal Parenting Rulebook dictates that parents should love their children more than themselves, more than anyone or anything else on the planet. I get it. But I am not a mere object in my child's growth. I am a functioning human being with needs, goals, objectives, and emotions that are oftentimes in conflict with my children's. And guess what? If there are some important battles on the line, or even if I'm flat out of patience, I win the battle. Why? Because I know better what is the greater good for the family and I also know that if I don't preserve my own sanity, we will all fail.

Police culture has a great phrase for this: Raise your children, or we will. In other words, if you neglect your duties as a parent, the state authorities will pick up the slack when your child fails. Our job as a parents, as the police see it, is very basic: raise children who are capable of taking care of themselves (and perhaps others) and their society. I'm not sure Kohn would agree with this view.

To be fair, I already practice a lot of what Kohn promotes. I am well-schooled in human ability, brain development, etc., and that schooling allows me to reason appropriately at different stages with my kids. Indeed, reasoning with kids becomes more effective as they (very slowly) gain more ability to reason.

Kohn thinks kids have more ability to reason at earlier stages than I do. He is also willing to suppress or downplay his own needs in order to accommodate his child way more frequently than I am willing to do so. Raising your children to expect accommodations that only a deeply devoted, self-denying parent would give is perhaps a disservice to the child. Plus I posit that such neglect to one's own feelings will eventually promote distrust on the child's part and resentment on the parent’s part.

Instead, I let my children observe my annoyance when they misbehave. I'm a human, I am allowed to be annoyed at such things. I have never once hit my children, but I have used "love withdrawals" because being excluded is the natural consequence of breaking social norms, fair or not. I don't think a time out here and there is going to shake my children's belief that I love them. On the contrary, my willingness to deliver a reality check will eventually be seen as an act of love in itself, if it isn't seen that way already. I've seen kids in homes where they can sense that the lack of consequences translates into something akin to apathy, and the effects are devastating.

Kohn would argue that he does in fact place restrictions on his children's behavior. He would say that he just puts off those restrictions until absolutely, utterly, no-choice necessary. His main points are not about behavior control, though. If he had you in the elevator and could impart some "wisdom" on you, he'd say: "Don't underestimate your children's ability to regulate themselves, reason, and make good decisions. Give them the space to do that. Don't let your upbringing dictate how you raise your own kids."

This, of course, is good advice. Even though Kohn lacks research to back up his claims, he makes many solid points in the book that may be eye-opening to the everyday parent. Unfortunately, along with the lack of citations, there's a dearth of practical steps and practices for implementation of his attachment-parenting theories. He throws in a few question worksheets at the end of the book but they are too little, too late.

By leaving out these practical tips, Kohn abandons those of us in the trenches. As a mother of young children, I find life very unpleasant when I'm around terribly misbehaving kids. As much as I try to remain empathetic to the parents, I begin to hate this "unconditional love" (read: inability to set boundaries on behavior) approach. Most of the time, in my observation, the parents aren't confident enough to demonstrate some leadership qualities and are terrified their children will hate them as much as they hate their own parents.

So I’m supposed to not want to strangle the kindergartner who is taking my child’s food, peeing under the picnic table during lunch, screaming for his own way and generally making life miserable for everyone within a 5 mile radius? I’m supposed to keep arranging playdates with this mother who admits she “has no control” over her children? Sorry, Kohn. A little behaviorism would solve a lot of issues here. A good habit introduced into that kid’s repertoire would make the world a nicer place.

Yes, I feel for a poor tired kid who has to trudge through the grocery store with their mother. But life is tough. Learning how to mitigate the grocery aisles when you're miserable is training for mitigating the freeways and the rat race. Throwing a tantrum in the cereal aisle earns you no favors in life and deserves a negative response, just like road rage is unacceptable and deserves jail time. To avoid going to the grocery store when it is necessary, or to rearrange my entire life so as to keep children comfortable (especially when it is beyond reasonable), is doing children a disservice.

We are not living in the utopia that Kohn imagines. We are not all Upper East Siders who can choose a school for our children that matches our "unconditional" parenting style. We are not all white, educated Northerners whose culture allows for this privileged, time-heavy, money-sucking parenting approach. We are not the privileged upper class where physical goods are never to be made paramount over even a second's worth of children's lives. The fact is, for most parents, a small moment of misbehavior from a child can severely impact our quality of life. Many of us can't afford new televisions if our child thinks it's a good idea to throw the lamp at it. We have to place reason aside for a second or two until that child realizes such destruction won't be tolerated. Many of us don't have the energy to explain to a child about how that television keeps the peace in our marriage, is our only connection to the outside world, or is the only form of entertainment we can afford. Many children wouldn't understand the impact of that lamp, figuratively or literally, so more active behavior modification parenting techniques are frequently necessary in our world.

We are not living in unconditional environs. To be honest, I'll always love my children in some way, but if they turn into psycho- or socio-paths I would find it a bit difficult to remain supportive of them. Their behavior has consequences. It's my job to gently deliver a little taste of what the outside world has in store for them. I don't beat them because in life, that's illegal. Adults can't hit other adults. It's against the law. I don't beat them, also, because I am privileged enough to have learned the lack of effectiveness of corporal punishment in the long run as opposed to other more humane methods.

I react with hurt when my children insult me, because that is how I feel and that is how other people would react. I don't hide my annoyance when they refuse to stop repeating a phrase over and over, causing my brain to burn in my skull, because that kind of behavior will get them fired from whatever job or friendship or endeavor they take on at any stage of their lives.

I listen to them when they give reasons of why they didn't hand in their homework, but I make it clear that I expect their behavior to change anyway. I don't listen to their excuses when the “missing homework” behavior continues. I don't listen to explanations when they are really just justifications (see Dan Ariely's work about the false attributions people consistently give for their own motivations/behaviors in my behavioral economics reading list.). Results matter. Intent doesn't always matter. This is life. To shield children from this basic cognitive/behavioral reality is to warp their perspective and set them up for real-world disappointments.

I agree with Kohn on many levels. This book is worth skimming through your local library’s copy if you are not a Psychology person and are looking for some different perspectives on parenting. But at the end of the day, just like always, do your best with what you’ve got. Try something new. And don’t let fear or habit dictate your parenting.

-Christine Cavalier
Profile Image for Ali Abdaal.
17 reviews32.5k followers
June 13, 2021
Gamechanging. Need to re-read / listen every few months once I (hopefully) become a parent. Super interesting even for non-parents. Note to self - need to re-read on Kindle for highlights + summary.
14 reviews1 follower
January 22, 2009
I didn't want to like this book.

What is it about “gentle” parenting types that makes them so obnoxious? Why does the phrase “unconditional parenting” make me want to hurl? Why do “lactivists” make me want to offer their children Dr. Pepper in a baby bottle?

But really I love baby slings! And nursing! Why do I want to run screaming when I meet up with some ardent proponents of things I more or less agree with??

I think it’s the strident “mommier-than-thou” tone of a lot of attachment/gentle/natural parenting literature out there. For some reason, a discussion of their views always seems to be preceded with a strident denouncement of what everyone else is doing so very wrong.

And this book is no exception. While I’m still finishing up (skimming mostly), I can see that the majority of this book seems to be pointing out flaws with other philosophies of parenting. Alfie Kohn knows what everyone else is doing to warp their kids. Other parenting experts, pediatricians, teachers, and a variety of other parents Alfie has observed are just doing it wrong wrong wrong.

His primary target is the punishment/reward continuum so much of contemporary parenting advice is based on. Alfie feels that this destroys trust, short-circuits reasoning and moral development, and forces children to rely on extrinsic motivations to treat others well, rather than intrinsic ones. He is especially harsh on using timeouts as a discipline technique – referring to them as “love withdrawals.” Oh my goodness.

His argument is made too stridently for me, his method of citing scientific studies is shoddy, and I hate the way he picks on parents that have had the misfortune to encounter him on one of their worse days with their children.

That all being said, I think I agree with him. The punishment-reward “behavior modification” methods popularized by SuperNanny and such always seemed kind of icky to me. While I’m not sure I share his conclusions that they are tremendously damaging (“love withdrawals?!?”), I am pretty sure that they don’t work. At least not in my house.

I appreciate being let off the hook for not following through on naughty mats, timeouts, sticker charts, or any of that stuff. It was a pain to do and just did not work for us.

While I wish Alfie spent a little more time on what –does- work, I agree with his assertion simple carrot-stick methods are not what is needed for the most effective parenting.
Profile Image for Sonya Feher.
167 reviews10 followers
July 3, 2008
The concept of unconditional parenting appeals to me, the idea that we love our kids unconditionally: whether they behave, throw a tantrum, do (or don’t do) well in school. Kohn debunks many popular discipline strategies including time-outs, positive reinforcement and praise, reward systems, and punishment. Instead he offers thirteen parenting techniques that help parents to honor their kids and to treat them as if they like them rather than are in charge of them. He also challenges parents to consider how they would feel if they were receiving the treatment they’re giving their kids. Are we helping our children feel loved and accepted even when their behavior is not acceptable? He warns against the unspoken message, “We love you honey; we just hate almost everything you do” (143) and offers strategies for dealing with problematic behavior.

I liked the ideas in this book, though I felt like Kohn kept repeating himself to try to drill home people’s understanding of why to do it. I’d bought in pretty early on so I was ready for application advice way before he gave it. One of the things I appreciated most about this book was Kohn’s insistence on seeing a child as a whole person with needs of his or her own, needs that are not or should not be secondary just because of being a child. Unconditional Parenting offers many logical and loving parenting and discipline strategies to help meet a whole family’s needs. It just took awhile to get there.

If you want my Cliff’s notes version, read the chapters and pages I found most helpful:

* “Giving and Withholding Love” 24 - 42
* From “Punitive Damages” 64 - 73
* “Pushed to Succeed” 74 - 77
* “Principles of Unconditional Parenting” 119 - 139
* “Love Without Strings Attached” 143 - 162
* “The Child’s Perspective” 191 - 211
Profile Image for Amy.
17 reviews1 follower
June 30, 2007
This book changed my life! It completely restructured my parenting paradigm, and I am now feel passionate about this message.

Our culture has borne a generation of "praise junkies" - children whose behavior is motivated not by intrinsic goals, but by rewards or the avoidance of punishment. True, Classical Conditioning is a proven method for behavior modification...but do we really want to treat our children like Pavlov's dogs?

In this book, Kohn discusses the perils of praise, and uses both common sense and scientific research to back up his theory. His arguments speak to the heart of all parents, and explain that respecting your children as human beings goes a long way in cultivating the harmonious, joyful, and trusting relationship that we all seek to have with our children. Using praise and punishment, on the other hand, leaves children feeling manipulated and fearful.

"Yes, but, I want my child to have self-confidence!" Of course all parents want to help their children become happy, well-adjusted adults, and many parents may wonder: Without praise, what do we do with our children? Kohn explains that simple acknowledgment is what really fuels a child's sense of self-worth, and that merely giving a child your undivided attention is worth more than 1000 "good jobs."

If you are a parent, this may be the most important book you read. Don't be afraid to open your mind to something revolutionary!!
Profile Image for Taylor.
193 reviews11 followers
October 25, 2007
I have to give this book a wholehearted recommendation. It took me about a week to read it and caused what I can say was my first real "I'm-not-the-awesome-parent-I-thought-I-was" crisis. Which was so good for me. What if everything that you take for grated about parenting (time-outs, stickers for toilet training, praise and accolades) might actually be hurting your relationship with your child, or even your child him/herself?? Alfie Kohn says that these traditional punishment and reward systems are extremely damaging to children's development and psyches. And he cites a huge body of research telling you why. And then he explains some alternatives.

I consider myself a very competent parent and child-care provider (afterall, I've been doing the latter for some 15 years!), and this book blew many of my habits and theories out of the water. It gave me lots to think about. It inspires me to try harder and harder everyday to be a better parent. It moved me so much that I bought my own copy.
Profile Image for Natalieb.
27 reviews4 followers
May 14, 2008
I went through a period of time where I read a million and one parenting books. This one came highly recommended from a good friend (and cousin). I found that it lacked practicality and weighed heavily on scare tactics (ie: you're going to permanently damage and ruin your child if you do X, Y, & Z, but then never gave examples of what you should do in these situations). And I had a hard time with the fact that it claimed you can only love your child unconditionally if you fit their mold.

On the flip side, I've never liked rewards and punishment methods of parenting/teaching because I want my children to want to be good for being-good sake, and not because they want a sticker or don't want to have to flip their card to *gasp* red.

In short, too many holes, not enough answers.
Profile Image for Eric.
332 reviews
April 1, 2017
Eric's Lessons:

1. Reconsider your requests: is what I'm asking for worth the trouble?
2. Put the relationship with your child first
3. Respect your child, don't demean them "Just ignore him when he gets like that."
4. Be authentic, apologize
5. Talk less, ask your child more questions
6. "Attribute to children the best possible motive consistent with the facts"
7. Say Yes whenever possible instead of No
8. Be flexible
9. Don't be in a hurry (when we are rushing or in public we tend to be more controlling and coercive)

10. Ask yourself, if the comment I just made had been made to me-- would I feel unconditionally loved?
Limit criticisms
Make criticism specific to situation, not imply something wrong with kid
Limit intensity of criticism
Look for alternatives to criticism
Tommy looked sad that you said that to him
When your feeling frustrated, what can we do instead of pushing?

11. Instead of good job:
Say nothing, just pay attention
Describing, rather than evaluating
Explain the effects the child's action on other people
Inviting reflection
Asking rather than judging
"Its when children fall short and feel incompetent that they most need our love not our disappointment"

Allow your child to make many choices often, even some important ones

12. How to raise moral kid
Care about them
Show them how a moral person lives
Talk with them: reason and love

13. Remember to see things from the child's perspective
Profile Image for Rachael Lauritzen.
117 reviews6 followers
March 4, 2013
This was an amazing book. The thing I liked most was that it really helped you to think through parenting assumptions, many of them handed to you by pop culture, and whether the conclusions of that thinking through are what you as a parent actually want for your kids. It was almost iconoclastic in its stance towards many popular parenting techniques, which isn't always a good thing, but the author's logic, conclusions, and recommendations (all backed up by research) are rather persuasive.

I will say that I felt a little skeptical, even defensive, when I first started reading Alfie Kohn--though my initial reaction was in his book Punished by Rewards, which has a scope greater than parenting--but I kept reading and I'm very glad I did. I recommend this book to any parent, even if you decide you don't agree with it. The mental exercise of shaking the dust out of your assumptions (or other people's or other parenting books' assumptions) will make you a better parent, just by becoming self-aware, learning to see the child's perspective, and learning to think your actions through.

update 3/4/13: Just finished re-reading and it was well worth the effort. It really helps to refesh and remind yourself of the things in the book, especially the last few chapters. Love.
Profile Image for Stefanie.
25 reviews1 follower
April 15, 2008
As both a parent and a teacher, I think this is one of the most important books I will read. I think I will return to it again and again to remind myself to keep the ultimate goals for my child (and for my relationship with my child) in mind. Kohn turns conventional "wisdom" about "discipline" on its head. He asserts that a "working with" approach, rather than the more traditional "doing to" approach, more effectively reaches the goal of a sensitive, caring and independent child. His questioning of the very popular practices of overzealous praise and time-outs were probably most useful to me, as they gave me pause about things I would likely do simply because I am surrounded by that mentality. Kohn is not idealistic- he humorously includes stories of raising his own two children and reminds us that the most important things a parent can convey are a sense of kindness, respect and caring attention.
Profile Image for David.
Author 1 book77 followers
June 17, 2013
Reading this book requires patience to get past the first six chapters without screaming, "Okay, I get it! I know what not to do. What do I do!?"

It's brutal. But I understand that Kohn feels he needs to convince his readers of the evidence against rewards and punishments for children. His case seems strong to a layman like me, though I can imagine a lot of convincing is needed for many parents or parents-to-be. The point was fully belabored.

Once we do get to the advice portions of the book, it's vague. Kohn pretty much tells us that he's being vague because he doesn't want parents to be following formulas to raise their children. He has a good point - there's clearly no one-size-fits-all solution for parenting. But would it have killed him to include a few examples now and then? This is not a reference book. It's about the philosophy of parenting. It's about examining every interaction you have with your child with this question in mind: am I showing my kid that I love them right now?

Quite frankly, I think it's a tough book to fully internalize. Kohn does explain what he wants parents to do, but it's a deductive puzzle: his rules are broad and general while your exact circumstances are specific.

Despite that, I read this very slowly in short snippets over a long span of time and I thought about it and mulled it over and talked about it with my wife. So I think I've come to something that resembles a pair of actual rules a parent could reasonably follow:

1. If your kid does something bad, try to explain why it was bad and invoke empathy as much as possible (have their actions affected someone else, perhaps?). Most importantly, make it clear that you still love them anyway.

2. Your kid does something good, it's okay to encourage it, but somehow (and this is the hard part) make it clear that your love is in no way due to the thing they just did.

But really, if you think about it, these two rules can be distilled into just one:

1. Show them unconditional love: make it absolutely crystal clear to your kid that you love them no matter what they do.

Easier said than done. It takes vigilance and practice and most of us will probably never get even close to as good at it as we'd like. But as Kohn explains (and I'm paraphrasing big-time), just the fact that you're trying means you're doing the right thing.

My personal suggestion: start by smiling every time you see your child.

Tags: unconditionality, things not to do, things not to say, studies, parenting, children, monk-like calm, patience, willpower, love
Profile Image for MizzSandie.
334 reviews339 followers
February 10, 2017
In general I guess I have a problem with things, people, views, methods that are either too extremist or too generalizing, or both.

I'm not really a big fan of The Right Way (for one as for all), and anyone who claims to have found it and who starts lecturing other people on it and how they've come to master it to perfection, I tend to regard with a bit of incredulity.

So as much as I agree with dear Alfie that children should always know they are loved, and that it is important to treat children with respect, to try to understand where they are coming from, that we, as parents need to reflect on what we are doing and why and how we can do it better, I just don't believe that rewards, limits or praise is always a bad thing, or that behaviorism got everything wrong (but neither did they get everything right), and that by setting boundaries or using exterior motivation techniques children will automatically end up question wether they are loved or not and with serious self esteem issues.
That's a little too simplistic, limited, deterministic and reductionistic scope.

Parenting is not a clear cut way or choice of one style or the other, one of them being good and one being bad, of categorizing parents as either 'conditional'(=bad) or 'unconditional' (=good). I think parents will at some points be practicing one form, at other times the other, and that many many more factors play into how children turn out, that just this one way of categorizing parenting techniques. Parenting and childrearing is a messy business, and parents and children change and vary and different things have different effects on different people. No matter how much research Alfie cited, research itself is a flawed business that can be easily manipulated (just by selectation) and not a reflection of Truth. Just as much research exist to prove a point for behavioristic methods as for Alfies more romantic approaches. Both can be used and misused, and neither approach does well on its own.

So where Alfie is setting it up as a competition, that can only have one winner, I disagree with the whole Either/ Or stance. I would have liked to see more of a bridging and a reflecting aim than the campaigning and oversimplifying categorizing that was going on here.
Profile Image for Kelly Holmes.
Author 1 book74 followers
December 22, 2019
The front cover of this book describes it as "A Provocative Challenge to the Conventional Wisdom about Discipline." Uh, YEAH.

This book had me squirming in my chair on a regular basis. Over and over, the author would present compelling research about how parenting with rewards and punishments doesn't necessarily get you a kid who's more compliant. And over and over, I would think to myself: "Well, if you don't use rewards and punishments, what the crap else are you going to do?" Be patient because it's worth it!
Profile Image for Amy.
90 reviews
October 22, 2009
I am not sure quite what to rate this book. Would I recommend this to others...not sure. Here is what I liked and what I didn't like about the book.

One of the things that helped me to keep reading was the fact that the author backs up most of his ideas with research. Granted you can find studies that support both sides of a position. But so many authors of parenting books just throw out their opinions with nothing to back up their opinion. The author even gives the study and the results of the study, he doesn't just say "Researchers found...". Also this book was very well organized and one that would be easy to skip through and find the information you are interested in.

What I didn't like. As a parent it is hard to hear over and over what you are doing wrong. I want a book that says ok here are some tools to use. This book did have some good points but you have to skip to the end.

What I got from the book.

Change how you see not just how you act. I think this was the whole point of the book and why the author listed all the things typical parents do, and why that is not the best parenting strategy.

Give your kids affection without limit, without reservation and without excuse. Pay as much attention to them as you can regardless of mood or circumstance. The important thing is that your kids feel that you love them no matter what. (easier said than done)

Give your kids as many choices as you can. We say no all to often.

Time outs are a form of love withdrawal, not good. Time out is a technique coined by B.F. Skinner and his work with pigeons! I had no idea. Now the book also says that if children of their own free will and choice want to go to a comfortable place to calm down that is ok, it is not ok to send them to time out.

Positive reinforcement in the form of stickers, candy, praise, etc not good. Children are actually less sucessful at a task when they are offered a reward.

Controlling not good. Society focuses a lot of the permissive parents, there are more authoritarian, controlling parents. The overcontrolled child creates a double life, the one the parent sees and a secret one.

Respect- children often know more about things than we give them credit for.

Give your children the benefit of the doubt, attribute the best possible motive consistent with the facts.

Don't be in a hurry. Parents who are short on time tend to be more controlling.

Basically this book wants children to learn the intrinsic internal rewards.

I had a really hard time reading this book. I felt like I had no options left that were "healthy" according to this book. I stopped reading and started skimming just so I could get my review done. I did my review and all went well. I went to a class later that day and the therapy model they were teaching is behavorisim, which is exactly everything this book said not to do. As I was sitting there watching them "teach" us how to put our children in time out with the "naughty" point (from the Nanny which I actually used to love) my stomach began to churn. What messages are we sending our children when we sit them under a sign that says naughty when they made a mistake? What if God gave us a "time out" everytime we yelled at our kids? God loves us no matter what, no matter what we do, say, or how we treat others. Do we need candy and stickers to let us know that we did a good job on something? Will our children feel that good internal feeling if they are always doing something because they will get a piece of candy, or because we take away that focus from the internal feeling by saying that feeling isn't enough of a reward here let me give you something external so that you know you did a good job? My appreciation of this book grew and I understood more of what the author's point was after sitting in this class and knowing how manipulated I would feel if someone treated me the way we often treat our children. Yes I realize that many of those "techniques" work but just because something works doesn't mean we should do it.
Profile Image for Megan.
156 reviews12 followers
October 28, 2008
This is the best book on parenting I have ever read. Before this, I have read tons of parenting books and found that attachment parenting worked best for me. I heard Alfie Kohn speak on the radio and ordered this from the library, thinking I would read more (he has a ton) if I liked this one. Some people are turned off by his obvious passion and strong opinions on this subject, but I find that it's nice to have someone believe strongly in their (well-researched) approach to parenting, when that approach is actually kind and respectful toward children. This book has completely changed they way I interact with my children, especially my seven-year-old and I am so happy with the results that I will risk sounding over-eager. Kohn posits the idea that rewards and punishments (conditional parenting) are ineffective as parenting tools. He argues that parenting is effective when we can demonstrate to our children day-in and day-out that we always love them. This sounds pretty obvious, but I agree with him that much of traditional parenting consists of getting kids to behave the way we want them to and bombarding them with negatives when they don't, without realizing that our interactions very often put forth the message that they are only acceptable to us when they are exactingly obedient. He goes to say how parenting based on conditions (either giving praise or criticism) leads kids away from learning on their own terms, being excited about exploration, and thinking about how their interactions affect people other than themselves. I kept making Jake listen to paragraphs--the book is so pertinent and practical--it makes you realize how a whole paradigm (traditional parenting) is totally screwed up and you just never saw it (although it did feel wrong a lot of the time). The thing I like most about this book is that it argues the main goal of parenting is to teach our children to be compassionate human beings--people that consider and respect the feelings of others and are aware of how their behavior and choices make a difference to the people around them. Instead of focusing their attention on themselves, it helps draw them out to notice the world around them. My seven-year-old has responded amazingly well to Kohn's approaches (some of which we had figured out ourselves), and I feel as close to her as I did when I was a single parent, she was still my baby, and we were an inseparable two-some. She follows my (our) lead on this and treats her younger sister (19 mo.) better as well. I'm excited to read more of Kohn's books, especially about education. This book has brought peace into our home and strengthened my relationship with my daughters. I feel confident that this is the type of parenting that will allow me to have an open relationship with my girls even when they are teenagers, and even when we disagree (fingers crossed).
Profile Image for Elizabeth.
14 reviews4 followers
June 15, 2007
This book is one of the standards of positive parenting, and I beleive it was Kohn who coined the phrase, "Praise Junkie", which appears in this book.
The basic premise of his philosophy is that running around applauding our children for every little thing they do teaches them not only to expect praise for everything, but also that if we aren't praising them immediately, they must be doing something wrong. Thus our love must be conditional.

My favorite idea was that the constant "good job" assumes that any positive move the child may make was a fluke, and thus must be wildly praised or they'll never do it again.

Whether or not you'll like this book depends on your basic theory of children, and Kohn even mentions the trouble conservative Christians may have with the idea of unconditional parenting. If you assume children are born evil, then of course you think any good move is a fluke and must be rewarded. I personally don't think the two are mutually exclusive, though.

This book tells yo only what not to do, ie constant praise, punitive punishments, but doesn't offer much in the way of alternatives, other than citing specific examples. However, that's one of the selling points, I think. He clearly states that it is not a parenting book, rather a discussion of the idea of unconditional parenting.

While my beleifs side with kohn, I don't think praise is a bad thing if you're genuinely proud and excited about what your children are doing. Who can resist the urge to be excited about poo in the potty?

It is nice to challenge yourself to remove "good job" and "good _____" from your vocabulary, and instead state the action back at the child. "You pulled up your pants by yourself! You've never done that before! "You're growing up." I think a lot of people GJ refelexively, and my favorite one I hear is, "Good Sliding" on the playground. What?? Did they have a choice but to go down once they got on? Good use of gravity!

Profile Image for India.
164 reviews
May 23, 2021
It’s no exaggeration to say I would be a dramatically different parent had I not been introduced to Kohn’s ideas right before getting pregnant with my son (thanks Dais). It’s actually terrifying thinking about how antithetical his approach is to our cultural norms, when it all makes such perfect sense.
This is what I’ll take away as the core of the book: our goal as parents should be to make our kids feel that we love them unconditionally, “for no good reason”. Rewards (including praise) and punishments (including ignoring them when they’re behaving “badly”) tell them the exact opposite: that our love for them is conditional on their behaviour. We know they desperately want and need our love, and we exploit that fact by strategically giving/removing that love in order to train them to act in a way that’s (often) more convenient for us.
Which leads on to Kohn’s other crucial point: we should always try to act with our ultimate goals for our kids in mind. An important part of that is that we want them to be internally motivated: e.g. to pursue learning because they enjoy that process, not because they crave our praise, or to treat other people well because they care about other people, not because we’ll punish them if they don’t.
The alternatives to rewards and punishment? Genuine respect for our kids, genuine interest in what they think/feel/want, exerting the minimum of control over them (saying no only when you absolutely have to, giving them autonomy wherever you can), explaining the reasons for your actions. It will take a lot more patience and energy than throwing out mindless “good jobs” or “because I said sos”, but it will help them grow into empathetic, kind, thoughtful, curious, confident people – who never feel they have to act in a certain way to earn our love.
In conclusion, I named my son after Alfie Kohn and I have no regrets.
Profile Image for Dana-Adriana B..
625 reviews262 followers
January 26, 2019
Nu stiu ce sa spun, atata Parenting (extra, mega, super-mediatizat) strica nu alta. Ideile din carte sunt bune, adica toti ne dorim copii ECHILIBRATI din toate punctele de vedere. Dar teoria este una, iar practica ....alta.
Exemplu: copilul face crize in magazin: aceeasi situatie la 10 familii va necesita 10 rezolvari diferite. Si asta deoarece rezolvarea situatiei depinde de parinte (starea de spirit, personalitate....) si de copil (varsta in primul rand, personalitate, s.a.m.d.). Adica degeaba incerci sa ii explici logic la 2 ani, in plina criza pentru ca:
1 - nu te aude din cauza tipetelor
2 - nu intelege logica ta
Ciudat iarasi, nu e bine sa: tipi la copil, il pedepsesti trimitandu-l in camera lui, il plesnesti peste fund, ii spui "bravo" sau sa ii dai recompense (cand face ceva bine, initial expertii in parenting te invatau taman asta!!?), adica ce mai ramane?
In concluzie, nu exista o rezolvare stass pentru orice situatie, te descurci cum poti alegand varianta cea mai putin rea?!
Profile Image for Yeliz.
58 reviews
September 15, 2015
Özgür Bolat’ı okur musunuz? Ben yazılarını çok severek okurum, bence çok değerli bir eğitimci. Koşulsuz Ebeveynlik kitabını okurken sık sık Özgür Bolat’ın yazılarıyla paralellikler yakaladım, hatta üşenmedim birkaç eski yazısını tekrar okudum. Kendisinin referans verdiği yazarlardan birinin de Alfie Kohn olduğunu görünce hiç şaşırmadım. İkisinin en önemli ortak noktası bence, çocuk büyütürken günü kurtarmaya ve itaatkâr bir nesil yetiştirmeye değil, bugünün çocuklarının geleceğin yetişkinleri olacağı gerçeğine odaklanmaları.

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Profile Image for Ірина Білоусова.
47 reviews10 followers
May 8, 2022
Алфі Кон «Любов без умов. Від винагород і покарань до турботи й порозуміння»

З кожною прочитаною книгою про виховання дітей, я переконуюсь, що правильних відповідей на мої питання не існує.
Я хочу якогось погожого дня перегорнути сторінку, а звідти золотим сяйвом світяться вони - слова, які детально і чітко розповідають як правильно виховати дитину! Батьківство - це найважчий виклик у житті людей. Звісно, можна йти протоптаною стежкою і виховувати дітей за прикладом своїх батьків або ж обрати інтуїтивний підхід. Та я постійно сумніваюся у доречності цих шляхів. Аргумент що я виросла «нормальною» мене не переконує у доцільності виховної стратегії моїх батьків. Тому що я знаю факти. Такої стратегії вони не мали. Я хочу, щоб моя дитина була щасливою, оточеною любов’ю та прийняттям і водночас адаптивною до вимог суспільства. Але як цього досягти? Як взагалі адаптуватися до світу, в якому відбуваються такі події як війна в Україні, як геноцид цілого народу, масові вбивства, зѓвалтування та тортури? Так, виховання дітей - це складна річ, а зараз це стало задачею із багатьма зірочками. Зараз основною нашою метою є виживання, але виховання дітей закладає той фундамент, що може запобігти війнам та насильству у майбутньому. Наслідки авторитарного та насильницького виховання, що прийшов з СРСР і зберігся в російському суспільстві, ми зараз наглядно бачимо. Це жага до руйнування, відсутність емпатії та співчуття, відсутність критичного мислення та прийняття самостійних рішень, неповага до інших культур і людей вцілому.

Ось декілька важливих порад для виховання, які я взяла на озброєння з цієї книги, підкріплені відповідними цитатами:

* Навчіться любити без умов

«Я хочу стати на захист ідеї любові без умов як засобу виховання, що базується і на оцінному міркуванні, і на прогностичному баченні. Оцінне міркування — це дуже просто: діти не повинні понад усе хотіти нашого схвалення. Нам слід любити без жодних на те причин. Ба більше, важливо не те, що ми любимо їх беззастережно, а те, що вони відчувають, що їх люблять саме так»

* зосередьтеся на тому, що дитина отримує

«Те, що ми почуваємо до наших дітей, не так важливо, як те, як діти сприймають наші почуття і як вони оцінюють наше ставлення до них. Освітяни нагадують, що важливо не те, чого вчитель навчав, а те, що з цього діти засвоїли. Так само і в родині. Найважливіше — те, що дитина отримує, а не те, що ми думаємо, коли їй щось адресуємо.»

* пам‘ятайте про довгострокові цілі

«Ми навряд чи зможемо досягти наших довгострокових цілей щодо дітей, якщо не готові поставити запитання самим собі: чи можливо, що моя поведінка більше відповідає моїм потребам, страхам і отриманому вихованню, ніж інтересам моїх дітей? »

* не забороняте без потреби

«Часто ми говоримо про безпеку, щоб виправдати наші «ні» з інших причин. Ми можемо наказати дітям припинити робити щось геть нешкідливе, або ж казати «ні» автоматично, коли вони пропонують щось незвичне. Іноді ми не дозволяємо дитині робити щось лише тому, що це незручно для нас.»

* уникайте оцінок

«Дослідження показало, що конкуренція здебільшого тільки стримує людей від того, щоб вони прагнули максимально віддаватися навчанню чи роботі. З різних причин якісне виконання більшості завдань не лише не вимагає, щоб люди намагалися обігнати одне одного, — для цього треба, щоб вони взагалі про це не думали. Бо в таки�� ситуаціях немає компромісу. Якщо ми дбаємо про кінцевий результат виконаного завдання, то головне співпраця, а не конкуренція. Так само, як нас передусім цікавить ставлення людей до себе і те, як сприймає нас оточення.»

* дивіться очима вашої дитини

«Ми весь час чогось навчаємо, але, щоб з’ясувати, чого саме, корисно перемкнутися на те, як усе бачить дитина. Згідно з дослідженням (зважте на це), ефект наших дій визначає не те повідомлення, яке ми думаємо, що посилаємо, а те, що сприймає наша дитина. Тому дуже важливо, чи відчувають діти, що їх беззастережно люблять, чи вважають вони, що мають можливість ухвалювати рішення, тощо?»

* давайте дитині якомога більше вибору

«Навіть немовлятам можна дозволити робити вибір. У них досить чітке розуміння, коли вони хочуть їсти, як більше подобається, коли їх тримають, де подобається, щоб їх лоскотали, якою іграшкою вони б зараз погралися тощо. Важливо, щоб ми були налаштовані дослухатися до того, що вони нам кажуть, і намагатися задовольняти їхні прохання, коли це можливо, а не накидали встановлений графік годування та сну чи бавили їх так, як весело для нас, але геть не подобається їм.»
Profile Image for Grin.
105 reviews6 followers
October 7, 2020
Super succinct summary: rewarding/punishing your kids for behavior will (dis)incentivize that behavior. But your true goal for your kids is probably not a particular behavior (obedience, good grades, sports success). It's something deeper: integrity, independence, resilience, kindness, etc. Those qualities cannot be rewarded directly. Kids develop them through introspection, role models (you, their peers), and experience. And they cannot develop them at all unless their baser needs for safety, belonging, and love are met. Your job is to meet those needs unconditionally, so they can be secure in taking real risks as they learn and grow.
Profile Image for Sophie.
484 reviews76 followers
June 13, 2017
“Do everything possible to help her fall in love with what she’s doing, to pay less attention to how successful she was (or is likely to be) and show more interest in the task. That’s just another way of saying that we need to encourage more, judge less, and love always.”

I’m currently 18 and not a parent but both my parents love this book and so I have heard a lot about Alfie Kohn. My mum first read it when I was little (although there is a mystery of her thinking she read it when I was a toddler but the publication date being 2005...strange), it's one of her favorite parenting books and she has since read it at least 4 times, my dad has also read it multiple times. It’s safe to say this book has had some influence in the way I was raised.

When I was maybe 8 or 9, we were listening to an audio version of it as a family on a car journey, or at least my parents were, me and my sibling’s only interest in it was to 1) make fun of the narrators accent and 2) make fun of the book (we were that age, ok). Fast forward 10 years and during a few different conversations with my parents about the way we treat other people and different parenting styles etc. they kept referring back to Alfie Kohn and the things he says in this and some of his other books. I trust my parents way more than my 8 year old self and the things they were quoting resonated with my current thoughts a lot so I decided to give this book a try.

It’s really good. And I mean really, really good. I will definitely be re-reading it in physical form (I listened to the audiobook) at some point so I can copy out the parts I particularly love and if I ever do become a parent this book will definitely be out again then! Here are some highlights:-
“How we feel about our kids isn't as important as how they experience those feelings and how they regard the way we treat them.”
You can keep telling yourself (and them) that you love them and you’re doing it for their better interests but actions speak louder than words and it’s up to the person to decide who they trust, respect and believe!
Rewards and punishments turn children’s attention onto themselves; ‘what will happen to me if I (share, hit him, say thank you etc)’ rather than ‘what will happen to him and how will he feel if I (you get the point)’
This was something that Alfie put into words so well. Read the book just for this point (I don’t have specific quotes but it’s a recurring theme). What kind of people do you look up to, want to know and be friends with? People who are considerate, kind and look out for you or people who only do stuff for you if there is something in it for them.
Discussion rather than punishment.
Telling a child to go to their room after they hit someone isn’t going to magically make them realise that they hurt another person especially if they’re very young when this event occurs. By discussing what happened you can help children to learn that their actions do have consequences but that those consequences are not going to their room or getting grounded, they are that other people will be affected, they may get hurt and upset etc.
No one is perfect. Please don’t pretend to be because of your children.
Your job as a parent is to help your children to learn, discover and explore the world. Show them that people do make mistakes, they are sad sometimes, nobody knows everything and everyone needs help some of the time. If a child sees everyone else as perfect but knows that they are not, what will the repercussions be to their self-confidence, self-love, self-worth and the way they view the world. Think resentment, regret, hatred etc. It’s not good basically.
“People who can –and do- think about how others experience the world are more likely to reach out and help those people-or, at a minimum, are less likely to harm them.”
Perspective. Try and see the world from the child’s point of view. Show them how to think about other people and realise they have feelings and thoughts too and are the centre of their universe just like you're the centre of yours. After talking a little about how war is a “monstrous failure of imagination” Alfie then goes on to say “Less dramatically, many of the social problems we encounter on a daily basis can be understood as a failure of perspective taking. […] To work on seeing things as others see them is to live a very different sort of life.”

I don’t know if this book is any good for parents but as a person who’s been a child, basically a person in general, the ideas in this book make so much sense to me. There are so many other points that I didn’t mention so I’d definitely recommend that you read the book.
Profile Image for Rosanne.
Author 2 books3 followers
December 12, 2013
This review is a little scattered, but it's my thoughts a few months after reading it and taken over a couple days. It's not well written but it gets the idea across.

Sometimes I remember reading this book and I get angry all over again. The author expects parents to be able to react perfectly in every situation and seems to believe that children are basically angels who misbehave only when they can't otherwise express themselves. While that may be true to an extent, our job as parents is not to cushion their every fall because they don't yet understand the world or their emotions, but to teach them how the world works. We can absolutely do it with compassion, but limits and structure are the best ways to go about it, not letting the child be king and then "fixing" things when they go wrong.

I think that there are countless other ways we show our children love besides reward/punishment. You can unconditionally love your kids while setting boundaries, which he seems to think are restrictive and dominating. To him, children are basically exact equals to parents, which simply isn't true. Children lack basic reasoning skills, and some brain function isn't completely developed until all the way to their 20s, so to think that we have equal status in the home and decision making is absurd.

I think the point where I lost all respect for this man was when he quoted another social scientist, who said something very close to, "Telling our children we love them may actually imply that we don't, since telling them means having to reassure them of our feelings. We should show them without having to say it."

Are you kidding me??? So if I tell my child I love her, I actually don't? Because it means I don't show it?

We are just on completely different playing fields.

I agree that it's good to find out why a child is misbehaving because there's probably frustration there they need to learn how to express and just can't yet, but it doesn't mean I won't immediately discipline my child if they are harming another person just because I need to see things from their point of view first.

He seems to think that all parents are power-hungry tyrants who will sacrifice a relationship at the cost of being right or in control. The first half of the book, he goes on and on about all the things we're doing "wrong," but offers no kind of solutions.

I agree generally with his principles of needing to be understanding, patient and reasonable, but I just think he takes it too far by letting the child set the tone of the relationship 100% and make the parent his slave.

Another review I found helpful was this one:

290 reviews1 follower
June 27, 2008
At first I was annoyed that my husband was bugging me read this book since he was the one who bought it AND hadn't read it. Seemed like a hokey-feel-good-but-too-permissive philosophy.

Thankfully I finally got around to reading it...it has completely changed my outlook on parenting and how I interact with my kids.

Kohn's book encourages you to re-evaluate the reasons behind their actions, how to foster independence, encourage dialogue, work together to resolve dilemmas, and how to help them own the solution.

The premise being, children who feel they are respected, heard, and taken seriously are less likely to try to assert themselves at every opportunity making everything a battle.

He also goes into great detail about the damaging effects of conditional parenting be it coercion (bribes/threats), physical force, or even praise (who knew grades could have such a negative impact!!). He acknowledges that you may have your children's best interests at heart, but wants to clearly state how these methods affect them.

In all, a provocative book…will definitely make you think before you act/talk. However, this new way of thinking is extremely challenging. I find myself second-guessing everything I say. Hopefully with time, it becomes second-nature. It has certainly compelled me to make an effort!
Profile Image for Samantha Sandersfeld.
1 review1 follower
October 5, 2020
I often find myself nodding my head in agreement while reading parenting books, because I tend to gravitate towards books that align with my current beliefs that just need some fine tuning. This book, however, did not have me nodding in agreement throughout. Although the large ideas in the book were already things I strongly agreed with, many parts of the book challenged me. Alfie had me questioning things that I believed to be "best practice" in both the classroom and at home with my toddler. When starting this book, I put a lot of focus of how my son behaves, but now I focus on our relationship and how I want that to look right now when he's 2 and when he's 40. I recommend this book to all parents who are looking for ways to foster a positive relationship with their child that honors and respects the child as their own person. Go into this book with an open mind. Chances are you will have to put aside things you've done or seen done for years.

Edit: Upon reflection, I realised how easily Alfie's guidance could be understood as passive. I don't believe that is the intention but it definitely could be understood that way. I have found Janet Lansbury's "No Bad Kids" a good guide and think it could be a good resource as well.
314 reviews1 follower
March 12, 2012
Too theoretical, with not enough practical advice. I love the idea of showing our children that we love them unconditionally. I would have just liked this book to give some more examples of how to show that love while still guiding the children to behave appropriately. The author asserts that we should literally never praise our children, because the kids will start to think that we love them only when they are doing something well. I think that is insane. How is a child supposed to know he accomplished something worthwhile if nobody is there to tell him "Way to go! You did it!"

I agree with the author that rewarding a child for doing a task takes away the intrinsic enjoyment that the child may have gotten from it. I also agree that traditional punishments are seldom affective, which is why they have to be repeated so often. But I disagree with his assertion that allowing a child to feel the natural consequences of his misbehavior is the same thing as punishing the child. I am a HUGE fan of natural consequences, and I try to look for them whenever I can.

Basically this book was very strong on the "what not to do" side, and weak on the "do this instead" side.
Profile Image for Sahar Al Hashemi.
131 reviews29 followers
June 3, 2022
If you believe in the humanity in children and in growing their own sense of individuality then this book is for you.

I enjoyed every bit of it, the author explains so many concepts that revolves around refraining from all traditional parenting theories such as stick and carrot, permissiveness, over-controlling, time-outs and heavy expectations. Basically, our worst fears of becoming everything we once feared we would be.

I loved this book and the author’s approach to some thoughtful ideas such as: Unconditional love, perspective taking, dialogue and planning good memories ahead of time.

Parenting is a journey and while this book equips the reader with some tools to navigate parenthood but it doesn’t promise an easy journey nonetheless.

What I found interesting about this book also is the fact that so many of its proposed ideas seem unbelievable at first but after some time you start to think about it and relate your own childhood and it changes you completely.

This is the kind of book that plants thought seeds into your head and it grows to have a life of its own as time passes by.
Profile Image for Cristina Ermac.
146 reviews29 followers
December 11, 2016
Un îndrumător exceptional pentru cei ce doresc sa cunoasca si/sau aplice parentingul neconditionat bazat pe multa afectiune, rabdare, cooperare, si intelegere a copilului.
Autorul nu isi impune nici propria pozitie ai nici solutii concrete general valabile, ci prezentând argumente, explicatii, statistici, si adoptând o alta perspectiva a problemelor, ii ajuta pe parintii-cititori sa vadă cealalta parte a monedei.
Nu voi intra mult in detalii despre carte deoarece despre ea ori nu vorbesti deloc ori daca începi sa vorbesti nu te mai poti opri.
Recomand tuturor părinților sa o citească cel putin o data,chiar si celor care sunt adepți ai parentingului traditional,  cel putin pentru interes :) Si va garantez ca nu veti regreta de timpul acordat ei :)
Profile Image for Ali.
31 reviews
September 26, 2009
There is much to say about this book, but I will sum up:

1) It will make you think about your approach and philosophy and whether you are being the parent you want to be
2) It will remind you to think of a situation from the kid's perspective
3) Kohn's platitudes are impossible to apply in some situations and he rarely offers much specific guidance
4) I almost completely disagree on his thinking about competitive sports
5) I disagree that a "time-out" is always a signal to the child that you are withholding love. Everything can be mis and over-used, and time-outs are one of those things.

When I find a book that I like better on this, I'll add it.
Profile Image for Andrew.
304 reviews6 followers
March 16, 2020
I listened to the audiobook.

I think the premise of this book is very good. And Kohn illustrates his ideas in straightforward language. And a combination of a good idea with good explanation is always going to be a home run.

I think some people may have a hard time with this book because it blatantly defies other ideas - and goes as far as to say “you are wrong and your ideas are possibly immoral.” But the idea that children (and adults) do not like to be controlled or manipulated is easy to empathize with.

A must read for anyone interested in parenting and/or leadership.
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