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

4.09 of 5 stars 4.09  ·  rating details  ·  3,058 ratings  ·  451 reviews
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 work ...more
Paperback, 272 pages
Published March 28th 2006 by Atria Books (first published 2005)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Jeanine70
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
...more
Christine Cavalier
Wow.

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
...more
Sonya Feher
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 c ...more
Taylor
Oct 25, 2007 Taylor rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Parents - all of them.
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 ...more
Amy
Jun 30, 2007 Amy rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Parents/Educators
Shelves: lifechangers
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
...more
Rachael Lauritzen
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
...more
Stefanie
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 ...more
Natalieb
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
...more
Kelly
The front cover of this book describes it as "A Provocative Challenge to the Conventional Wisdom about Discipline." Uh, YEAH.[return][return]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?" T ...more
David
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
...more
Elizabeth
Jun 14, 2007 Elizabeth rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Parents, teachers,
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
...more
Megan
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 ...more
Molly Westerman
I largely agree with this book's argument--that punishments (including time out and subtler "love-withdrawal" reactions) and even rewards (including a constant stream of "good job!" used to push children into doing/being/wanting what you want them to do/be/want or what is convenient for the adults around them) are really problematic and probably not even effective in gaining compliance ... if you really, in your heart, want "compliance." I don't like the whole concept of discipline and have been ...more
Amy
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 s
...more
MizzSandie
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
...more
Sarah
Nov 18, 2011 Sarah added it
Shelves: babies-parenting
I think a lot of Kohn's work really comes down to examining intrinsic vs extrinsic motivations. I mostly agree with him but not to his full extent. I still believe in logical consequences and think extrinsic motivations are inevitable and can be useful (in small doses). Still, this book gives interesting theory, and I think most importantly, makes you really examine on a deeper level what you hope your children grow up to be like. I know I want my son to be a life long learner (vs learning how t ...more
Jenny
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 th
...more
Sharon
I really wanted to like this book. I definitely agree with the basic premise that children should be loved unconditionally. I like the ideas about not constantly praising your child (saying things like "good job!") but rather engaging children in conversation about what they're doing.

I guess my main problem with the book was how disrespectful the author was towards parents who weren't doing what he thinks is right. I trust a lot about how I parent from my heart, and I think it's important that
...more
Ali
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 with
...more
Natalie
Well-researched and convincing (although I didn't really need convincing, just more information and backup). Takes the concept deeper and to a level that it is useful to the whole family. NOT prescriptive. Refreshingly NOT anecdotal (except for a few, but not like most parenting books). Ties in nicely with the democratic schooling we're looking into.
fMh Artemis
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
...more
Jenni Pertuset
I read this shortly after my daughter was born and it was such a powerful experience. Unconditional Parenting caused me to rethink my most basic expectations of how to parent. Though I knew I didn’t want to punish my daughter as I had been punished, I had not considered the damage of a practice such as time outs, nor had I thought of the ways we control children through praise. I especially appreciated how Kohn cracked open the subject of what “works” by asking: “works to do what?”

He looks clos
...more
Catherine
Jun 19, 2008 Catherine rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: parents and educators
I enjoyed reading this book but was disappointed in its lack of practical advice. While I did learn a lot and agree (mostly) with the author's opinions and research, I feel unprepared to make many significant parenting changes as a result. I know what is wrong about many of society's common disciplinary practices, but I don't know of many good alternative options. I do not want to bribe my child(ren) with promises of rewards or punishments, and I certainly do not want to withhold love, or give l ...more
Hazel
Without stumbling over myself, as I staggered in awe away from this book, I had to give it the 5 stars "amazing" rating. Being a person who has worked with kids for years, and wanted a better way to do it, Kohn's book really opened my eyes to how judgemental and contingent upon being "obeyed" many of our adults interactions with kids are. This book wasn't a quick-fix easy read, and came up with more questions than answers. Subsequent reading of Faber and Mazlish's "How to Talk so Kids Will Liste ...more
Kayla
I really liked the idea of this book. I liked the idea a lot. It has given me a lot to think about and it's a parenting style I really love.

The book itself was very...whiney. If it had spent less time complaining about other books, I might have enjoyed it more. I also came to hate the author. He's really condescending. He gives example about how every other parent is a monster or an idiot while maintaining that he is both a genius and a saint. By chapter 9 I wanted to punch the guy in the face.
...more
Rosanne
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
...more
Kristen
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 acco ...more
s
if you want to feel totally incompetent as a parent read this book. if you want to feel that your child will be morally bankrupt and devoid of self-esteem because of his/her relationship with you--read this book.

in a nutshell kohn basically says that you need to be nice to your kid--and make them feel like the power struggle that you will inevitably enter with them--is a win-win--that in a greater sense your kid feels like he/she "won" and will then feel good about himself/herself instead of bea
...more
Blair
Like any parenting book, this one won't be everyone's speed, but my husband and I both enjoyed it quite a bit. It asks the question "What kind of adult do you want your child to be?" and examines various ways parents might try to reach their longterm goals with their kids.

Kohn's ideas can be rather mind-blowing in that he is not a fan of time-outs, sticker charts, and other mainstays of modern parenting and education. He explains his opinions in a very readable and conversational tone and backs
...more
Leila
Feb 21, 2008 Leila rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: unconventional parents, open-minded parents
Shelves: parenting
Kohn believes that if you constantly constantly give empty praise to children (like walking, eating, sharing, drawing) they will be so enamored of the praise that they will lose sight of the task at hand. They also lose interest in what they are doing. One of the stories he tells is of a kid who is drawing next to one of his kids. He notices the drawing. He also notices that the mother looks at the drawing being shown to her and says, "goood job". Kohn approaches the kid who shows him the pictur ...more
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Alfie Kohn writes and speaks widely on human behavior, education, and parenting. The author of eleven 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
...more
More about Alfie Kohn...
Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A's, Praise and Other Bribes The Homework Myth: Why Our Kids Get Too Much of a Bad Thing The Schools Our Children Deserve: Moving Beyond Traditional Classrooms and "Tougher Standards" No Contest: The Case Against Competition Beyond Discipline: From Compliance to Community

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“In short, with each of the thousand-and-one problems that present themselves in family life, our choice is between controlling and teaching, between creating an atmosphere of distrust and one of trust, between setting an example of power and helping children to learn responsibility, between quick-fix parenting and the kind that's focused on long-term goals.” 8 likes
“Even before i had children, I knew that being a parent was going to be challenging as well as rewarding. But I didn't really know.
I didn't know how exhausted it was possible to become, or how clueless it was possible to feel, or how, each time I reached the end of my rope, I would somehow have to find more rope.
I didn't understand that sometimes when your kids scream so loudly that the neighbors are ready to call the Department of Child Services, it's because you've served the wrong shape of pasta for dinner.
I didn't realize that those deep-breathing exercises mothers are taught in natural-childbirth class dont really start to pay off until long after the child is out.
I couldn't have predicted how relieved I'd be to learn that other peoples children struggle with the same issues, and act in some of the same ways, mine do. (Even more liberating is the recognition that other parents, too, have dark moments when they catch themselves not liking their own child, or wondering whether it's all worth it, or entertaining various other unspeakable thoughts).
The bottom line is that raising kids is not for whimps.”
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