If we're not careful, this can become our primary goal. We may find ourselves joining all those people around us who prize docility in children and value short-term obedience above all.
I realized that this is what many people in our society seem to want most from children: not that they are caring or creative or curious, but simply that they are well behaved. A "good" child---from infancy to adolesence---is one who isn't too much trouble to us grown-ups.
There's a big difference, after all, between a child who does something because he or she believes it's the right thing to do and one who does it out of a sense of compulsion. Ensuring that children internalize our values isn't the same thing as helping them to develop their own. And it's diametrically opposed to the goal of having kids become independent thinkers.
Few qualities are so important that we'd be willing to sacrifice everything else to achieve them. Maybe it's wiser to help children strike a balance between opposing pairs of qualities, so that they grow up to be self-reliant but also caring, or confident yet still willing to acknowledge their limitations.
We can love our children in different ways. The book looks at one such distinction---between loving kids for what they do and loving them for who they are.
The first is conditional, which means it must be earned by the children through acting in ways we deem appropriate, or by performing up to our standards.
The second sort of love is unconditional: It is given either way and is not based on whether they are successful or well behaved or anything else.
Conditional parenting is mainly rooted in the school of thought known as behaviorism, commonly associated with the late B. F. Skinner. Here, external forces, such as what someone has previously been rewarded or punished for doing, account for how we act.
Unconditional parenting assumes that behaviors are just the outward expression of feelings and thoughts, needs and intentions. In a nutshell, it's the child who engages in a behavior, not just the behavior itself, that matters.
But unconditional parenting insists that the family ought to be a haven, a refuge, from such transactions. In particular, love from one's parents does not have to be paid for in any sense. It is purely and simply a gift. It is something to which all children are entitled.
Power-based discipline is obviously a bad choice of parenting as it includes physical punishment like hitting or yelling. However, the love-based approach is not necessarily better if it includes love-withdrawal.
Both communicate to children that if they do something we don't like, we'll make them suffer in order to change their behavior. The only remaining question is how we'll make them suffer: by causing physical pain through hitting, or by causing emotional pain through enforced isolation.
There isn't a lot amount of scientific research on love withdrawal, but the few studies that exist turned up consistent findings: Children on the reveiving end tend to have lower self-esteem. They display signs of poorer emotional health overall and may even be more apt to engage in delinquent acts. If we consider a broader category of "psychological control" on the part of parents, older children who are treated this way are more likely than their peers to be depressed.
But the most striking long-term effect of love withdrawal is fear. Even as young adults, people who are treated that way by their parents are still likely to be unusually anxious. They tend to display a significant fear of failure. Their relationships tend to show a need to avoid attachment.
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