Thursday, April 21, 2011

A Quick Update on: A Daring Experiment

Okay. I have not forgotten about this zany idea of abandoning punishments and rewards in parenting. The truth is this pregnancy has wiped me out and the little energy I have left for writing has gone to building my very own freelance commercial writing business. Excuses out of the way, here we go...

p.s. if you haven't read the original blog post entitled " A Daring Experiment" than you've got to go back and read it or this post won't make sense.

I've been thinking a lot about Alfie Kohn's ideas and I've decided his philosophy is sound but not practical. Although the man is educated in some social sciences he is not a psychologist, and this is definitely a psychological theory. Basically I think he's out of his realm of expertise. In spite of this short coming, I think he's definitely on to something here. Something that cannot be ignored, the greatest good.

In a perfect world we would do the right things out of the goodness of our hearts, always. The inherent "rightness" of things like generosity, cooperation and charity would be enough motivation in and of themselves. I believe this ought to be our ultimate goal as parents, to help foster deeply compassionate hearts in our children. But here's the reality check. Sometimes rewards and punishments are the right kinds of signals to help get us on this high road. Kohn would disagree with this logic but the Bible doesn't, and for good reason. Of course God's primary goal is the same as Kohn's but at certain times God uses rewards and punishments in scripture to help promote nobility in the hearts of His children. For those who are not fans of the Bible or God, even natural laws themselves promote traditional morality. For instance, if one is promiscuous that one is very likely to catch a nasty disease. Another clear example; when we over-indulge in just about anything our bodies dysfunction. These natural consequences are excellent motivators for behavior change. They are warning signs begging us to do something differently.

Some of Kohn's solutions to misbehavior in children are less restriction and more teaching. The problem is my four and two year old understand very little about the inherent goodness of charity and cooperation. These abstract ideas do not show them the kind of tangible lessons they need at this stage of their development. Therefore, in my opinion it's better to implement natural consequences, which again, Kohn scoffs at. An example of a natural consequence in our house goes something like this: Josiah has fifteen minutes at the end of the night to put his toys away. If he takes longer it cuts into his story time. Not that he loses stories as a punishment for not cleaning up his toys fast enough but instead, this is the result of lolli-gagging. He has a set bedtime and if his lack of focus cuts into story time that is the natural consequence of his behavior. No power struggles, no nagging. Kohn would say this is not a truly natural consequence but I disagree. This is how the real world works. If you're late for the bus, you miss the bus!

Here comes the pinch... the part where I live up to the "Unfiltered" part of Mother Mouth. We have resorted to too many rewards and punishments to control our kids. I too often give Josiah dessert for eating vegetables. I threaten to (and often do)take away his Lego's for hitting his sister. There is nothing natural about these consequences, it's pure "carrot on a stick" technique which I need to break myself from. I don't want to raise kids that cooperate only to avoid punishment or kids that are kind only for a piece of cake, God forbid.

So, Alfie Kohn, if you dare to read my humble blog, three fourths of me agrees with you. I only disagree that we should completely do away with rewards, punishments, incentives and praise. I think these should be tools used minimally, with discretion. Unfortunately I let these things become too dominant in how I have dealt with my kids. Therefore I will still go forward with "The Daring Experiment" as a kind of detox from over dependence on rewards and punishments. So for thirty days I will parent Kohn's way as a way to reset myself and sharpen some higher level skills of parenting. It's been a while since I read Kohn's book so I'm giving myself a few weeks to brush up on my Alfie-isms so that I do his methods justice. At that time I will launch into my month long parenting detox and blog at the end of each purifying day. Wish me luck. I'll be in touch.


  1. Interesting Desi. I am a firm believer in natural consequences, but do find that there are not always natural consequences for every behavior that I do not approve of or desire of my children and have struggled with that at different points in my parenting. I, too, fall into the dangling the carrot, especially with my youngest who is much more strong-willed than the other two! Good luck, I look forward to reading how your month goes! -Tempest

  2. Desi!
    I have been dealing with this very same thing! I also have been for about the last three weeks trying a different approach to punishment and rewards... hard at first but it seems to be catching on with dahlia anyways!
    liked hearing your thoughts.

  3. Jacquelyn, first of all I really miss you. It's good to know you're reading and you klnow some of what is going on in our lives. The book I would recommend above all the others I've read so far is Making Your Kids Mind Without Losing Yours by Kevin Leiman.
    Tempest! I'm so grateful for your feedback. I also have a big struggle with finding natural consequences for certain things. I mean what is the natural consequence for hitting a sibling? I'm stumped. What do you do when you can't figure out a natural consequence?