February 29, 2012

Unconditional Parenting - A step by step guide

We are "successfully" using two parenting/discipline techniques. I thought I'd share since on the Blue Eyed Bride blog she asked for some assistance. By "successful" I mean that we aren't worried about T having tantrums, hitting other kids, or yelling at us. We aren't stressed about if we are doing the right thing. He still has tantrums, whines, and yells, but we feel totally prepared to deal with it.

The books that have helped us shape our techniques are:

Unconditional Parenting and the Happiest Toddler on the Block.

Disclaimer about Unconditional Parenting & Happiest Toddler on the Block:

1) People might look at you funny because they expect you to do time-outs, yell, or get mad at your child.

2) Once you use the theories for a few days you will realize how great it works - but we need refreshers regularly and have to remind each other about techniques.

3) You will have to "let go." You may be late to things or have to wake up early to leave time to "parent" your child. You may have to let your child get their clothes wet.

4) You will have to give up the idea that you have to win every battle (Nurture Shock gave us the understanding that this DOESN'T ruin kids, but actually helps them behave better as teenagers).

5) You will have to change your life a little. Don't take them places that are inappropriate for children. Don't have fragile things out for them to break. Don't put your child in situations where they will "act out." We know T can't sit for a meal for more than 10 minutes (and it isn't developmentally appropriate either) so we don't fight him when he wants to get up. We don't go to dinner at people's houses because it will mess up his schedule (or we go at 5 so we can be home by 7 for winding down.

We have a new nanny and she is fantastic, but I realized that as hard as Unconditional Parenting is for us, I should try to give her a primer she can refer to. I wrote something up that I hope is helpful.

One thing I never thought I would do, is us a high sing song-y voice - but man oh man, this WORKS! So in all of the examples below, imagine me using a false high voice. It gets his attention so quickly and he turns on his fake "baby" voice - which makes him calm and sweet :)

I start all conversations by getting down on his level and asking him to "look at mama." I make sure that I do this when we are going to talk about something hard, but I also do it when I tell him that I love him or he makes me proud.
Here's what we gave the nanny:

We use a style of parenting called “unconditional parenting”.

We do it because we think (and we see that it works) that if we show Turner respect and empathy, he will learn it. We don’t think that “obeying” is the most important thing for him to learn and we want to teach life-long lessons not just ones appropriate for toddlers.

This means a couple things:

· Lots of hugs, love, kisses, smiles and excitement.

· We respect Turner as a person and realize that his emotions are just as real and valid as ours.

· We know that he is never trying to be bad. He is GOOD by nature. If he is being “bad” it is because:

o He needs more attention

o He is hungry or tired

o He is learning about something and doesn’t understand

When he is being “bad” we need to figure out which of the things above are happening and resolve them. Then the bad behavior stops.

· We don’t think that giving him what he asks for will spoil him. Though we try to only offer him healthy things (healthy foods, play activities, etc).

· We never FORCE Turner to do anything (eat, drink, walk, sit down) unless doing it could be dangerous. We talk to him, ask him questions, and reason with him to get him to do what is best.

That doesn’t mean that we “negotiate” but we explain and it usually works for us.


· He doesn’t want to put on a diaper.

· Get down on his level and ask him to look at you.

· Tell him it is important to put on a diaper or he will get pee pee on his pants and on his leg and that is wet.

· Bring him two diapers (two different colors or cloth and paper) and ask him to pick which one he wants. This usually works.

· We want him to know that if he needs something, his caregivers will be responsive and available. So, we never ignore his cries or tantrums – we get on his level and try to help him understand his feelings. *this helps him learn to be response and loving to people he cares about. As an adult, I want him to comfort his friends and girlfriends when they are sad and not tell them to suck it up or ignore their feelings.

· He gets love and attention if he is good AND if he is bad. “Badness” is just him asking for something that he doesn’t know how to ask for.


Tantrum or Crying

When Turner is throwing a fit or is whining we try to help him use words.

Get down on his level and look him in the eye and ask him to look at us.

In a kind tone (sing song voice):

“are you sad/mad/angry/frustrated (pick one you think he is feeling)?”

“Is Turner Mad because he wants the car?”

“That’s not our car, but you can slide on the slide with me – do you want to slide?”


“Are you sad because your mama left?

“Turner is sad because his mama left”

“Your mama will be home after work, but we can blow bubbles. Do you want to blow bubbles?”


1) Identify emotion and ASK him if he feels that way

2) Try to repeat what the situation is and ASK him if you are right.

3) Tell him WHY he can’t do it, or if mama is gone, tell him she will come back,

4) Distract him with another option and make it sound fun

Being “Bad”

When he is misbehaving you can get on his level, ask him to look you in the eye, and talk to him about what you need him to do. Asking questions is most important in this.

For example: he refuses to walk

Get down and look at him

“Turner, look at Ana, please look at Ana”

“Turner doesn’t want to walk?”

“You can walk or you can ride, Ana can’t hold you now. “

“Do you want to walk?”

You can just sit there and wait for him to get in the stroller or walk.

It is important not to get into a power struggle with him and make him do something just because you said to.

Let him pick, he can sit on the sidewalk and never get home/to the park/to the next fish tank at the aquarium OR he can walk. He chooses to walk every time.

At the aquarium yesterday we had to do this exercise four times in 20 minutes. But you know what? There were no tantrums, we were all happy, and it never escalated.

If he is being “crazy” in the house, take him outside – let him run, blow bubbles, or watch the street cars drive by.

Ten Principles of Unconditional Parenting

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

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