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10 Principles of Unconditional Parenting


Based on the Work of Alfie Kohn

We live in a conditional society, but many of us realize the inherent dangerous nature of treating one another in this manner. When we treat our children as if our love is conditional, meaning they have to do something to receive it, we are abandoning our responsibility as parents to love our children no matter what. According to Alfie Kohn, writer and speaker on issues related to human behavior, education, and parenting, what our children most need from us as parents is one thing: Unconditional Love.


Book or DVD

The Ten Principles

While this gives a good base for what Alfie is trying to convey, I highly recommend visiting the Alfie Kohn website to read more of his work, or purchase the Unconditional Parenting DVD. Your life as a parent will not be the same.

  • 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. Are you sure you want to trick the kid to get her to do what you want?
  • 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 - Waive 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.

Parenting kind of crazy?

Amy Phoenix (aka Rainbow Recognizer) is a gentle, yet direct mom of five dedicated to sharing insights and practices to help parents change the way they respond when parenting feels intense. Visit her at


H C Palting from East Coast on April 25, 2014:

I enjoyed reading this hub and I am not even a parent! I just wish that those who truly can benefit from these useful tips read and put these suggestions into use.

Kristen Mazzola from South Florida on April 04, 2013:

I loved this especially the part of being authentic! It's perfectly written, great job!

RainbowRecognizer (author) from Midwest on March 07, 2013:

Thank you, Grammarian. Changes made. :)

Grammarian on March 02, 2013:

It's "Waive" the rules, not "Wave" the rules. ("Hi, rules!")

Didge from Southern England on June 28, 2012:

Superb hub! on May 21, 2011:

Very well said. Thank You.

Monisajda from my heart on January 29, 2011:

I like what you wrote a lot. I am striving to be an unconditional love giving mom as opposed to my own mother. Alfie Kohn's books resonate with me on a very deep level. I am glad to have found your hub.

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Reynold Jay from Saginaw, Michigan on January 23, 2011:

Sounds like good advice to me Well Done... up and awsome! RJ

alison mccracken on January 08, 2011:

why does schools persist on the reward punishment style when so much research shows it it is damaging to our chlildren?

RainbowRecognizer (author) from Midwest on April 23, 2008:

Thank you for the addition ~ I agree. Of course I'm a little radical in that I believe we're all equal and while we get to "school" our children in the experience of being human, to do it in a non-friendly way not only does not work, it causes a lot of disconnection within the family itself. :o)

MM Del Rosario from NSW, Australia on April 23, 2008:

these are very true, may i add that as a parent you need to be a friend also, as a mother of a teenager, i believe being a friend is one way that they can relate more to you. i have also learnt to shut my month most of the time and learn to LISTEN... great hub..

sandhyap on April 23, 2008:

Very informative Hub.

RainbowRecognizer (author) from Midwest on April 22, 2008:

Yes, these were notes I took while watching Alfie's DVD :o) Enjoy! Our children's sense of self worth is so valuable and directly nurtured through our commitment to unconditionally loving them.

WeddingConsultant from DC Metro Area on April 22, 2008:

Thanks for the pointers rainbow. I would imagine that as a male I'd need to work on different ones than my wife would. I'm glad you wrote from a sort of neutral position so that both genders could glean whatever information necessary that's tailored to them.

RainbowRecognizer (author) from Midwest on April 22, 2008:

Thanks again for commenting everyone ~ do not be hard on one's self when our unconditional love does not shine. For some, this is taking a new step in parenting, a very new one if we weren't shown this growing up. All parents are doing the best they can with the resources they have in any given moment. Even the moments we're at our worst our children can learn the value of falling and getting up. And yes, what we project certainly does come right back to us! :o)

KS Baker from Virginia on April 21, 2008:

Loved the hub! When we give unconditional love, we put ourselves in a position to receive unconditional love. Children follow our example. By giving unconditional love to our children, we teach them to give it right back!

amy jane from Connecticut on April 21, 2008:

Wonderful hub, Rainbow! I agree 100%. I apologize often to my children, and they see that I am truly sorry. I think that helps them learn how to genuinely apologize if they have hurt someone. Loving unconditionally is a gift that will always be treasured. :)

Stephanie Marshall from Bend, Oregon on April 21, 2008:

I try so hard to live by these rules with my kids, as it wasn't always so in the home in which I was raised. Thank you!

Rob Jundt from Midwest USA on April 21, 2008:

Excellent hub full of wisdom every parent should have. I'll keep this for reference. I think the bottom line is this: If we want our children to understand true familial, and other subsequent loves, we must model it to them. Love in its transparent definition is always unconditional. Thanks for the reminder.

Srinivas Rajan on April 20, 2008:

Very useful especially for new parents who need guidance . Sometimes elders too need guidance in how to treat young adults .

RainbowRecognizer (author) from Midwest on April 20, 2008:

That is SO true ~ our children need to see us fall... and get right back up!

Sherri from Southeastern Pennsylvania on April 20, 2008:

"apologize to your child every so often ~ you'll find a reason"

Wonderful advice in your hub, Rainbow. Especially, to me, this quote.

When you apologize to your child, you teach your child that admitting wrong is a necessary part of being human. No one is perfect, not even you, the parent.

Thumbs up for you.

RainbowRecognizer (author) from Midwest on April 20, 2008:

Thanks everybody ~ sharing info. I've found helpful. I do believe some of the answers to our world's perceived problems can be changed at home!!!

marisuewrites from USA on April 20, 2008:

i loved this HUB I hope you go by and read some of my posts...we are on the same page!! great tips and parenting "live bys"

I was in Chicago a few years ago- at a Foster Parenting first experience with the great lakes...we went to the Navy Pier there and ate and road a boat around the "lake" and saw the sunset -- the sears tower and other buildings were spectacular I noticed you are from the Great Lake areas....thot I'd mention it. =)

Blogger Mom from Northeast, US on April 20, 2008:

Great hub, RainbowRec - I agree with a lot of your points, especially about being flexible and saying "yes" sometimes. - Deb

fishskinfreak2008 from Fremont CA on April 20, 2008:

This is a very good piece as it reinforces that relationships must be a two-way process. Great job

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