Are We Doing This Parenting Thing All Wrong?

Filed under: Just For Moms, Just For Dads, In The News, Research Reveals: Babies, Research Reveals: Toddlers & Preschoolers, Research Reveals: Big Kids, Research Reveals: Tweens, Research Reveals: Teens

sad child

Parents may need to rethink how they dole out love. Credit: jupiterimages

If there's one thing modern childhood experts have drilled into our heads, it's that we should avoid overpraising our kids.

Apparently, our unconditional approval will lead them down a path that ends only in drug-dealing, prostitution, book-making or related trades. If we build up our children too much, then the moment Mommy and Daddy aren't around to stroke their egos, they'll crumble like week-old, preservative-free cupcakes.

The only problem with this approach? It's completely wrong.

Many of us practice "conditional parenting," which means withholding attention and affection when our children disobey or disrespect us. And we assume that the kids understand that the time-outs we dole out don't change the way we feel about them. But new research shows that's exactly the message they get.

As reported in The New York Times, researchers Avi Assor and Guy Roth of Israel and Edward Deci of the U.S. conducted a series of studies -- the latest took place this summer -- to discover the effect of conditional parenting on kids. They found that while children of conditional parents were somewhat more obedient than other young adults, the main difference was that they liked their parents less.


The kids also reported more frequent feelings of unworthiness, shame and guilt ... not unlike the guilt you may be feeling as you read this.

Despite the findings, you can be sure that conditional parenting isn't going away anytime soon. It has high-powered advocates, like Dr. Phil, Supernanny and their fellow time-out travelers, who insist that instead of bending over backwards to make sure kids are happy 24/7, parents must stand up and assert their will. If children won't bathe, finish their homework and eat their carrots on demand, mothers and fathers should take away treats and privileges until the kids get with the program.

Conditional parenting also feels right, especially for us dads. When we're called to the rescue by wives grappling with stubborn, disobedient children, our quick and forceful punishments end the crises, at least for the short term. Doing what Assor, Roth and Deci say we should do -- forget the time-outs and devote more time to giving kids the guidance to make the right decisions themselves -- is a lot more work.

But it may be worth it.

The moments that dads like this one really love best are the quiet ones when we explain the world to the kids -- why we work, why we wear seat belts, why we run out the clock instead of running up the score. In the back of my mind is the fear that all the clashes of will with my children are wiping out all that is gained in those quieter moments.

We know how much we love our children -- we tell the world every day through the photos on our desks and the status updates on our Facebook pages.

But the kids aren't so sure, if the new research is to be believed.

The Dr. Phils of the world say that caring too much about how our kids feel about us is a sign of weakness. I used to agree, but I'm starting to believe that the need to win every argument, to have one's authority go unchallenged, and to shun compromise even when there's just one carrot left on the plate may be the real sign of weakness.

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.