‘Catch Them Doing Right’ and ‘Do This And Get That’ theories debunked!
My son wanted a bicycle for himself. I told him that I would buy one for him if he ranked within first three in the class. My mother strongly disapproved my approach. No conditions were acceptable to her. Either you buy one for him and see him happy, or you explain why you are unable to buy one for him at this time, she said.
A small event it was but it remained etched on my mind. I am quoting below what Alfie Kohn wrote in New York Times of Sept 15, 2009 which he later expanded in his article titled ‘Parental Love With Strings Attached’. He disapproves putting ‘Conditional Worth’ on the parental care meaning ‘I love you because you are well behaved’.
But that is just half of the story. The twist in the tale comes at the end. And it is research based! So we have to think twice before saying ‘I do not agree’. He says ‘praising children for doing something right isn’t a meaningful alternative to pulling back or punishing when they do something wrong’. Now that debunks the ‘Catch Them Doing Right’ theory of all parents [and HR Managers alike!]. That is a shocker for me!! But it does make sense when one thinks about the entire issue. I am quoting an excerpt from Alfie Kohn’s article.
In 2004, two Israeli researchers, Avi Assor and Guy Roth, joined Edward Deci, a leading American expert on the psychology of motivation, in asking more than 100 college students whether the love they had received from their parents had seemed to depend on whether they had succeeded in school, practiced hard for sports, been considerate toward others, or suppressed emotions like anger and fear.
It turned out that children who received conditional approval were indeed somewhat more likely to act as the parent wanted. But compliance came at a steep price. First, these children tended to resent and dislike their parents. Second, they were apt to say that the way they acted was often due more to a “strong internal pressure” than to “a real sense of choice.” Moreover, their happiness after succeeding at something was usually short-lived and they often felt guilty or ashamed.
In a companion study, Assor and his colleagues interviewed mothers of grown children. With this generation, too, conditional parenting proved damaging. Those mothers who, as children, sensed that they were loved only when they lived up to their parents’ expectations now felt less worthy as adults. Yet despite the negative effects, these mothers were more likely to use conditional affection with their own children.
This July, the same researchers, now joined by two of Deci’s colleagues at the University of Rochester, published two replications and extensions of the 2004 study. This time their subjects were ninth graders, and this time giving more attention and affection when children did what parents wanted was carefully distinguished from giving less when they did not.
The studies found that both positive and negative conditional parenting were harmful, but in slightly different ways. The positive kind sometimes succeeded in getting children to work harder on academic tasks, but at the cost of unhealthy feelings of “internal compulsion.” Negative conditional parenting, meanwhile, didn’t even work in the short run; it just increased the teenagers’ negative feelings about their parents.
What these – and other – studies tell us, if we’re able to hear the news, is that praising children for doing something right isn’t a meaningful alternative to pulling back or punishing when they do something wrong. Both are examples of conditional parenting, and both are counterproductive.
In practice, according to an impressive collection of data by Deci and others, unconditional acceptance by parents as well as teachers should be accompanied by “autonomy support”: explaining reasons for requests, maximizing opportunities for the child to participate in making decisions, being encouraging without manipulating, and actively imagining how things look from the child’s point of view.
The last of these features is important with respect to unconditional parenting itself. Most of us would protest that of course we love our children without any strings attached. But what counts is how things look from the perspective of the children – whether they feel just as loved when they mess up or fall short.
It is a bit too late for me to correct myself. I have often felt that parenting is a very difficult, important and yet a neglected subject. Alfie Kohn’s articles provide a hope that it will be taken more seriously.
You told us that the real acceptance of 'individuality' comes only after one becomes a parent.This post actually challenges that assumption my head !
Also it seems to me that this can be used to understand if incentives as well as performance pay can drive sustained productivity improvements…
Thanks for the heads up! 🙂
Insightful indeed. It sometimes stumps me as to how well we hold on to beliefs for a long time…ignoring all else that flies in the face !
Very insightful post!!
There are many situation i come across and think how to deal with it.. Parenting is tough, challenging and love..
Thanks for sharing!!
Very interesting! Parenting certainly is a tough job!
As you say- there should be more studies about parenting.
That was a very deep, meaningful blog…and it is true that parenting being so deceptive, making the "right" choices becomes even more difficult…Keep writing such good blogs!
The key point everyone agrees on is that parenting is a very very tough thing to do.
Having said that, I think there is a cultural factor you need to factor in here. Parenting, per se, in western countries gives different weightages to things than we do. Things become very illuminating when you observe parenting styles for Indian kids born and brought up abroad. A lot of these studies, would be clearly applicable in those environments.
I have had occasion to look for guidance in certain unusual situations re children , and did look up and consult for expert advice.
Turns out, that everything is a function of the maturity level of your child at a given age. No expert can tell you what will work. And you end up finding out what works best, when you try and think back to your own childhood…
Parenting is indeed a much neglected subject. I tend to think that many parents just sleepwalk through this onerous task.
Your post offers much food for thought, and I will try to think about the concepts. There cannot be two opinions that parental love should be unconditional. But I have two basic questions. Please ignore them if they are a product of my ignorance.
1. Should we equate a reward (like a bicycle) with parental love? Would a son necessarily feel unloved if he fails to win the reward? Isn't what a child perceives as parental love (or the lack of it) a fabric woven with many different threads into a complex pattern?
2. How relevant is a result (on this subject) observed in America to our society? In other words, isn't our parent-child relationship somewhat different from theirs?
I liked it. I have practised it.But still I do not know whether it is right.How do you measure the outcome?Its quite interesting to research this subject. But if at all, the only outcome I have experienced with my children is that they are independent and take their decisions.