The CRITICAL Importance Of Unconditional Parenting

Make sure you don't screw up your kids and make them someone else's doormat.

The Importance Of Unconditional Parenting istock

A major tenet of the Parentology philosophy is accepting and loving our children unconditionally. This is why we spend a lot of time in our workshops practicing how to respond when children misbehave or act in a manner that may make us feel uncomfortable.

Most importantly, it is essential that parents "separate the child from the behavior". No matter what our children do (whether it is positive or negative), we must show them that we love them unconditionally and that what is being discussed or debated is their behavior or the choice they are making.


The challenge is processing events and incidences in a way that is productive and meaningful — get curious, avoid blame, and share the responsibility — absolutely no personal criticism!

Unfortunately, a common parenting practice these days is to praise children for "doing right" and to remain silent or punish for "doing wrong". But, as the New York Times article "When a Parent’s ‘I Love You’ Means ‘Do as I Say’" points out, research shows that this practice can be very damaging to children in the long run:

What these and other studies tell us 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.



But the data suggest that love withdrawal isn’t particularly effective at getting compliance, much less at promoting moral development.

Even if we did succeed in making children obey us (say, by using positive reinforcement), is obedience worth the possible long-term psychological harm? Should parental love be used as a tool for controlling children?


In practice, according to an impressive collection of data by Dr. Deci and others, unconditional acceptance by parents as well as teachers should be accompanied by "autonomy support". This means:

  1. Explaining reasons for requests.
  2. Maximizing opportunities for the child to participate in making decisions.
  3. Being encouraging without manipulating.
  4. 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.

If you find yourself processing an event or incident with your child, take a moment to be in his or her shoes first. What do you want to hear? What do you need to hear first?