Parenting Podcast: Parenting as Influence Rather Than Authority
Alfie Kohn exposes the faulty thinking behind rewards and punishments in this week’s podcast, saying they “are just two sides of the same coin, and that coin doesn’t buy very much.” He tries to convince us what there search shows with adults and children: incentives don’t work. Our goal is for children to self-motivate, derive their own sense of self-worth, and follow their inner guide. The only way they can learn to do that is by trying. In fact, they don’t benefit from our micromanaging and constant bargaining with stickers or time outs.
“Unconditional parenting,” as Kohn calls it, stems from a belief that people have at their cores the capacity to make good judgments,control their own actions and find their own interests. Our feedback in the form of praise or punishment clouds these issues, making children act for the sake of parental approval. As Martin Buber taught, we should try to elevate our relationships from those where we treat the other person as an object to be used or judged (I-It) to those where we respect others as autonomous individuals (I-Thou).
The Reform Movement is actually based on the understanding of the power of influence, not authority. We believe that Judaism has something to say about our modern lives and that it can make a difference for the better.But we also acknowledge that we can’t compel anyone to study, pray, or act ethically. We like to say that today all Jews are Jews-By-Choice. Our job thenis to model a rich, Jewish life, one that we hope others will admire and seek out for themselves. This too is our challenge as parents–if you want your children to eat healthily, do so yourself and enjoy it. If you want your child to love Judaism, show them that you find meaning and comfort in the tradition.
Wendy Grinberg, RJE is a URJ Parenting Specialist.