Forget rocket science – it’s not parenting

I’ll admit I’m a fan of Seth Godin. I’ve read a few of his books and I signed up for his blog years ago. I love his thoughts on education and the fact that although we no longer have a healthy manufacturing industry, our schools are still set up to produce factory drones. One of his blog posts recommended a book by a fellow education reform researcher Alfie Kohn except this one was about parenting. While I think we’re doing an OK job with a pair of pretty fantastic children I thought I’d give ‘Unconditional Parenting: Moving from Rewards and Punishments to Love and Reason‘ a try to see what we could be doing better.

I hadn’t been prepared for the fact that it would change my outlook as quickly as page 2:

what many people in our society seem to want most from children is not that they are caring or creative or curious, but simply that they are well-behaved. A ‘good’ child is one who isn’t too much trouble to us grown-ups.

As I worked my way through the book I recognised things that I do and different things that HimIndoors does that are just downright wrong, things that may work in the short-term but that could cause problems later on. I could recognise behaviours in other adults which are probably a result of the way their parents dealt with them. I could even recognise workplace management styles which probably have their foundations in childhood.

On page three the fundamental question Alfie asks is what are your long-term objectives for your child – how would you like them to turn out, what do you want them to be like. The usual answers are happy, balanced, independent, responsible, kind, thoughtful, loving,inquisitive and confident.

Compare that with the way we deal with our children every day – time-outs, groundings, if you don’t tidy your room you’re not going out, if you don’t stop yelling I’ll walk away and leave you there. They may work in the short-term from our perspective but what about from the child’s perspective and what happened to those long-term objectives.

Then there are all the bribes and positive reinforcement. If you behave well you’ll get a star. No stars, no TV but if you get enough stars by the end of the week you can choose a toy. Tactics like these internalise the problem. What starts as a little bit of non-conforming behaviour in the child becomes ‘if I don’t do that any more I get a reward and a nice reaction from my teacher and my parents.’ The good behaviour is because they want the star or the reaction from the adult rather than thinking about how their behaviour is affecting others.

What’s worrying is that MiniHim is on a star chart at school for his ‘silly behaviour’ of making noises when he’s working and speaking out when he shouldn’t. There are other non-specific things and I think they can be traced back to when he first started school and the fact that they were doing things he’d already done in nursery.

Anyway, HimIndoors is now reading Unconditional Parenting and in the meantime time-outs are banned and till he catches up. I’m thinking about why I want to tell them off – is it because I worry about what other people will think, am I expecting perfect behaviour, what does it look like from their side and would I speak to an adult like that.

It’s going to be difficult unlearning what I’ve been doing for the last 12 years but everything I’ve read makes sense and even just reminding MiniHim to think about how he behaves affects the other children in the class seems to be having a positive effect.

I’d recommend the book for anyone with children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews and even staff to manage.

Today I have learned:

  • how to pipe icing (just need to make the chocolate stuff look less like dog poo!)
  • what head lice look like (yes, really)

Today’s recipe

Banana cupcakes


This is a very versatile recipe. I’ll give you the basic version but I added chopped glace cherries and chocolate chips. In the past I’ve added a variety of nuts and mini marshmallows. You can make a cake a loaf or in this case cupcakes. you can ice it, frost it or leave it plain.


250g plain flour

1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

150g caster sugar

75g melted butter

2 eggs, beated

2 large ripe bananas, mashed

2-3 tbsp milk


150g softened butter or margerine

210g icing sugar

60g cocoa powder

1.5 tbsp milk

dash of vanilla essence

Method: Preheat the oven to 190C/Gas 5. Grease a line your tin if you’re making a cake or loaf. If making cupcakes prepare the cases in the tin.

Put the flour, bicarb and sugar in a bowl and stir together. Add the butter, eggs, bananas and milk and beat until smooth. Add whatever extras you’re using then put the mixture into the tin or cases. If you’re doing cupcakes you’ll need two tins or do batches. Bake for 50 mins if doing a loaf or a cake and 20 minutes if cupcakes. Test with a skewer which should come out clean.

Leave to cool a bit then turn out onto a cooling rack

Frosting: Put all the ingredients in a bowl and which with a hand-held electric whisk until beginning to peak. Add to the cakes. Eat!

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