Welcome to the November Carnival of Natural Parenting: What is natural parenting?

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month our Carnival coincides with the launch of Natural Parents Network, a community of parents and parents-to-be who practice or are interested in attachment parenting and natural family living. Join us at Natural Parents Network to be informed, empowered, and inspired!

Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.



I’m a big fan of Alfie Kohn.  I am a step-mother of two grown women and a mother of four year old twin girls.  I am also a teacher.  These dual roles have led me to read many of Alfie’s books and articles on school and parenting.

A common theme through all of Kohn’s writings is the message that punishments and rewards don’t work in the long run, and that they can actually cause damage to children and to the relationship between adults and children. 

The predominant discipline paradigm of “consequences” and rewards in North America is about controlling the children, making them obey.

The premise of this book is that the relationship between parent and child is paramount and that punishments and rewards jeopardize the relationship.  Punishments, including time-outs, are often viewed by children as a withdrawal of love.   This can lead children to feel that a parent’s love is conditional upon the their behaviour.  Rewards function in the same way leading children to believe that good behaviour is rewarded by praise, material goods and love.  Rewards also lead to extrinsic motivation, encouraging children not to value the task itself but what they will gain from it.

Unconditional Parenting offers parents some guidance in talking with their children instead of coercing them.  Kohn offers some guidelines for parents:

  1. Be reflective.  Be honest with yourself about your motives.
  2. Reconsider your requests.  Are they necessary and reasonable?
  3. Keep your eye on your long term goals.  If you want your child to grow up to be ethical,      intellectually curious, able to sustain healthy relationships, etc, will these goals be achieved using love-withdrawal techniques?
  4. Put the relationship first.
  5. Change how you see, not just how you act.  View difficult behaviour as an opportunity to solve a problem together. 
  6. Respect.
  7. Be authentic.  Don’t hide your humanity behind the role of Mom or Dad.
  8. Talk less, ask more.
  9. Keep their ages in mind.
  10. “Attribute to children the best possible motive consistent with the facts.”

This book does not offer a step-by-step discipline program.  It is about relating to and having dialogue with your child, helping her to think about how she feels and how her actions will make others feel.  Kohn talks about working with children when there are problems, rather than dictating solutions.  Listen to children, respect their ideas and try to find solutions cooperatively.

Kohn’s philosophy really resonates with me; I really want to parent and teach this way.  I struggle with it though, because our world is set up for punishments and rewards.  I’ve heard some people argue that “that’s the way of the world and you have to prepare them to deal with the real world”.  I don’t agree with that statement, but I haven’t figured out how to live outside the dominant “real world” paradigm yet.  I do resort to “logical consequences,” like taking toys away if they don’t help clean up.  Or, in my profession, taking some recess time and assigning homework if students don’t use class time wisely. Logical consequences probably feel like punishment to kids, but from the perspective of the parents (or teacher), they are not intended as punishment.
It will take a real paradigm shift to truly parent unconditionally.  It will be really, really hard at first.  I will have to step back from knee jerk reactions and the convenience of imposing my needs and desires on my children.  The rules of our culture, such as getting to work and school on time, make this shift especially difficult. 

 My kids are only four years old and I read the book when they were infants, so I had a hard time applying it to them, even as toddlers.  Now it’s time for me to revisit it and think about how I can apply Kohn’s guidelines with my girls.


Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaStop by Natural Parents Network today to see excerpts from everyone’s posts, and please visit a few to read more! Visit Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants. Three of the participants below will instead be featured on Natural Parents Network throughout the month, so check back at NPN!

This list will be updated by afternoon November 9 with all the carnival links. We’ve arranged it this month according to the categories of our NPN resource pages on “What Is Natural Parenting?”

Attachment/Responsive Parenting

Attachment/responsive parenting is generally considered to include the following (descriptions/lists are not exhaustive; please follow each link to learn more):

    • Attachment Parenting Chose Us” — For a child who is born “sensitive,” attachment parenting is more a way of life than a parenting “choice.” Dionna at Code Name: Mama shares her experiences. (@CodeNameMama)
    • Parenting in the Present” — Acacia at Be Present Mama parents naturally by being fully present.
    • Parenting With Heart” — Kat at Loving {Almost} Every Moment parents naturally because healthy attachments early in life help our little ones grow into healthy, functioning adults.
    • Sometimes I Wish We Coslept” — Sheila at A Gift Universe has started to add cosleeping into her sleep routines and has found frequently unspoken benefits. Watch for her post, which will be featured on Natural Parents Network on Tuesday, November 30. (@agiftuniverse)
    • Unconditional Parenting” — The philosophy of Alfie Kohn resonates with Erin at Multiple Musings, who does not want to parent (or teach) using rewards and punishment. (@ErinLittle)

Ecological Responsibility and Love of Nature

Holistic Health Practices

  • Supporting Natural Immunity” — If you have decided against the traditional vaccination schedule, Starr at Earth Mama has some helpful tips for strengthening your children’s immune systems naturally.

Natural Learning

  • Acceptance as a Key to Natural Parenting” — Because Mrs. Green at Little Green Blog values accepting and responding to her daughter’s needs, she was able to unravel the mystery of her daughter’s learning “challenges.” (@myzerowaste)
  • Let Them Look” — Betsy at Honest 2 Betsy makes time to look at, to touch, and to drool on the pinecones.
  • Why I Love Unschooling” — Unschooling isn’t just about learning for Darcel at The Mahogany Way — it is a way of life. (@MahoganyWayMama)
  • Is He Already Behind?“Ever worry that your baby or toddler is behind the curve? Danielle at born.in.japan will reassure you about the many ways your little one is learning — naturally — every day. Watch for her post, which will be featured on Natural Parents Network on Tuesday, November 16. (@borninjp)
  • How to Help Your Child through Natural Learning” — Deb Chitwood at Living Montessori Now offers tips on how to understand and nurture your child’s natural learning style. (@DebChitwood)

Healthy Living

Parenting Philosophies

Political and Social Activism

  • http://www.thevariegatedlife.com/ Rachael @ The Variegated Life

    “I struggle with it though, because our world is set up for punishments and rewards.”
    *sigh* Isn’t that so? And it breaks my heart to see recent so-called educational reform based so much on punishments and rewards. (Dear President Obama: Arne Duncan? Really? Why? Why? Why? But that’s another story.)
    Thanks for this summary of Kohn’s book! I’m not able to read 50 or so books in one year as I did once upon a time, but clearly this one deserves to be among the half-dozen or dozen or so that I just might manage to read in the next year….

  • Erin Little

    Thanks Everyone.
    I certainly don’t find this approach easy, nor am I perfect at it (at home or school), but I’m trying. I do resort to counting sometimes, although I’ve never threatened a consequence (I know, I know, there is an implied consequence) and I’m pretty sure my girls and my classes have never been afraid of me.
    As for being able to AP twins, I had a lot of time to read and think before my girls were born. I was on sick leave for most of my pregnancy because they were mono-chorionic. I actually had a great pregnancy, no nausea at all and I felt good the whole time, but I had to be closely monitored for TTTS.
    Luckily, I had my husband and mom around a lot in the beginning so that made it easier to AP. I also joined AP Multiple Yahoo group and found a lot of support there.

  • http://www.HoboMama.com Lauren @ Hobo Mama

    I love this post. Such a great oulining of Kohn’s writing. That’s one of my favorite parenting books — it really blew my mind the first time I read it and realized I agreed with it. And yet, as you say, such a paradigm shift to the way our culture has trained us to think. I still have to catch myself from resorting to the easy way out (supposedly) of praising and punishing, because it’s so expected. But I find when I do, it really doesn’t work — or not the way I want it to. So I keep trying!
    My favorite quote is that one about “Attribute to children the best possible motive consistent with the facts.” I think that makes such a difference right there. Starting from infancy, we’re twisted into thinking children are out to make us miserable and defy us — and of course they’re just being children, so of course they don’t always do things the way that would be most convenient to adults. I find when I stop to consider motives (and assign/discern positive ones), I’m much more likely to respond gently and thoughtfully.

  • Tracey

    This post is great. A lot of this goes against my natural grain of how I deal with my kids, but there’s always more to learn. I’m different in many ways than my parents were with me, but keeping safety in mind, and age appropriateness, I’m still in “control” mode with the Littles. Yes, they need to hold my hand crossing the street (well, the 2 year old) but it’s hard to be a gentle parent al of the time, I find. I watch my husband deal with them, and he’s so much… softer. Also, he doesn’t spend nearly as many hours with them as I do, so he’s “fresher” in any given situation, and has more patience.
    I think I might check out Khon’s books… it’s nice to see so much feedback here!

  • http://intrepidmurmurings.com/roller/sunfrog/ Kristin @ Intrepid Murmurings

    Yay, thanks for this post! And hello from another twin mama! So nice to “meet” you here!
    I have known generally about Kohn’s ideas for awhile, have read a few of his articles and much discussion of them, but haven’t actually read his books yet. I REALLY want to, and appreciate the summery above. Must get to this one, SOON!
    I think some of this is very instinctual for me, but other parts, not so much. Sometimes I really want to punish, to “make my point”, but I know that my kids will not be seeing it the way I do AT ALL and that is where the problem lies. I really value the lessons learned from “natural consequences” and try to use that a fair bit. Finding and coming to solutions together seems like SUCH the better way, most of the time, but it is not the easy thing to do, is it?

  • Jen

    I didn’t even know there was a name or label for this but it is definitely more my style. My daughter was on a lunch date with a friend and a I got an email from the mom entitle “coatless” it went on to tell me how my daughter chose not to wear her coat and refused to borrow a sweater from the other girl and blah, blah, blah what was this mom supposed to do? I emailed back and asked, “is she complaining that she is cold?”. The other mom was shocked. It was “freezing” outside. Obviously my daughter disagreed. I thanked her for her concern and said that if my girl feels cold then next time she will remember her jacket. The mom was not impressed.
    When my girl got home she told me how the mom kept asking her if she was cold yet. Whether she was or wasn’t there was no way she was going to say so!
    I try really, really hard to see things from my kids’ perspectives and work with them instead of against them. We work on a mutual trust and respect basis. This is how I was raised and I really appreciate it.
    I don’t like labeling myself as any particular “type” of parent but many of these things really resonated with me. Thanks, Erin, for another thought provoking post!

  • http://talesofatiredmommy.blogspot.com Semi-crunchy Mama

    So glad to see this post as part of the November carnival. I’ve been struggling with being the gentle parent I want to be lately. Sometimes it’s tough with a 3 1/2 year old. I have this book in my cart on Amazon; it’s time to purchase!

  • http://little-willa-lamb.blogspot.com Amy

    Thank you for a lovely summary of Kohn’s philosophy. I have been wanting to read this book for some time, but haven’t gotten around to it.
    Parenting should absolutely be about the relationship between parent and child, like you say. Unfortunately, a lot of parents look for a discipline that will give them power over their child . . . because it seems easier to “be the boss” – and that is not a healthy relationship. This is definitely true in cases of punitive punishment like time outs, though also true with the use of rewards like you say. Rewards may seem like positive discipline to many, but they are really a form of controlling the child through material goods (stickers, candy, etc etc) – so again . . . it becomes about power.
    Instead, I truly believe, as it sounds like you do, that respect and empathy are the roots of a healthy parent-child relationship. Children should not be controlled, but loved and guided. This is a great post to introduce the idea of non-punitive parenting (parenting without shame). Thank you for writing about this!

  • Sara

    Thanks for clarifying that Mrs. Green – that really is an awesome note and one I totally agree with – the non-judging part especially. This is why I love Erin’s posts so much because they bring up a very different way of thinking than I’m used to and it opens my eyes to new ways of thinking about parenting and schooling etc.

  • http://littlegreenblog.com Mrs Green @ littlegreenblog

    Oh Sara, hon, I honestly wasn’t singling you out *at all*.
    One of my biggest learnings at the moment is tolerance and I completely respect that your perception is that counting to 3 is about a choice and offers time to think. I’d never thought about it like that, so thank you for sharing!
    You’ve written that you are a single parent, if I’ve understood correctly? And I stand in awe of any single parent – parenting is SO tough, it’s tough with the two of us so I can’t begin to imagine what it’s like to have that sole responsibility.
    Also, I firmly believe that we can never judge another until, as the saying goes, we’ve walked two moons in another’s moccasins. I think we all have our own way of doing things, we all have particular things we feel strongly or passionately about and other things that we are more easy-going over.
    As far as I’m concerned ALL parents should be celebrated and supported because we all do a fantastic job and yet one of the most challenging!
    With respect,
    Mrs G x

  • Sara

    Hey Mrs Green – just to clarify – there was no crossing the road without holding my hand….not an option. And counting…I’ll give you the threatening…but I think abusive may be a little harsh. I see it as giving them time to think about their options…they can do it – or they won’t – and I lay out the ‘if they don’t’ ahead of time – he knows he’s not going to get whooping if I get to 3 – but he knows he won’t be rewarded.

  • http://codenamemama.com Dionna @ Code Name: Mama

    Kohn’s philosophy has had a profound effect on the way I parent. I was raised much more “traditionally,” (as I’m sure many of us were) – spankings, time-outs, yelling, etc. I assumed that was the way to parent. I appreciated Kohn’s presentation of research showing how those things can actually cause long-term negative effects. Thanks for sharing with us! It’s awesome to see a teacher who is doing it differently.

  • http://littlegreenblog.com Mrs Green @ littlegreenblog

    I too am a fan of Alfie Kohn and although I didn’t get it right all the time I like to think I did / still do a pretty good job with DD. She is now 9 and I’ve always preferred to work on the premise of natural consequences wherever possible as I believe this is more empowering for the child.
    I tend to use ‘discipline’ for wont of a better word if something / somebody is at risk of serious harm. For instance I wouldn’t have given her the choice as a toddler to hold my hand to cross the road; it was that or we didn’t cross the road. But I do thing by only saving the word ‘no’ for absolutes it has more of a meaning.
    I personally have never used counting – I think this is very threatening and abusive. I always ask myself when I hear parents getting to 2 1/2, 2 3/4 – what *actually* happens at 3??!! But most children never get to find out because fear kicks in and they don’t want to suffer the consequences of the dreaded 3…
    Anyway, of course I’ve resorted to less resourceful discipline, which I totally hate in myself, but we all reach the end of our tether at some points in our parenting journey…
    Thanks for highlighting the work of someone who makes a lot of sense to me 🙂

  • karen

    Good for you for choosing to AP twins.
    I don’t know if I would have been able to AP if I had my twins first. The elements that lead us to AP with my first – nursing, co-sleeping, baby wearing etc were things that were so much harder logistically with our twins. I am glad I was able to follow my instincts with my first and get my “sea legs” before having our twins.
    While I definitely consider our family AP, I’m not a hardcore UP follower – at least I don’t think I am. I’ve never finished Kohn’s books. Something about his writing style I think.
    One of the books that really solidified a lot of my parenting philosophies was Hold On to Your Kids which affirms for me the role of parents in guiding their children through relationship rather than power. And I read another book called Do Not Disturb, the Benefits of Relaxed Parenting by Deborah Jackson when my oldest was just a baby that really informed my parenting and discipline style. Kids, Parents and Power Struggles is another one that I re-read regularly.
    The concept of beginning with the end in mind always struck me as one of the most important starting places in parenting but it can be so hard when you are in the thick of it and just need to get out the door or get kids to bed. One of the best things we ever did was help the kids come up with a list of family principles when they were younger. I have been completely amazed at how those “rules” have guided my kids in ways I never would have thought possible.
    I think one of the things that makes parenting outside the mainstream easier is a community which supports those choices. On-line is great but there is something important I think in having friends who parent in similar ways to watch and talk with. Do you have an AP group where you are?
    Good luck!

  • Sara

    I was just this minute having a conversation with a co-worker who said how proud she is of me because I’m tough with my toddler. I do a reward system. Frankly, to survive this single parenting of a toddler, I have to. That being said, we do also talk about what happens and why. Example – last night – epic tantrum because the rule is he must listen at school and then he can watch one dvd when we get home (while I cook). He refused to hold my hand crossing the road, and then tried to butt shuffle into the street. I gave him a count of 3 to stand up or no dvd. He didn’t listen. I picked him up, carried him across the raod and explained that he must hold my hand so he won’t get hurt. And then I said there was no tv. Then he lost his mind. Would it have been easier to put it on and discuss things with him – absolutely. But I’ll bet you 10 bucks that tonight, he walks to the car holding my hand. Before he went to bed, we talked about why there was no TV and he said because he wasn’t nice to mommy. My point – I think there’s a happy medium to all things parenting. My personal opinion is that there needs to be some discipline.
    Great thought provoking posts Erin!!

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