Barbara McMahon MS LMHC

Counseling and Psychotherapy for Adults, Families and Children

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Unconditional Positive Regard in Parenting

Posted on February 16, 2013 at 2:17 AM
Carl Rogers was an influential psychologist who was among the founders of  the humanistic, client-centered approach to psychotherapy. The basis of his approach included what he called having unconditional positive regard for the person/clients he treated. His theory was based on the belief that a human being is organically wired towards self actualization, in spite of the fact that this process is sometimes sabotaged by acquired false conceptions and a consequent lack of belief in one's own worthiness. In the light of an unconditional positive regard provided by even just one person, Carl Rogers believed that an individual could re-ignite  inherent resources, through which the ability to grow and flourish can be restored.

This theory has useful implications for parents who play a very large role in nourishing a child's self-image for better or ill.

It is common to observe in today's popular parenting styles a phenomenon which might appear to be Rogerian but is in fact an unhelpful distortion. Unconditional positive regard for one's child is not a license to condone and/or defend all behaviors and actions, nor to indiscriminately applaud and praise a child "just because you are you." Praise has its place, but to lavishly praise without appropriate discrimination actually serves to create a false conception that a child "can do no wrong," and such a concept ultimately creates shame in a child who knows instinctively their humanness  but now may feel that anything less than All-Good in them must be denied or suppressed.

Unconditional positive regard is not a blanket approval but rather an insistent belief in the inherent worth, value and potential of the individual.

Ironically, parents who (perhaps unconsciously) expect their child to be "golden" often make the same mistake as parents who (also unconsciously) expect or fear the worst from their children. They unwittingly connect a child's worth with behavior, performance and  conformity.   One will deny any 'imperfections' that appear thus denying their child the needed approval for being human, the need to learn, and the freedom to not have to be perfect. The other will, if expectations are not met,  tend to fear even more that there is something " wrong,"  expecting failure, losing faith. Both stances also tend to deny a child's right to be "different", a difference which over time might prove to have been evidence of a child's own unique gift unfurling.

The shift that many parents need to make is so often a simple one, and it rests with the thoughts one thinks about ones child. Consider these: "My child's worth is non-negotiable and does not need to be earned"  "I approve of my child without condition, although I may not approve of all the choices my child makes" "I give my child  permission to make mistakes and I believe in his/her ability to learn from them" "I believe in my child's ability to become who they are meant to be." "I am here to help,understand and provide guidelines-  not to criticize."

Shifts in the way a parent views his or her child can be freeing, life-changing, and seemingly miraculous in their effects.

Humility and discipline are learned through an open acknowledgement of, and an appropriate response to, the mistakes, foibles and even failings of any child as he navigates his or her way through the terrain of life experience. Unconditional love - with authority, and the willingness to exert that authority with loving guidance-  has shown statistically to produce the most well-adjusted young adults.



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