Things We Don’t Talk About, vol2

I think about raising my kid like I’d think about training a puppy, except I try not to use the word “train” because then I sound like a shitty parent.

Let me explain: I will continue to maintain that my son has at least the mental capability of a five month old puppy. He can’t run or get around very easily, but we’re taking brains, here, not paws.

So if I can expect a puppy to “understand” stuff, so can I expect my kid too. But, as with puppies, it’s more about me than it is about him. We upright-standing adult human creatures are so verbal that we often make life difficult for ourselves.

Exhibit A: saying to a newborn, “Please, baby, just tell mama what you want and I’ll do it!” Like they have any idea what you’re begging of them.

Exhibit B: saying to a new puppy, “Sit! Sit! I said Sit!” as though they know what that means.

The behavior must precede the naming and asking for it.

With dogs, you mark the behavior and indicate its awesomeness. Every time the puppy does the thing you want – of their own volition – you mark it (clicker, word, whatever) and then show them that mark = good with a treat, usually.

With my kid, when he does something good, I mark it with “Yay!” and then give him a smoochie or make him laugh somehow.

{Admitting this makes me feel batshit crazy, but hey.}

Knowing he’ll eventually hate diaper changes, I’ve been “marking” the behavior that is stretching his legs so I can fasten the diaper since he was like a month old, and lately I’ve been naming it, “streeeeeeettttttch!” I say it, he sometimes does it, I cry, “yay!” and we smooch. Easy peasy.

We do the same thing with push-ups (much, much more cheering) and eating from a spoon (lots o’ cheering). We cheer a lot, what can I say. The best part is that when I say, “yay!” he looks up to see what it is I was cheering. This is something I can use in the future. *evil laugh*

I hate the word “train” because it implies *I’M’* teaching him something when really I’m just noting a natural behavior and reinforcing it, and what’s wrong with that? When my husband notes that I put my clothes in the hamper instead of on the floor and beams at me, it’s the same principle at work, right?

People are animals, too!

{As long as I’m getting this off my chest, I call my son’s hands and feet “paws” and more than once have accidentally called the pediatrician “the vet” and his crib “his crate.” Bring on the judgment, but note that my animals are spoiled as all hell – within some pretty definite boundaries, but still live the happy life.}

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12 thoughts on “Things We Don’t Talk About, vol2

  1. Great post and funny and we are all animals in a sense and so if reinforcing positive behavior works for puppys why can’t it work for children. =)

  2. Haha I TOTALLY do this! And one of my favorite quotes from the show “Scubs” is the following:

    Turk: Why? What’s it gonna be like having a baby?
    Carla: Dr. Cox said it’s like having a dog that slowly learns how to talk.
    Turk: Awesome!

  3. I’m a former service dog trainer and now pregnant with our first, and I’ve always claimed this is the best way to raise kids. People get all offended that I’m claiming they’re like animals, but I always say, what do you think gambling is?? A variable schedule of reinforcement! We give you just enough of a reward to keep you coming back.

  4. I am soooo glad I am not the only one that has called the crib a crate! At first, my husband and I only joked about it calling it that, but now I catch myself calling it a crate from time to time!

  5. I have mixed feelings about this post. On the one hand, it’s funny and true: a baby/toddler really is at the same mental level as a dog (and has similar interests: licking everything, destroying stuff, eating). And I think it’s hilarious you call the crib a crate and the baby’s feet his paws.

    On the other hand, I don’t really agree with the idea that a parent ought to train children. For a dog, they don’t understand why they ought to do something: just knowing that it’s forbidden/praised is enough. But a child ought to be learning WHY some things are allowed and others aren’t, that hitting others is wrong not because Mommy says so, but because it hurts. And I think even babies can begin learning in this way, if you constantly explain to them the reasons for your rules. You don’t really want your kid to do good things because they make Mommy happy, you want him to do them because HE wants to. Getting my daughter to do stuff is so much easier and more powerful if I can show her the reasons behind it (like that if she will eat off the spoon, she can enjoy ice cream: then it’s her choice and I don’t have to worry about controlling her behavior).

    Of course, maybe I am just being a silly hippie parent. It’s hard to know what the right answer is!

      • @Marisa, It’s my theory that kids understand a lot more than we think (although I am willing to admit I might just be fooling myself). My daughter is only 10 months but it’s surprising what she understands and remembers, even stuff from days ago. Even when she was 5 months she understood things like cause and effect, and watched me like a hawk, drawing conclusions from what I was doing (since later she would try to copy me). After all, babies are little learning machines!

      • @Grace, I’m going to have to agree that there’s some truth to this. Charlie is almost five months old, and has learned to cringe up her face when our dog walks by because she gets licked. I think that is hilarious. Mind you, I didn’t teach it to her, she figured it out on her own.

        However, I don’t find it offensive to relate infant care to dog training. The way most people treat their animals these days is better than they treat their neighbors and friends. And a lot of the methods focus on gentle reinforcement, which sounds great for children.

  6. Yes yes yes! So my master’s program is in behavior analysis, and I’m in it because I work with dogs… but almost all of my classmates work with kids. There are probably 50 of us and only 2 dog people – but we are all learning the same thing. You’re exactly right: the principles of behavior are the same across species. Which is not to say that the same things are reinforcing (e.g. if you might not want to test whether your kid will respond to liver treats, and your dog probably won’t respond well to hugs), but besides that it’s pretty much the same.

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