|What I've been Reading
||[Dec. 20th, 2006|12:11 am]
In an effort to become a good parent, and more fully understand these 'spanking verses time-out' debates, I've been trying to get my hands on some nice, intro to psychology and behavioral sciences sorts of books. Unfortunately, this is a bit tricky--textbooks are nice, but expensive and not readily available at the bookstore in my building--thus I would have to travel long distances to read them, or actually buy the damn things, and as we know, textbooks are expensive--not to mention long and often boring. Most of the childrearing books don't seem to cover this, and most of the psychology books seem to be either regurgitated Freudian or Youngian crap which the rest of the field completely rejected about half a century ago for being utterly unscientific and, moreover, highly stupid; and books with titles like, "Living with ADD/Autism/fuckupery." I'm familiar with these since my mum's bought a quite a few over the years--in fact, she recently sent me one about her newest diagnosis. But the kid hasn't even been conceived yet, much less diagnosed with any sort of mental differences. |
Part of the problem, I think, is that on some level, people are a bit disturbed by basic psychology--they don't like the idea that they are predictable, much less that their own behavior can be modeled by mice in boxes. And they certainly don't like the idea of raising their children according to ideas found in science experiments designed to 'train' animals.
As a nerd, I don't have these hang-ups; it seems sensible to model human behavior with simpler creatures and sensible to try and use the best evidence available to date in order to raise our children--any less seems almost neglectful. And, honestly, there are a great many things I wish to 'train' my children to do--like pooping in the toilet.
So I've read a bit here and a bit there. To sum things up, punishment doesn't seem very useful--and in many cases, it reinforces the wrong things. This is easy to see in terms of animal training--if you call your dog over to you because you're angry that it peed on the floor, and then when it comes, you punish it, the dog will learn that the command 'come' means 'punishment is about to occur.' I use this example not because I think kids are dogs, but because this is precisely what happened to me as a teen. A high enough percentage of the times my mother called me ended in punishment that I began praying every time she called me before responding. (This was back when I believed in god.)
So, yes, punishment will work--but it may not teach what you want it to teach. In my case, I learned that avoiding my parents made life better, and it's taken quite a few years to fix that. Or to paraphrase one author, if they can train a 6,000 lb killer whale without punishment (for anyone who tried to punish a killer whale would surely cease existence in this mortal plane fairly quickly,) then why should anyone need to punish a 30 lb toddler?
Sadly, though, toilet-training incidents are one of the chief 'causes' of child-abuse in this country.
Punishments and rewards can work in several different ways. Here's the basic setup:
Positive Reinforcement: You give the child a reward for something they've done (good or bad.)
Positive Punishment: You give the child a punishment for something they've done.
Negative Reinforcement: You remove something negative from the child's environment in response to something they've done. (For example, the child cries, and you change their dirty diaper.)
Negative Punishment: You remove something good from the child in response to their action.
The Three laws of learning:
Rewarded behavior gets repeated
Ignored behavior gets stopped
Once a behavior is in place, variable rewards will strengthen the behavior. (Variable rewards means that the child isn't always rewarded for good behavior, only sometimes, randomly, and with different kinds of rewards. This is the basic principle behind slot machines, and why casinos make so much money.)
And law four: Learning is always happening.
The least effective method of teaching someone is to punish them. The most effective is to reward them for behavior you like.
This does not mean that kids should be allowed to run around doing whatever they want and that you should ignore them and give them candy whenever they sit down. A child who is misbehaving, according to these theories, should be best dealt with by re-directing their energies into *good* behavior, and then rewarded for that good behavior. The child will then learn that doing the desired behavior gets them rewarded, while doing the undesired behavior merely gets them... directed into other behaviors. The non-productive behavior is dropped.
Of course, I imagine that this kind of parenting is more difficult than simply yelling, "Johny? Johnny! Drop that! JOHNNY DROP IT!"