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What I've been Reading [Dec. 20th, 2006|12:11 am]
Pregnant Liberals

pregnantliberal

[little_e_]
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!"
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Comments:
[User Picture]From: kmgwinegal
2007-02-16 06:51 pm (UTC)
I know this is an old post, but I just joined the community, and I'm catching up.

You may enjoy reading some Alfie Kohn's books. He has two, "Punished by Rewards" and "Unconditional Parenting", both of which address the topic of behaviorist approaches to parenting. His main premise is that positive reinforcement can be just as damaging as negative reinforcement, because it takes away the intrinsic value in doing things and replaces it with praise (or other rewards). He talks about how we're raising this whole generation of "praise-junkies" who become additcted to positive reinforcement.

You can get a taste of his idea through the free articles on his website: www.alfiekohn.org.
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[User Picture]From: little_e_
2007-02-17 08:02 am (UTC)
Yay! Another member! Hi!

I was actually just reading an article last night about how different kinds of praise can have different effects on kids. In the most notable study in the article, researchers had a bunch of students (individually, of course,) work a puzzle which had been pre-selected to be pretty easy for their age group. Half the children were randomly selected to be praised, "You did a really good job, you must be really smart," and half were praised, "You did a really good job, you must have worked very hard."

The students were then presented with a choice between two puzzles, one which they were told was like the one they had just done, and one which was harder. The students praised for smarts picked the easier puzzle, while the students praised for hard work picked the harder puzzle. They all actually received a puzzle which was supposed to be too hard for them to do. Once they failed that puzzle, the students were given a third puzzle similar to the first, easy puzzle. The students who were praised on intelligence, after doing badly on the second test, did worse on the third test than they had on the first. The students who had been praised for hard work, even though they also failed the second test, did better on the third test than they had on the first.

The researchers speculate that students feel like 'intelligence' is an innate ability over which they have no control, but that they can appear more intelligent by working easier puzzles. The failure proved to them that their earlier success was just a 'fluke', after which they lost self-confidence and had more difficulty with the last easy puzzle.

The students praised for hard work, however, chose a puzzle which they thought would show off their ability to work hard. Even though they didn't finish the puzzle, they still felt like they had worked hard and were still competent, so their confidence was up for the third puzzle, and their performance improved.


Sorry to blather on for so long. But it was an interesting article...

Oh, and thanks for the tip. ^_^
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