Thursday, September 11, 2008

More on Reinforcement

In conjunction with my last post, I wanted to write about something else I learned in my parenting class. This is another of those things that has shaped the way I view parenting, and the world in general. I think most people can relate to the imagery.

The teacher told us to think about a postage stamp machine. If you put in your money, a stamp will come out. Every time you put in money, you get a stamp in return. If you put in your money, and a stamp doesn't come out, chances are you won't try putting in any more money. You will assume that the machine is broken.

He then told us to think about a slot machine. If you put some money in the slot machine, you may or may not win. Usually, people who have won before will take the risk and put in many coins with the hope that eventually they will win. It is the chance of winning that keeps them playing, even if they spend a lot of money in the process.

We as parents can be like the slot machine, or the postage stamp machine. If the child asks for something, and we tell them it isn't allowed, but then give in and let them have it, we are acting like the slot machine. Because we sometimes give in, they will expend as much effort as necessary to keep "playing" until they "win". If, however, we are like a postage stamp machine and mean what we say, then the child will learn that no matter how much effort they expend, they aren't going to win. They will soon learn fighting the rule isn't worth the effort, because it won't bring their desired results.

I remember seeing this first hand as a child. My friend across the street came from a large Catholic family. They had 10 children in their family, 7 of which were boys. I remember asking my friend to ask her mother if she could spend the night at my house. She went in and talked to her mother in private, then came back out and told me she wasn't allowed. I asked her to go back and try a different approach. She said, "No, when my mother says no, that is the end of the discussion". For as long as I knew that family, that was the way their home was run. I think with a family that size, this surely helped in parenting their children.

I don't claim to be an expert in parenting, but I often think about these principles I learned in college, and wanted to share them here.

1 comment:

PsychDoctor said...

Great Analogy...