Tuesday, March 02, 2010

all i needed to know about parenting, i learned in graduate school.

Forget birthing and breastfeeding classes. Put down the "What to Expect" and "How to Make your Baby Sleep So You Can Too," or whatever the parenting book of the month is. What every glowing expectant mother should spend nine months studying is applied behavioral analysis. Because no matter how you frame it, you will spend the next eighteen years of your life shaping behavior. Not only that, but the antecedent-behavior-consequence patterns that develop in your home now will shape the trajectory of the rest of your child's life.

Makes sleeping through the night seem a little trivial, eh?

Case in point: Last week required super powers I do not possess. This week? Pie in the sky. What changed? Behavior modification, baby.

Silas has been screaming. And screaming and screaming and screaming and screaming. Screaming in the morning, screaming in the evening, screaming at suppertime. I am reasonably patient with small children, and it was almost more than I can handle. Always with the screaming. Until Sunday, when I began to see how I was not only allowing, but CAUSING his behavior.

Here's how it usually went down: Asher and Silas would be in another room. Silas would scream as though someone just forcibly removed his pinky. I would rush into the room, and assume Asher had hurt him (not outside of the realm of possibility, but it was not always true). I would pick Silas up and comfort him. OR: Silas would want a toy. He couldn't reach it, so he would SCREAM in frustration. I would swoop him up, and narrate, "You want the toy. You're frustrated," then give him the object of his heart's desire. In other words, screaming was always rewarded with attention.

Sunday afternoon it occurred to me - oh my goodness. Silas is no longer a baby, he is a toddler. He is screaming for attention, and every time he screams, attention is rewarded, thereby guaranteeing the fact that he will continue to scream for attention. If I want him to stop screaming, I have to stop making screaming worth his time.

When I stepped back and really watched what was going on, I realized Silas was actually antagonizing Asher most of the time, then screaming because Asher wouldn't give him the toy he wanted. I had been reinforcing that, but now I don't. Now, Silas is removed from his brother's activity when he begins screaming at him. Attention is removed, not given, for screaming. And when he screams out of frustration, I am giving him something else to say ("Help please") to make a request. When he screams in anger, he goes to time-out (again removing attention, rather than giving it). Screaming just isn't as valuable to him as it used to be.

He is still screaming, but less (it's only been two days). But just as important as decreasing the screaming, I am no longer a part of the problem. I am replacing inappropriate behaviors with more acceptable ones, and I no longer feel like I am at the mercy of my son's behavior.

But seriously? Nothing outside of graduate school (and working in ABA therapy) would have ever prepared me for toddlerhood.

Applied behavioral analysis, she is your friend.


Lisa said...

Very good point. I keep trying to tell my husband (when he is solely in charge because I have something I need to do) that he can't keep yelling at our daughter for misbehaving while he's watching TV. The more he yells and ignores her, the more she misbehaves to try to get his attention. She's misbehaving BECAUSE she's watching TV and not paying attention to her and the misbehavior will disappear immediately if he would just spend time with her. Not exactly the same thing, but the same idea.

Missy @ It's Almost Naptime said...

GASP! He has graduated from sweet innocent baby to manipulative little sinner.

These transitions are always sad. And always so surprising!!

I'm sorry :(

Madame Rubies said...

HA! So very true. So, how do I use this to make David stop bringing home profanity?

Colin's Mom said...

I agree wholeheartedly. I feel like I'm always thinking one step ahead and trying to forecast what affects my words or actions are going to have on Colin. Now if I could just teach my husband to think ahead...

Jamie said...

I shouldn't have skipped class so much.

Kendra said...

Yes I not naive in thinking my years of teaching preschool will get me through our toddler years with out serious frustrations, although I do hope it will help.

It's the teenage years that TERRIFY me. I me I know it will be good for my walk because it will bring me closer to God, because I will be on my KNEES so much during those years...