Friday, April 15, 2011

Principles of Operant Conditioning Gone Terribly Awry

It sounds complicated but its a simple thing, really, operant conditioning.
You reward (or reinforce) good behaviour with positive reinforcement.
You use punishment for bad behavior.
Using this simple technique, you could, if you were so inclined, train a mouse to run a maze.

But could you get a two year old to go to bed at a predetermined bedtime.
Hell no.
Not even close. You could get him to bed, perhaps, within a ninety minute time frame surrounding said predetermined time. But, then again, you could also do that using no intervention at all, which I found out one time when I fell asleep at 9pm and woke up at eleven, half expecting the house to be on fire or the windows to be smashed out. But instead, I found my little buddy asleep in a playpen. He had moved his pillow and blanky in there, climbed in and curled himself to sleep.

I know exactly what I'm doing wrong. Inadvertently, I reward bad behavior. He comes out, asks for a drink of water, I get it for him and send him back to bed. He comes out a minute later, asks for a hug, I hug him and carry him back to bed, tuck him in, perhaps even massage his back a little, cuz I know he likes that.
But what am I to do?
Deprive him of water?
Deprive him of hugs?
That's harsh. He's a toddler, not a lab rat.

Anyways, the other day, this had gone on for quite some time. I was feeling exhausted. Geoff was working late. Both Alex and Payton had been coming in and out of bed for over the two hour mark, and my patience was worn very thin. As thin as my husbands hairline, and that's thin indeed.

And then came Gage, my thirteen year old. "Watch and learn," he told me as he went into the room. He was in there for less than a minute. "They won't be back out," he said as he pulled the door shut behind him.
Sure enough half an hour went by and there was no sign of Alex or Payton.
"What did you do, put a sleeper hold on them?" I asked. Because if so, awesome, I need to learn the sleeper hold.
"No," he said. "I told them that whoever fell asleep first would get a prize in the morning."
"Actually," I said. "That's pretty brilliant."
Principles of operant conditioning, applied correctly.
Thirteen year olds will rule this world one day, I thought to myself. For once that thought actually seemed optimisitic rather than terrifying.

Nevermind the fact that I now have to give my kids chocolate bars for breakfast. That's another issue entirely. I'm planning on phasing that out by switching the chocolate bars to bubble gum flavored multivitamins. Then they'll be getting thier rest, and a vitamin as well.
Superkids, they'll be!!

Anyways, I really must apologize for not being around more- on here or on any of your blogs. Life is complicated for me right now, and I must admit that I am seriously contemplating the future of this blog. Too many things, too little time. But we'll wait and see on that.
One day at a time I guess.
Hope you have a good weekend.


Cheeseboy said...

Well, to be fair, my kids get fed pop ups ever day. Chocolate too.

I do hope that you decide to stick it out with the blog. You do have quite the way with words. And your husbands hairline needs you to be writing about it.

tammy said...

I'm all for bribes. And chocolate for breakfast - well, for me anyway.