I am so grateful for the opportunity I have had to do what I do and be paid for it. It is immensely rewarding, head on table frustrating, heartbreaking and wonderful. My job has given me a much broader understanding of behaviour than I could ever have hoped for. I believe it has made me a better mother. Having laid bare all my motherly failings here in this blog, I don’t mind admitting that there are occasionally some things I get right.

We teach everything to kids in school. We don’t expect them to arrive knowing the difference between multiply and divide or two, too and to. If they haven’t learnt it yet, we don’t punish them for it, we teach ’em. We explicitly teach them. We design a lesson, gather resources, give examples, allow trial and error and celebrate success. But not when it comes to behaviour. We somehow expect that they know how to make friends, keep friends, handle frustration, embarrassment and shame, what to say to an adult sitting behind a huge desk, how to argue with respect and that you have to walk in lines, sing the national anthem and sit quietly at a table. Not only that, we expect them to understand how to negotiate the fact that home rules and school rules are often totally contradictory. We pretty much expect them to figure these things out all on their own, by trial and error. For most kids, they will figure this out and come out the other end pretty socially and emotionally intact. But not all. We have an obligation to these kids to explicitly teach not just book learnin’ but behaviour too.

Example. I realise in the car park at day care that my first reaction when Mr 4 runs out across the car park is to yell. Get back here! Don’t run! But did I teach him? How does he really know that he’s not supposed to run out in the car park? And why? So I teach him. Come over here. Walk to the yellow pole (we do it together so now it’s like a game). Stop. Look around. Can you see cars? Can you hear cars? Yes. OK can we walk now? No. Why not? Because the car might crash us. Good idea. Wait. Can we go now? Yes. OK let’s walk to the other yellow pole over there. Well done.

I take him to the shops. I spend time before we even get in the car teaching him what we will and will not do at the shops. What we will and will not buy. I have in my mind what I am happy to give way on. Will I buy him toys? No. Can we share a milkshake? Sure. But I decide in advance so he can’t ambush me. We negotiate a reward that he gets if he does all the right things at the shops (I try to avoid ‘be a good boy at the shops’, does he even know what that means or how to do it?). I also teach him what we will do first, next and after that. I get him to repeat back to me the wills/will nots. We go to the shops. He takes great delight in telling me look Mummy, there are some toys, but we’re not buying toys today hey Mummy. I now have no issues taking him to the shops and it only takes me 5 minutes to do the pre-shops pep talk. He knows the rules because I taught him. He can walk past a wall of toys and not flinch. What a little champ.

The shops one is easy because he is highly motivated by getting to go to the shops with me, so he’ll agree to anything. And yes, there is a small reward. I usually use the little $2 machines that you get a toy out of. I try to avoid using lollies or food treats. But going to the shops is treat enough, he loves it. Some behaviour people out there will say we shouldn’t use rewards. Rewards are the way the world works, why shouldn’t he get a small celebration for learning something new? I get paid. I don’t work for free. That motivates me. I am also motivated by gaining the respect of my colleagues and that is also a reward. I have to put in the hard work and it pays off. I have no problem with rewards if they are reasonable, affordable and they work. For example, not giving a trip to Dreamworld for tidying your room once. Generally, he has to earn stamps or stickers over a period of 3 or 4 weeks to earn a bigger reward at the end of that time. But it’s all about getting the motivation right. Finding out what your child’s currency is.  What I find is after a while of targeting a certain behaviour, he starts to do it naturally and the need for the reward becomes less and less, and we move on to a new behaviour. He has learnt and I know he knows, because he was explicitly taught.

So what about my two little people? Allow me to pour another glass of wine while a shrug my shoulders in complete ignorance. I don’t know nothin’ when it comes to little ones. All I know works is love and distraction. And when they are old enough to engage in a conversation, then I’m sweet but I’m just going to have to wait this one out I’m afraid. One thing I do know however, is the brain development of a toddler is nowhere near ready to understand stop, don’t, do this not that, how many times have I told you, cause and effect, consequences and punishment. I cannot expect them to understand a sequence of events and that one thing had to do with another thing and if I throw this at your head it will hurt. There is no yesterday, today and tomorrow, there is only now. This is complex thinking and it won’t come for a few years yet.


2 responses »

  1. That’s a damn good post, and thanks for helping me gain a better understanding of behaviour, rewards and motivations.

    I was at the Roar last night and observed the family in front of me. The father was obviously very intent on the game, and not terribly concerned about his Mr 5 (I’m guessing). Mr 5 was seated at the end of the aisle and did what kids do – he ran around on the wet concrete and stairs. Every now and then, dad would yell at him to stop running around and sit down – yet did nothing and returned his attention to the game.

    I couldn’t help but think what do you expect to happen when you take your young child to a 90 minute game of football which is unlikely to interest them for long – then feed them sugary lollies when he does sit down?

    I must confess I don’t know the answer, but I imagine you’d have handled the situation much better.

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