I use this guide for determining how to change any behavior I am present of mind enough to try to change properly. It’s from Karen Pryor’s book called Don’t Shoot the Dog. This book pretty much goes back and forth between examples of animal training and human training, but you should read it if you have problems with people or other animals in your life. These are methods for untraining unwanted behaviors.
1) “Shoot the animal” – eliminate presence of subject
In the case of a marriage, that would mean divorce in polite society, not killing. 🙂
In the case of discipline, it means anything to physically remove the child from the situation. Sending a child to his or her room is a common way to do this.
This method is very effective at keeping someone from behaving in a manner in your presence. It is not effective at teaching jack shit other than general compliance when done gently, so it’s best used in emergencies or when you can’t really train a person (like a TODDLER) to know to leave something like glass alone. You go and grab your toddler who runs into the street, grabs for the stove, charges toward the stairs – and you do this way before you can teach some kids hot and cold, safe and unsafe.
In the case of discipline, this would be the screamy lectures, the spanking, the slaps, taking away privileges or possessions – stuff that you do as compensation for the crime that doesn’t happen as a logical circumstance of the crime. In reality, when we do these things, we’re usually emotionally charged about our children’s behavior and very out of control of it. We feel overwhelmed and like we have no fucking clue why our child is being a little shit. So we yell or we speak angrily if we’re in pretty good control of ourselves through all of this feeling of being out of control.
Sometimes it works but it’s usually because you manage to plant some fear of disobedience into the heart of the child. Sometimes it annoys the child enough that he or she figures out that it’s just easier to do what you say. It’s not a good way to train behaviors, though – it may stop a behavior but not give the kid incentive other than not pissing you off. It really makes parents and kids feel lousy to have that sort of fighting and anger between them. Relying too much on punishment teaches kids to be sneaky and lie to you.
3) Negative reinforcement
It’s a little bit like punishment, but it’s under the control of the person receiving it. When you are in the process of being negatively reinforced, you are in some sort of discomfort that you can stop immediately upon changing a behavior. When you want a horse to turn, you usually pull the reins in a direction and the horse turns because it knows it can stop the fucking PAIN by turning. It’s how we learn to take care of our young babies – the baby howls and you try everything you can possibly do to get him or her to stop. In essence, young babies get their needs met by pulling on a rein. It is wise to train other ways to communicate needs as soon as possible so that you don’t have an older child who is impatient and screams to get needs met. Or like mine, who is just learning how to express that he’s hungry and thirsty because he was one of those loud criers and he trained me well through negative reinforcement. I can see why I am tired now – it makes people miserable to be on the constant lookout for something aversive!
Now, when you use this on your kids, it can be far more civilized. I’m teaching Tristan not to scream for his food and drink by giving it to him only when he quits screaming. It’s the first step in getting him to actually ask for food and drink. This is painful, as it involves him crying out a tantrum instead of me trying to soothe him in some way, but it’s been necessary for him to learn to approach me calmly when hungry and indicate that he would like food or drink. It’s a technique I’ve used a lot lately in dealing with the “really, WHY are you screaming over this?” sorts of tantrums and he is really doing a shit ton better with both not melting down and expressing his needs.
4) Extinction – letting the behavior go away on its own
The best way to do this regarding any behavior in any person is just to fail to respond. This is the real way to stop being cruelly teased by other people. This is the way to get your toddler to stop doing most sort of irritating but not actually shitty behaviors. This is the way to get your spouse to quit nitpicking.
Just. Don’t. Pay. Attention. It’s a really easy way to discipline, because it’s the free-spirit method – just let them be. Respond to weird social behavior like sticking out tongues inappropriately, hitting occasionally, defiant behaviors.. by ignoring it. A lot of kids are little devils because their parents are quick to converse with them when they are misbehaving to get this behavior corrected, but these parents aren’t very quick to respond when their kids are doing things they’d like their kids to continue doing.
Bad publicity is better than no publicity. Kids will start to misbehave because they earn attention that way. It’s sad, but your kid would rather have you pissed off all of the time than not there. If you are in essence “not there” when annoying shit happens and “there” when neat shit happens, you will have a happier kid who’s more cooperative. I’ve believed this since before Tristan was born and Tristan is a very cooperative kid who delights in play.
Anyway, what goes on is that good behaviors will extinguish (stop; go away) with a lack of attention. But the good news is that a lot of annoying ones do as well!
When someone is being an asshole to you, treat them as though they were doing something you do not understand, like speaking in a language you do not understand, and then do your best to treat them as if no such thing happened.
5) Train an incompatible behavior
Some things can’t be done while doing some other things. Use this to your benefit when you are considering how to get your child to quit doing something. When your kid’s upset, sometimes a good tickle does the trick because you can’t really giggle and sob. Singing and dancing are incompatible with fighting and self-pity. Actually, exercise in general is usually incompatible with self-pity! But a dog lying down across the room cannot beg for food at the table. Identify the behavior you want to change and try to find something fun that can’t be done at the same time, and work on training that as a replacement.
6) Put the behavior on cue
This is a shiny and fabulous way to deal with the toddler who wants to get into things and do things himself. Tristan started closing doors on us pretty soon after he was a year old. Any sort of door he found that was opened, he closed. This is pretty annoying when you are doing household chores or trying to get him a drink of milk. Anyway, we started having him open and close doors on command once he was able to understand the words, and now he does it proudly on cue to show off and not so much for the fuck of it. This means I can even do laundry and load the dishwasher around him these days. Anyway, if you have something that you really don’t want done often or at all, you teach the child to do it on command and then stop giving the command unless the behavior is appropriate or at least not too annoying. 🙂 And with Tristan, I think he’s going to be kind of cooperative about doing stuff right around the house since he gets to do the important things like open and close doors now.
7) Shape the absence of the behavior
Call attention to/positively reinforce any behavior that is not in the category of what you want your child to stop doing. It will become a lot more fun for your child to do what you’d like. If your child is doing something you’d prefer he not do, a way to get him to stop doing that is to praise him for stopping the moment he does and withdraw attention if he starts again. This is a process, though – it will most definitely TEACH the child not to do whatever it is, but it will not stop most dangerous behaviors on an immediate basis. I’ve used this to get Tristan to stop throwing and spilling his sippy cup (in front of me at least :)) by praising the hell out of him for handing it to me or standing it up somewhere instead. And look – now he has two very useful commands!
8 ) Change the motivation
A child who is behaving like a little shit usually has an unmet need or want of some sort, or is in pain or discomfort. A young child does not have the mind to understand why he or she should not grab for mommy’s shiny breakable things. Take care of any needs (food/drink/sleep/elimination especially), comfort any pain, babyproof your home so that the scary stuff isn’t all tempting. When dealing with people in general, consider what unmet needs they have that are making them behave like that, and then it’s a lot easier not to be mad or overly caught up in the drama.