Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Childhood (09/03/09)
- TITLE: Monkey Business
By Holly Westefeld
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"Hi Stace. Why ya whispering?"
"'Cause if Jimmy doesn't realize that I'm both on the phone and in the bathroom while he's watching a movie, I might get a few minutes peace."
"Ah, gotcha! One of those days."
"Another one. You wouldn't believe what happened at kindergarten orientation this morning. I was mortified!"
"At first, I couldn't get Jimmy to sit down and listen to the teacher, so I offered him a piece of gum. He did sit nicely, for a little bit, then started tipping his chair back. I told him that he'd fall and get hurt, but he kept right on doing it. When I leaned on the front of the chair to keep all four legs on the floor, he turned around, put his knees over the back, and hung off the seat like a monkey. When I asked him to sit nicely, he grinned at me, put his hand out and said, "More gum.""
"Please tell me you didn't..."
"What else could I do. I was trying to listen to the teacher, and didn't want to make a scene. So I gave him more gum, and he sat right again."
"I'm sure he wasn't the only one who was fidgety."
"That's not the worst part. He was doing fine, and I only took my eyes off of him for a minute while the teacher was showing us some of the manipulatives she uses. The next thing I knew, the little girl next to him was crying, and I looked over to see one of her long, beautiful braids stuck to the table with gum."
"The daggers in her mother's eyes sliced and diced me thoroughly."
"What did you do?"
"I had no idea what to do, but the teacher came to my rescue. She asked the girl's mom if she had a comb, which she did, then pulled a bottle of mousse out of her purse, squirted it on, and the mom was able to comb it right out. Thank goodness! I was afraid that the poor girl was going to have to get those lovely locks cut."
"Sounds like its not the first sticky situation the teacher has had to deal with."
"I guess not, but after stammering my apologies to the livid mother, we left."
"We got home, I put the movie on, and escaped to call you for a sanity break."
"What do you think Jimmy learned in all this?"
"I hope he learned not to play with his gum, especially around hair."
"Well, speaking as a mother of four, who went through some similar things with our first, I'm not sure that's what he probably learned."
"When he didn't obey you when it was time to sit down, I'm guessing he learned that if he doesn't mind, he'll get a treat, the gum. In fact, he applied that principle in short order when he was hanging like a monkey, actually blackmailing you for more. Then he learned that if he causes a problem he can get everyone's attention, leave a boring activity, and get to watch a movie instead."
"You really think so?"
"Yes. Not only was there no consequence for his bad behavior, there was actually positive reinforcement for it."
"That wasn't what I was trying to do at all! The parenting books I've read emphasize the importance of positive reinforcement, which is why I gave him the gum for sitting down."
"There is a big difference between a reward for good behavior that has already been practiced, and a bribe to try and elicit the desired conduct."
"Um... I think I see what you're saying..."
"If you wanted to offer something more than praise, which is often sufficient, it needed to be after he sat nicely for the entire orientation, say, when you got to the car. If a child learns that he can manipulate your behavior, instead of the other way around, you will end up with a tyrant on your hands."
"Seems like I'm not getting very helpful advice from my reading. What you're saying sounds like how I was raised, but the books say that being too controlling will hurt their self-esteem. Where did you find such good advice?"
"Oh, the principles are biblical, but my best tool for practical application of those principles has been a book on animal training... What was that?"
"Gotta go. Sounds like he pulled the curtains down swinging on them again."
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