Sunday, October 28, 2007

Psychologist vs. Puppy

We got a puppy. You know what’s a lot of work? Puppies.

My fiancé and I have been following this puppy around, armed with my behaviorist training, treat bag, and training clicker. When we see something we like, we mark it with a click, and reward it. Here is my life right now:

Sit. click Yes! treat
Down. click Yes! treat
Drop it (dustpan, sock, shoe, pillow, etc.) click Yes! treat
Look at me! click Yes! treat

We go to “Demure Dog” class every Saturday to reinforce everything. Our instructor says the dog has ADD. All puppies do. It’s exhausting. Now I know you all think I’m going to draw a parallel between my experience with my dog and human behavior. And yes, I am.* Hey, if Pavlov can do it, so can I.

As a joke, my fiancé and I started using the clicker with each other. He puts away the dishes, and I click and say, “Yes!” I say we can watch baseball instead of watching my show, he clicks and says “Yes!” We are in the House of Positive Reinforcement. All! Positive! All! The! Time!

At first, the clicking at each other was funny. Now I’m actually getting some insights into what my fiancé appreciates that I never knew. He apparently DOES notice and appreciate when I wipe down the counters, put away the laundry, or pick him up from the train station. Who knew? And I never really noticed before that he always takes out the recycling before it turns into tower of abstract trash-art. The point is, we often take for granted the nice things people do for us, and the same goes for our children’s behavior.*

I have had more than one parent say, “Why should I reward my kid for doing what he’s supposed to be doing anyway? That’s just bribing him.” And I ask them this, “Do you like it when your boss notices you are doing a good job instead of always telling you what you are doing wrong?” or “If your boss gave you a cash bonus for a good job, would you give it back because you were supposed to be doing your job anyway?” People like positive feedback and rewards, and kids eat it up.

I worked with this 7th grade student once who was such a “tough guy.” Every positive thing I said to him, he brushed off like he didn’t care. He was in a counseling group I ran for 7th grade boys with oppositional behavior and ADHD (in retrospect, I have no idea how I survived). The group had agreed that each member would get a “Caught You Being Good” ticket for every time they attended group and followed the rules. These tickets were a part of a school-wide positive behavior plan, and got you in a raffle for a $5 prize and your name read on the announcements. Every time I gave this student a CYBG ticket, he shrugged, said “whatever” and shoved it in his pocket. I thought my plan wasn’t working with this kid, but stayed the course.

At the end of the school year, his mom came in to the group celebration and told me that her son had put up every single ticket on his mirror at home in an arch design and couldn’t wait until the next group so he could cover the whole mirror. So even your “too cool for school” kid may also like when you notice good things. Try it out in your classroom, with your husband, co-worker, or your kid and see what happens. It might just be contagious and someone will finally acknowledge your world-famous pot roast dinner or how you always come to staff meetings on time.

And thanks for reading today. click Yes!

*People are not dogs and dogs are not people. Seriously, it’s just a metaphor.

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4 comments:

J2theP said...

I'm totally going to try this on technique at home and work. Thanks! I'm really enjoying this blog - you're a great writer and have wonderful insights into kids.

Rebecca Bell, Ph.D. said...

Thanks j2thep.

Let me know how it goes! :)

Sudhaa Gade said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

I cam across your blog when I was searching for a direction myself. Your writing is simple and crystal clear to the matters discussed. The post on procrastination gave me an insight into my ego. I would love to hear you talk about how you chose to become a psychologist better yet why a why a child psychologist out of all the myriad kinds of psychologists out there.

Keep writing,


Love your blog.

-Usually-a-lurker

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