While the next little tidbit is related to parenting, and therefore supposed to bore the ever-livin’ lymph out of anyone who doesn’t plan on breeding, hopefully it will still relate. If not, well, it’s late July, which means the internet itself is having its usual mid-to-late-summer period of flatulence, so you can continue barely reading this. It’s funny how we can digitize the world out the ass, and yet, when it’s July or August, that world still just wants to lie in a hammock drinking a sloe gin fizz.
But I digress.
Almost every study done on behavior modification shows that negative reinforcement works very quickly, but is a terrible long-term bet with all kinds of problems. In other words, if your child is misbehaving, you can slap him across the room and he’ll stop… but he won’t stop for long, and he’ll grow up loathing you, then he’ll hit his own kids, and then need lots of therapy.
Early on, we did the research, and concluded this: the only way to get your child to behave decently was to praise him/her when he/she did things correctly. Conjunctively, when they do something awful, you calmly remove them from the situation, and guarantee their boredom.
It’s hard for several reasons: first, negative reinforcement tends to be the most primal response… nothing screams parenthood like a parent screaming. Secondly, when you’re in a tough battle of wills with the kid, it’s awfully hard to find anything to praise. Thirdly, you may have a kid that thinks a “time out” is just as fun as “real life”. But if you can get a few angles in there, it’s mesmerizingly effective.
Which brings me to The Wheel of Wonderful™. Researchers showed amazing results when kids were given goals that were clearly marked on big sheets of paper stuck to the wall. They’d amass gold stars and all kinds of shit, and just the physical presence of that “doin’ good stuff” wall was turning violent little brats into children you actually want to eat dinner with. Of course, this raises all the usual donnybrooks about turning your kids into nice little robots for your convenience, but that’s another blog.
Lucy had something similar on her door for a while, complete with crazy rubber stamps she could press herself. She would get one stamp each time she did something the first time she was asked, shared well, asked for things nicely, and other things at our discretion. When she got 25 points (usually within 2-3 weeks), she could pick out any (realistically suitable) toy at the toy store down the block.
Problem was, we travel a lot, and her bedroom door was not portable. So I got two squares of thick black foam posterboard of different lengths. In the middle, I stuck a white foamboard wheel with numbers written along the outside, and clamped them together with a script binder:
A little window, a few non-sequitur stickers, and voilà: Lucy’s Wheel of Wonderful™. Of course, I couldn’t figure out how to have 25 equal sections of a circle even with a graphing calculator, so the magic number is now 24. For each point she earns, she dials them herself, seeing the number in the little window.
That bizarre little art project has now been to New York twice, Italy, France, England, Santa Cruz and all points in-between. And while Lucy herself is going through an intense physical phase that has her jumping onto my head knees-first without notice, I have to say, she’s such an awesome pumpkinpants.
with her last 24 points, she chose this dress – assymmetrical sweetness
Did the W.O.W. have anything to do with it? Hard to say, but it sure didn’t hurt, and there have been lots of situations where the promise of “points” got her to do something with 4,000 less man-hours of parent labor. I sometimes wonder if the Wheel of Wonderful can be translated out into the world as a whole, for grownups in real jobs. Sure, we do things for the promise of money, power, or some form of adulation, but what if it was a little more tactile, and we got to turn the wheel ourselves?
another W.O.W. present she chose: the fairy kite!