The other day, I arrived home just in time to see the garbage truck pull up to the house. Our youngest lab stood at the end of the driveway and barked her tail off at the sanitation specialist (I think that’s PC!). He promptly chucked a dog biscuit into the yard. As soon as Bailey took off after it, he went about his business of collecting our trash.
I was furious.
I mean, I get that he doesn’t want to be attacked by vicious, slobbery dogs all day long, but seriously, he just compounded his problem 100 fold.
He absolutely reinforced to her that standing her ground and barking at him earned her a treat. A treat! As in, “Good dog. Please bark at me again, and I’ll give you another yummy biscuit.”
Yeesh! No wonder beating her to keep her quiet doesn’t work. Okay, I don’t really beat her, but I do hold her muzzle and sternly tell her no. Though for her, this method of behavior modification isn’t nearly as fun as the dog treat from the sanitation worker. Nor is it nearly as effective.
I don’t think you’ll be surprised to learn that we send our kids the exact same kind of mixed messages. (Or our significant others, too, for that matter.) We are so apt to respond to the moment that we fail to keep focused on our long-term goals. In the end, we can be met with disasterous results.
The hardest part often comes in when someone else reinforces a behavior we don’t agree with. Every home and every setting has a different set of rules. Daycare, school, grandparents and church might all have different expectations that clash with those we want to instill in our children.
Quick tip for garbage men everywhere: Don’t give the dog a bone until it sits nicely. Seriously. It wouldn’t take but a few times of withholding the bone and making a dog sit before he’d plop his butt down the second your truck rumbled up the road. Imagine how much more pleasurable that would be?
Same with you, parents and teachers and caregivers and coaches. Think beyond the moment. Determine how you want your charges to act and enforce those behaviors instead of the other way around. And don’t forget to consider the ramifications of acting on short term rewards. It may not be in your best interest for the long run.
Which kid behaviors drive you crazy, and how do you handle it? How do you enforce good behavior? How do you deal with bad behavior reinforced by others? Do the children in your life have different rules you must help them navigate? If so, your examples would be appreciated.
Bonus writer question: Can we, as writers, encourage bad habits/behaviors of other writers in the communities we frequent? If so, how do we combat this tendency?
Curious minds want to know.