ClickerSolutions Training Treasures

Humans and the Laws of Learning

I can see the topic of using OC with humans is one with which many people are distinctly uncomfortable, feeling it is manipulative, takes away choice. I think anything in the world can be misused. One can socially drink, having a glass of nice wine at dinner or one can drink until they are inebriated. One can use a computer/internet to research, to communicate and discuss important issues, or one can use it to find plans to build bombs and blow up schools. Yes, good things CAN be misused.

But I don't think that's what we're really talking about here. Each time we ignore a temper tantrum and smile at our children when they are displaying more socially acceptable behaviors, we are using the laws of learning. We are applying "negative punishment" by not responding to the temper tantrum.

Likewise, if some choose to holler at or spank a child having a tantrum, they are applying positive punishment. We use the laws of learning in our lives far more than I think we are even aware of. In this vein, we can choose to become *aware* and to hone and shape our own responses to emphasize more of the positive reinforcement and negative punsishment rather than positive punishment and negative reinforcement.

I was raised in a (physically and emotionally) punishment-free home. It was non-structured, but my parents offered leadership, and unconditional love. My mother practiced +R and -P continuously, and I was carefully shaped throughout my childhood. I was not intimidated, scolded, punished. I was never hit or spanked.

Instead, I was given a tremendous amount of respect, was listened to and my input into conversations--my ideas were always given consideration and felt to be worthy of discussion. I was given responsibilities by earning that privilige. Yes, the privilige to be responsible. My mother and father used -P in dealing with my occasional childhood tantrums and always found tons of things to use +R on to help me to adjust my attitude.

My respect and admiration for my parents was so strong that the thought of making these loving persons unhappy was no fun at all. No matter how wicked I wanted to be. So to be wicked, I'd do things like creep down into the autobody shop my folks owned, at night, and fingerpaint with enamels on all the cars in for repairs.

My punishment? Pure -P. Removal of what I loved, treasured the most: an audience. Yes, my favorite moments of the day had always been rushing downstairs, showing my latest singing or dancing routine to the boys at work on those cars.

My father drew a chalk line on the floor, near the door. I was allowed to enter the door, but could not cross that line until I had worked out a solution for the problem I had created.

My dad explained that every man at work treasured my presence, and wanted me there. But that they now had no time to listen to me, because they had so much extra work to do trying to fix those fingerpainting marks. But that once they were finished, they would again have time to spend with me. In the mean time, I was not to cross the line and bother them.

I spent three afternoons with the toes of my Mary Janes pressed right on that line, leaning over as far as I could and trying to catch the men's attention. They kept working, would occasionally look up and smile, wave. But they remained "very busy looking".

It was the most effective negative punisher for me, because all I wanted in the world was to have my friends listen and clap again. And I realized without any spanking, without any exclusion to my room or harsh words, that my own behaviors had caused my to lose what I wanted most.

Soon I was hollering across the shop, "I'll take your trash out!" "Can I empty your water bucket?" "I'll pick up all the shop rags so you can get done quicker."

I may have been only 6, but I knew full well that I was being deprived of what I wanted most because by my actions, I had caused those boys more work. And I was now taking responsibility for those actions.

When the line was erased three days later, I was taken to a quarter panel in the boiler room. My dad had several tiny pints of paint there on a little stool, and a bucket of brushes.

He told me that when I got frustrated, and needed a creative outlet in the shop, that I could come here to my very own "stall" and create a masterpiece. That in the morning, all the boys could come in to change their clothes, get their coffee, and look at the wonderful work I'd done the night before.

It was a very powerful lesson, and one I have remembered all my life. But there were many such lessons, which taught me that with creativity and compassion, children can learn very well without physical or emotional punishers.

I remember my mother once had a PTA friend over for pie. The friend had a four year old son on a tether. The boy was active, curious, and trying incessantly to get attention, as four year olds are wont to do! The mother kept correcting the boy, "Jerry, no!" "Jerry, Don't!" "Jerry, put that down!" Jerry did so momentarily, but immediately began anew.

My mother finally asked the other mother if she could just take Jerry around the house and let him explore, with her supervision. The other mother was horrified. "But, he'll wreck everything!" My mom assured her that Jerry would be fine, and that there was nothing so valuable that it's loss would matter.

So mom took the boy all over the house, lifted him up to the Knick-Knack shelf, and one, by one, took down every piece, let the child carefully hold it, feel its texture, explore every nuance of its construction. Inch by inch they explored the house this way, with mom telling short little stories about each object.

The child was thrilled, his curiousity sated. Mom them got old invoices--we were poor--and a can full of broken crayons, and set the boy to work scribbling on that paper. She showed him an empty spot on the wall and asked him if he could possibly draw a really good picture so she could put it up on the wall for everyone to see.

This entire interaction may have taken only 15 minutes, but it set that child up for success, gave him a creative outlet, and no physical punishers were necessary to get the behavior desired.

And this whole approach which shaped and fashioned my life was at odds with the way I had come to learn to communicate with animals. My frustration was supreme, but I couldn't seem to use my life lessons on my dogs.

It wasn't until I came to clicker training that I realized I had grown up being clicker trained, and that it was fun, and wonderful, and exciting, and that it had given me a bond with my family that was oh-so-strong, based on respect, leadership, creativity and responsibility. That I was motivated to earn their oh-so-creative reinforcements.

When I really began to click with my dogs, it was as if I had come full circle. I felt as if my mother and dad, in some other dimension, were looking over my shoulder smiling, "Yep, you finally got it, Deb."

Debi Davis & the service Papillons
Tucson, AZ
copyright 1999 Debi Davis


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