27 May 2011

Bad doggie treats

Everyone knows that positive behavior modification is the ideal method for motivating people and changing bad habits. The problem with this approach is that where children and annoying behavior are concerned, it’s more expedient, and satisfying to cut to the chase. If I say to Gabriel, “Stop X right now, or you will lose Y,” I have a roughly 50% success rate.

In the 50% of the time that this threat is ineffective, Gabriel loses a privilege, he often resorts to crying. And then I get angry that he can’t take responsibility for his actions, and tack a second day of privilege loss to the punishment, which makes him cry more. This is a masterful manipulation on his part; he is sensitive and empathic, and wears his emotions on his sleeve. Because he knows how he tugs on my heart strings, he goes for my emotional jugular. For years, we’ve been stuck in this vicious circle.

A few years ago, after we saw Dr Expensive, we instituted an elaborate positive behavior modification ticketing system. In hindsight, our system was ill designed, and generally a pain in the ass to administer, and within six months we let it fall by the wayside. Recently, Gabriel began clamoring for its return. I ignored this for a few weeks, until I realized that he was telling me he needed it. And so we re-instituted a new and improved system.

I have been trying unsuccessfully for years to explain to Gabriel that lying, and refusing to take responsibility for your actions is worse than the actions themselves, and only makes me angrier. With the new system, I began offering him a ticket to encourage him to fess up to his mistakes. It’s been working pretty well, and I was feeling very proud of both of us.

Recently I watched an episode of Modern Family in which a grocery clerk, played by Manuel Lin Miranda pitches a business proposition to the family patriarch, at the behest of his soft-hearted Latina trophy wife. His idea is a for behavior modification technique in which a dog receives a bacon flavored treat from the mouth end of a long dachshund shaped tube for good behavior, and a bland treat from the ass end for bad behavior. It was a spectacularly bad idea that backfired when the dog wound up preferring the bland treats.

Although it was very funny, as I watched, I had the uncomfortable realization that I HAVE BEEN GIVING MY SON BAD DOGGIE TREATS, and it was time to stop. And so I decided to just come down harder on his ass. As it turns out, since we are both a few years older and wiser, this also works pretty well.

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