Tag Archives: behavior

Reinforcing Behaviors and Changing Patterns: Lessons from My 3 Year Old

7 Sep

I recently had a conversation with a manager who was relating to me a complaint that one of their employees had. This is not the first time I have had this conversation. Since this particular complaint included something I could have done differently I asked the manager why the employee did not come to me directly. Then I changed my tact and told the manager that I could not respond unless the employee came to me directly. I wanted the pattern to stop.

If I did respond I would be reinforcing the pattern instead of improving it. Employee goes to manager, manager comes to me, I respond to manager, manager goes back to employee….

This reminded me of when my 6 year old, Tzvi, first started school as an almost 3 year old. The school rule was that he was supposed to be potty trained in order to be able to go, and he pretty much was, but then he had an accident. So the school called my wife, she went to the school, changed him and came back home. Sure enough, the next day the same thing happened, he had an accident, she showed up, changed him and went home. Almost everyday for the next few weeks this happened and either me or my wife (or a great grandfather once, no joke!) went and changed him. What was troubling was that the accidents were not happening at home at all. I tried explaining to the school director the pattern we were getting stuck in and suggested they not call us one time and see what happens, but she wouldn’t hear of it. Eventually we got the inevitable phone call, the school wanted us to take him home, he wasn’t ready for school.

I decided it was time to play my trump card. I called the school director back and made her an offer. I would pay $20 for any teacher that was willing to change Tzvi when he had an accident and I would pay as many times as necessary. I asked her to try it for a week. The only stipulation was that we could not be called. $20 was just enough money to make it work and she found a teacher who was willing to do it. The next day I waited for the phone call letting me know how much I would have to send in, it never came. Or the next day. I never got another phone call. As soon as Tzvi saw that no one was going to come visit him of he had an accident it was all over. He knew how to go to the potty, but the one time he had an accident and his mom came to visit him he figured out a new pattern to get to see his mom.

Next time you need to respond to a negative situation and it seems all too familiar ask yourself why. Why am I doing this again? Will my response reinforce that this is the right behavior and keep it going? What can I do to stop the pattern?

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