Sunday, October 9, 2011

Scripted Reality

What's interesting about watching Little Bear develop is how tends to learn the "scripts" for the way life is supposed to go. This request gets this response, which triggers this response, and so forth. Classic behaviorist theory of stimulus - response, lived out as a real person.

Most of the time, the scripts are fairly benign. We walk into the restaurant, and he asks to go to the potty. He sees me at his door in the morning, and he starts the good morning talk: hi, Daddy, how are you doing? I slept well and had nice dreams. That sort of thing.

We're still dealing with the hitting issue, which is an obviously scripted response to a few different subjects: lack of attention, lack of stimulation, more unstructured time than he knows how to fill. The throwing thing is related - when Little Bear wants to play with something and he can't, if you make the mistake of suggesting something else, he will walk over, throw it, then say, "Daddy! The iPhone! I throwed it!" It's extremely predictable and consistent.

Basically, it comes down to attention. If we aren't giving him the attention that he requires, then he's going to find a way to get it. One of my friends, as a response to my last exploration of the hitting thing, suggest that a definite consequence to action was needed. The only problem with that is that it doesn't really match the "crime," if you will. Even though a two year old occasionally behaves like they should be put through the wall head first, that doesn't mean that the situation would improve by doing so.

When you look as severely misbehaving and criminal children, one thing becomes quite clear: the only attention they receive, and the only attention with which they can deal, is negative attention. That's what they get at home, that's what they get at school, and that's how they view themselves. Armchair psychological analysis of my own family members shows the same thing: when you're told that you're the least intelligent of your siblings, then that's how you're going to behave when they're around, even if that "fact" is nowhere close to being true.

I haven't been a believer in action-Immediate, defined consequence thing in quite a few years. To my viewpoint, each action needs to be examined in its own circumstances and appropriate response needs to be considered and discussed before implementation. Every situation is different. For instance, I was finishing up my lunch today when Little Bear came up, bored and looking for attention, and whacked me on my shoulder.

This was clearly a plea for attention and playing. It wasn't the right way to go about it, but for Little Bear, this action was the easiest to get the desired outcome: attention, regardless of the type. The script that he's learned said that he hits, and I pick him up, remove him from the situation, lecture him about hitting (as you could possibly do to a 2-year old), and try to redirect his energy somewhere else. As my wife puts it, when repeated attempts haven't gotten him over the hump, change the script.

I laughed at him and tapped him on the shoulder. He wasn't sure how to respond, so he did it again, and I repeated my action. He tried a third time, to which I tapped on the top of his head, then offered the top of my head for an easy whack. We did that to each other three or four times, he laugh Ed a lot, then he went inside and played quietly with a toy. Incidentally, he didn't hit as hard as he is capable of - it was a play fight sort of thing, an obvious bid for attention from me. Having provided the little bit of attention and interaction he required, he moved on to something fun and creative in the living room.

Is this a long term response? No, it isn't. I don't want him thinking that it's okay to come up to me for any reason and hit. However, it worked, there was no negative reinforcement or overresponse, and his needs were momentarily met.

On the cute side of things, he's started asking, "Daddy, what's your favorite color?" He believes that my favorite color is green, which is as good a choice as any. He will respond for The Boy's favorite color (orange), Mom's favorite (purple, the royal color for my Queen), Grandma's favorite (blue), and he's decided that The Baby's favorite is yellow. His favorite, incidentally, is blue. At least, for the moment...

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