Positive Reinforcement for Work, Home and the Dog Park

A blast from the past…

Animal trainers, management consultants and psychologists all seem to agree that positive reinforcement (or operant conditioning or Whale Done or etc.) is the best way to deal with people. And yet we still scream at employees, spank our kids and choke our dogs.

Pavlov, Dale Carnegie, Ken Blanchard, BF Skinner, they all recognize that by rewarding correct behavior and redirecting incorrect behavior we can sustain radical long term change. And judging by the cultural influence and sales volume of these thinkers, we know what they said has merit. So the question is, “Why do I consistently focus on the negative in my staff, family, spouse, dog, friends, tiger, etc.?”

The answer I think lies in our inability to deal with our pride. Someone does something incorrectly, we freak out and chew them out. Later we remember that we were supposed to have reaffirmed them as a person, showed them what it was that was expected and helped them get there. Then praise progress and celebrate success. Not only is this more effective than our natural reactions, but it also feels better for the giver and receiver. Better relationships are formed. When people like you, they are much more likely to do what you want. Earn their trust, respect, friendship, and you do not have to struggle in this area.

8 replies on “Positive Reinforcement for Work, Home and the Dog Park”

  1. While there are some good points in here, I have to disagree with your negative outlook on the physical punishment (spanking) of children. If you look at history, as trends moved away from spanking, a moral decline started to happen, and crime went up. We all know that most people’s attitude and their ‘outcome’ as an adult is a direct result of their upbringing. When there is a lack of responsible parenting, with discipline involved, the child will become spoiled and cause problems. After all, the bible says “…spare the rod, spoil the child…”.

  2. Several thoughts regarding your comment…

    Moral decline is more a result of Christendoms hollow “beacause the bible says” answers to everything.

    The Proverbs were written as general guidelines not mandates. Also, this particular proverb does not say when, where or why you should use the rod.

    Spanking is not an an absolute evil it is just ineffective as a primary tool in “training up a child.” Nearly all child development experts (as well as behaviorists in all other fields) can point to numerous studies. My personal view is that as a logical consequence to a dangerous behavior (stick fork in light socket, etc) it can be very effective. If a child is listening to you only because of fear of punishment, it very easily opens the door for “well if i don’t get caught then it is ok.”

  3. touche…

    However, do note that that particular saying is noted many many times throughout Proverbs. While it is of course ‘general guidelines’ as you called it, they wouldn’t be in there if they didn’t mean anything.

    We live in a world where Dr. Phil and Gloria Alredd (sp?) rule the world; and shows like ‘SuperNanny’ or whatever it’s called brings in a bunch of single arrogant English ladies who thing they know best. People like are dangerous, honestly. They bring apathy to the table, saying, ‘oh it’s okay, let them scream and throw tantrums, just set ’em over there in the corner and let them have time out.’ While that may be okay on the first violation or two, that just doesn’t always work. Sure, we shouldn’t resort back to corporal punishment for kids on the first violation. And I do agree that there needs to be communication and respect, but if they persist, or have repeat violations, then by all means, press the ‘nuke button’ so to speak. You have to draw lines and have uncrossable boundaries. If Dr. Phil and the likes ruled the world, we’d live in a society of pansy parents and kids that’ve learned they can get away with murder.

    Bottom line; there must be consequences. Everyone remembers ‘Cause and Effect’ from school.

    Now if you’ll pardon me, I have to cut another hole in my paddle. j/k

  4. A theme I touch on frequently in talking about politics and religion I think is pertinent to bring up here. We are living in an increasingly polarized society. Anyone who disagrees with us is our enemy. Our minds are closed and everyone is out to destroy our way of life. I think everyone needs to take a step back in all of these debates and look at things a bit more academically and detached. This will enable more civil discourse and allow us all to get along and learn from each other while agreeing to disagree in areas where we are unable to find common ground.

    That being said, I reiterate my concern for the effectiveness of physical coercion for longterm learning. With regards to scripture an accurate quoting of the verse mentioned in the “…spoil the child poem,” I think actually works to my case of using it as a logical or natural consequence and not a form of retribution or revenge. Some attribute the quotation “spare the rod and spoil the child” to the Bible; in fact, it comes from a poem entitled “Hudibras” by Samuel Butler. The Bible verse itself reads, “He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him. Proverbs 13:24 (NIV)”. A later verse also advises, “Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you punish him with the rod, he will not die. Punish him with the rod and save his soul from death.” Proverbs 23:13-14 (NIV).

    I don’t neccesarily think this is advocating spanking as the solution to all behavior problems. In reference to it saving one from death, I think a case can be made for my view of imminent danger being a very effective use of spanking (ie better to be spanked and learn that the stove hurts than to get seriously burned).

    Demographically speaking the populations where physical punishment is most widely used are more economically depressed. This is the same demographic where the largest percentage of criminals come from. Given your reasoning one would expect that Irvine and Beverly Hills (where all the “elites” live) would be turning out thugs left and right.

    I am not an advocate of gov’t intervention in your parenting practices, and strongly resent many of the laws passed or used to prosecute humane physical punishment.

    I would encourage you to look at some of the positive reinforment procedures advocating by experts a little closer before writing them off as advocating “pansy” paerenting. Often times the nanny shows nannies are far tougher than the children’s parents because they are consistent and base each decision on logic and clearly define rules and principles. With or without spanking I believe that these are the hallmarks of effective parenting, managing, sheperding or training.

  5. While I’m not a stereo-typical Christian, that thinks that anyone who does not share my view is my enemy, most of their radical views are actually (and sometimes unfortunately) correct. Jesus does quote “if you are with with, than you are against me;” and Paul states that we are in an eternal spiritual battle. The forces we deal with may not be visual or audible, but by all means have a direct influence on all aspects of life. This has happened from the beginning of time, all the way to now, and will continue until the contents of Rev 20 happen.

    We have become so apathetic on our views of things it’s ridiculous. I’m not saying we should all run around screaming “infidel!” Not at all, but be silently cautious and aware. We should be in constant prayer, as the word says. A worldly saying is “keep your friends close, but your enemies closer.” That may be wise not only in combat, but in spiritual warfare as well. I may observe and learn from the enemy, by watching the actions of people and how evil permeates everything, but by no means will I make any concessions. I will stand my ground, peacefully.

    As to your “demographically speaking” section of your comment, that means absolutely nothing to me, and further helps my argument. “Blessed are those that are poor in spirit.” says the Lord. That tells me that a good percent of those people, perhaps even in the ‘bible belt’ area of the south, are more in tune with the word and know how to run their family than those in the areas you mentioned. Areas like Irvine and Hollywood contain a HUGE demographic of rich, prideful, self loving, very worldly (you get the drift) people. Britney was fine till she moved to LA… (horrible example, I know, but honest). Money corrupts, baby. Seriously. There’s a very small percent of wealthy, spiritually right on Christians. And Hollywood… come on, why are we basing moral values on a city like that?? Wow dude. lol Sure there are not a large amount of gangs and such, but the moral decline of areas like that are off the charts. They may not be doing that many drivebys, but the non-violent sins are rampant (Drug use, adultery, homosexuality, etc).

    While your opinions may be intellectual, they are very secular, and of this world. I don’t need modern science and education to guide my life. While they are useful in some aspects, and wise to learn from, they are human and will fail. The word of God is solid and will never faulter or fail (thanks W). I can appreciate your argument, but it really tells me a lot more about yourself than the actual subject. Totally changing the subject now, you’ve shown your ‘audience’ that you’re a very modern and intelligent person; which isn’t entirely bad, but your views are very jaded by the world.

    Anyway, I don’t mean to launch a full out attack on you and apologize if I offended you, but I did need to get that out. It’s very hard to be an honest to God Christian now a days. Satan uses any and every method possible to trip us up. I struggle, myself, on a daily basis and have recently made some minor changes in my life so I can devote more of my time to God. We must be steadfast in our faith, and rely upon Him daily.

    Thanks Scott, I enjoyed our debate.

  6. So let me get this straight…

    Adultery, homosexuality and drug use are the direct result of not being spanked enough. Gangs and Drivebys are the byproduct of good god fearing spankers from the bible belt.

    I am worldly, secular, jaded and due to your reference to Matthew 12:30-31 and Luke 11:23-24 am also a blasphemer of the Holy Spirit, the unpardonable sin.

    Christ treated prosititues and tax collectors with the utmost of respect, love and dignity and reserved words like you used with me for the “religious” who thought they were better than everyone and had all the answers.

    The Bible says we should love the lord our god with our heart, soul and mind. It seems to me that you are truly right on with the first two but would caution you against checking reason at the door and viewing me as an enemy because I don’t believe spanking is the best way to develop a moral compass. Fear of punishment does not last forever. I don’t cheat on my wife because I learned that the positives of a healthy traditional family are better than my upbringing, not because someone once swatted me on the butt with the wooden spoon we used to mix cake batter (which is kind of unsanitary thinking back).

  7. OK, upon reading this, I must say that my biological daughter is really making me question a lot of the things I believed about discipline that I’d come to believe after a few years of living with my step daughter. I was a staunch believer that all negative about her behavior, attitude, personality, etc., where directly linked to a lack of discipline, spanking and otherwise. She was allowed a lot of leeway, and, I’ll quote Dr Phil, “Was overindulged by everyone because they were guilty that she’d become the product of divorce.” Until I came along and put a stop to it, now she was disciplined because she was impossible to live with. (This also makes me question the popular Christian belief against living with someone before you are married, had I done that in this situation, I wouldn’t be married). She was allowed to do anything she pleased, no boundaries whatsoever, she lied, screamed and disrespected her father like there was no tomorrow, never obeyed him, and he did nothing.

    Now, with my own daughter, I’m very much a discipliner, but I see a lot of her sister’s spirit within her. Granted she is only 2 1/2, but it scares me. Can it be that you can discipline all you want, and it won’t totally matter. I know I’m being a bit general here, but then again, with that 2 1/2 year old taking up most of my attention, it makes it rather hard to think. 🙂

  8. Some additional thoughts…

    Rod verses – what they really mean. The following are the biblical verses which have caused the greatest confusion:

    “Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline will drive it far from him.” (Prov. 22:15)

    “He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him.” (Prov. 13:24)

    “Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you punish him with the rod, he will not die. Punish him with the rod and save his soul from death.” (Prov. 23:13-14)

    “The rod of correction imparts wisdom, but a child left to itself disgraces his mother.” (Prov. 29:15)

    “Rod” (shebet) means different things in different parts of the Bible. The Hebrew dictionary gives this word various meanings: a stick (for punishment, writing, fighting, ruling, walking, etc.).

    While the rod could be used for hitting, it was more frequently used for guiding wandering sheep. Shepherds didn’t use the rod to beat their sheep – and children are certainly more valuable than sheep.

    As shepherd-author Philip Keller teaches so well in A Shepherd Looks At Psalm 23, the shepherd’s rod was used to fight off prey and the staff was used to gently guide sheep along the right path. (“Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” – Psalm 23:4).

    The book of Proverbs is one of poetry. It is logical that the writer would have used a well-known tool to form an image of authority. We believe that this is the point that God makes about the rod in the Bible – parents take charge of your children. When you re-read the “rod verses,” use the concept of parental authority when you come to the word “rod,” rather than the concept of beating or spanking. It rings true in every instance.

    While Christians and Jews believe that the Old Testament is the inspired word of God, it is also a historical text that has been interpreted in many ways over the centuries, sometimes incorrectly in order to support the beliefs of the times. These “rod” verses have been burdened with interpretations about corporal punishment that support human ideas. Other parts of the Bible, especially the New Testament, suggest that respect, authority, and tenderness should be the prevailing attitudes toward children among people of faith.

    In the New Testament, Christ modified the traditional eye-for-an-eye system of justice with His turn-the-other-cheek approach. Christ preached gentleness, love, and understanding, and seemed against any harsh use of the rod, as stated by Paul in 1 Cor. 4:21: “Shall I come to you with the whip (rod), or in love and with a gentle spirit?” Paul went on to teach fathers about the importance of not provoking anger in their children (which is what spanking usually does): “Fathers, do not exasperate your children” (Eph. 6:4), and “Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will be discouraged” (Col. 3:21).

    It seems we should at least be open to the spanking or not spanking being the basis for whether one is a christian parent.

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