If you all know me or read the little blurb about me on the main page, I worked as an animal trainer for many years. More than that, I have worked as a keeper in zoological institutions, sanctuaries and animal labs. I started my career volunteering on a farm at 14 years old. So, needless to say, a lot of what I have learned to do as a parent comes not only from my parents, what I read and research, but also my experience in working with all sorts of animals.
My last blog started a conversation between myself and my mother. She complimented my blog post (aww thanks mom!) and also added her comment (P.S. she is a retired child psychologist who worked with some of the most violent kids in Detroit) that there already exists a power differential between adults and children. A power what? Look, you are the adult, you have been there, you are grown up, you get to do grown up things, one of those grown up things is guiding your young ones. They don't need reminders that you are the adult, they know you are the authority ... that is already built into the relationship. That is part of why we speak to them gently and we guide them instead of bossing them or yelling at them - you are already the authority, to do things just because you need to prove to them that you are the authority only makes them feel more small and helpless in their relationship with you, it makes them feel bullied, not parented.
The conversation my mom and I just had reminded me of one I had with my aunt years ago (who is also an animal person). We talked about how zoo and sanctuary animals are already in cages. Yes, they may be dangerous wild animals, but they are dangerous wild animals stuck behind bars. There is no need to be an authoritative punisher in animal training, the power differential exists (if only by reason that they are captive). This is why animal trainers have moved to only positive reinforcement as a method of training ... there is no need to make animals submit to your greater authority ... that just makes them angry and unwilling to participate (they already know they are caged, no need to bully them). Cough ... cough ... also why a lot of us are not on board with the type of training that Cesar Milan uses. It is not what is best for the animal or your relationship with them ...
Why do we remain calm and use positive reinforcement with zoo animals? Well, most importantly, it works. IT WORKS. Sometimes, it may take longer to get the behavior that you want, but you get the behavior and create a positive beneficial relationship with the animal. You create a relationship of trust and respect, despite the fact that they are captive.
The last thing anyone wants is to create an antagonistic relationship with a large wild animal ... there may be bars, but there is also space between the bars and if you accidentally get to close, well let's just hope you have a good relationship. Or, as when I was in Africa where there were no AZA regulations, when you end up fixing wiring in an enclosure with full grown male baboons, you best hope you created a positive relationship because they could greatly hurt you or kill you quickly. After all, male baboons have canine teeth longer than a lions!
Bringing it back to your kids. We already discussed that the power differential is there. They know you are the authority. They fully have to rely on you for shelter, clothing, food, love, education ... well everything. There is no need to bully that into them, they know it. That is why, just like with zoo animals, we try to create the best positive loving relationship possible. Isn't what you want with your kids the best loving relationship possible?
So what is positive reinforcement? Well I guess I can get to that in another blog later ... there is a lot to discuss ... but here is a neat basic start http://www.positivereinforcementforkids.com/.
As we discussed in the last blog ... your kids are watching you to see how adults behave, everything you do teaches them how adults should be and how they should handle situations. Whatever you teach them that adults do, plan on being fine with them doing the same thing to you when you are old and unable to care for yourself and the power is switched.
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