When I was young, naive, and educated, I imagined that I had my life in control. When I finally wised up, I noticed that it was, in fact, my kids who had my life in their control. Years before, I should have anticipated the turn my life would take when my attempts in Psychology class to train a slug to only make right hand turns failed miserably. After all, if one can’t train a slug … then what hope do you have with kids! I logged in enough hours to get the credit, but make the little fella turn was way beyond my talents. With this experiment in mind, I decided to turn over a new leaf many years later. In my mind I had decided that I hadn’t reinforced the slug well enough, and that I was going to over-reinforce my daughter, Julie, who has cerebral palsy, to step in her walker.
At first, I rewarded every step with a marshmallow. It sort of worked, and Julie caught on really quickly. However, a week or two later (and a bag or two of marshmallows later) I noticed that she had trained me! Every time she fussed (and it was the slight smile that gave it away) I noticed that I was doomed to a pre-programmed course of action. I had hoped to give Julie a marshmallow every time she took a step, which would lead – in theory – to increased stepping behaviour. Instead, she would look at me speculatively (yes, I DO think visually impaired children can look speculative) and would shift her feet slightly, waiting for her well-trained parent to then give her a marshmallow. In case you’re wondering, marshmallows cause diarrhea. Trust me on this one – if you even suspect your kids are smarter than you are – don’t buy marshmallows!
I think I have now become smarter than my kids …. but I am sure they will tell you otherwise.