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There are many things do we do all the time without consciously thinking of all the steps involved: tie a shoe, type a sentence, or even walk across the room. What brought us to this stage of automatic response? Repetition.

Repetition works great for learning times-tables, a dance routine, and driving a car. Some things take more repetition than others. I still tend to walk toward the chocolate treat at the back of the pantry, rather than away from it.

Dr. Pat Friman tells about when he worked with young single mothers in helping them learn to parent effectively and safely. First he described a 1-year-old’s job description:
1. Do interesting things with saliva.
2. Do interesting things with food.
3. Do interesting things with poop and pee.
4. Find danger and play there.

Then he described a process based on repetition. He told of a time he visited a young mother and helped her use repetition with her child. This girl’s 1-year-old’s danger area was the VCR (it’s an old fashioned machine that played movies before they came out on discs.) When the child would crawl toward it, and touch it, the mother would lift him up and put him in his play-pen, then walk away.

After the child stopped crying and fussing, she picked him up and sat him down near the VCR. When the child made a move toward it, and reached to touch it, she picked him up, put him in his playpen and walked away. Over and over again.

But then the time came when the child began to move toward the VCR, but instead of following through, the idea finally materialized: if I touch that I get put into my playpen. He veered away. This time the mother picked him up and played with him.

The more dramatic the consequence, the less the repetition. A child usually only reaches for the flame of a candle once.

As parents, we don’t have severe consequences in our “tool belt.” We don’t incarcerate our children or put them on the rack. Our resources are time-outs, groundings, removal of privileges, and the parental gratifying one: lectures. With these mild, but safe and loving tools, we have to use repetition. Repetition. Repetition. Repetition. (Ok, repetition doesn’t usually work with lectures. Teenage deafness tends to void its effectiveness, but if you’ll feel better, it is still a viable option.)

So next time your child comes in from outside and leaves the door wide open. Don’t rant, cuss or put peeled bananas in his bed. Have him go out and close the door. Come in, close the door. Go out, close the door. Come in, close the door. Go out. . .

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