Putting Sound Behavioral Theory Into Practice


Sound Behavioral Theory 1 (1)

My friend sent out a frantic email a few weeks after having a new baby. Her toddler had lost her mind and my friend was at her wit’s end. Did anyone have any advice for managing this behavior?

I’ve worked for years in special education. Managing behavior is what I do. I reached into my hat of educator knowledge and sent an informative response detailing how behavior has a purpose. Most likely her daughter was acting out to seek attention; every effort should be made to ignore the bad behavior and reward the good. Fast forward a few months. I have just had my own second baby and my two-year-old is making me crazy. When I tell her not to do something she looks me in the eye, flashes her adorable little smile, and does exactly what I just said not to do, looking over her shoulder for my reaction.

I am struggling to walk that line between calm, authoritative parenting and stark raving lunacy. Okay, so maybe I’m staggering like a sorority girl on spring break. I know that what my daughter needs is more positive attention from me. She needs me to be consistent and calm.

Her whole world has just been rocked and she needs to figure out her place in the new order of things. I decide to take her on a big-girls-only outing for chocolate milk. We are no sooner through the grocery store doors when she grabs an apple from a display and takes off. The trip deteriorates quickly and ends with her refusing to sit down in the cart and me standing in front of the dairy cooler, brown milk in hand, practically taunting, “You want this? You better sit down or you’re not getting it!”

I know better. After stating the expectation I should have given her a reasonable chance to comply and then carried out my threats, but I just wanted us to have a positive moment. I was tired of laying out choices and consequences. Was it too much to ask to have a minute in which I didn’t have to try and teach her the right way to behave? Just one minute where I could be the good, happy Mommy?

All the knowledge in the world often goes into the diaper pail when faced with the harsh realities of parenting.

 A few days later I arrived at daycare to pick her up. She saw me and took off, running across the open field. This is a fun little game we’ve played before in which I have willingly acted the fool, panting behind my inexhaustible toddler, calling, “Stop! Come back here! Look, I have your pony!” This time, I turned my back. I looked at the other mommies and told them, “I can’t chase her. I can’t react.” They’d been there too and gave me the play-by-play.

“She stopped running.”

 “She’s standing in a puddle. Oh, now she’s jumping.” I ground my teeth.”Yup, she’s sitting in it.” I’d had enough. I grabbed the baby and headed to the car. Once I was out of sight, one of my mommy compatriots called, “She’s coming.”

 I stood just out of sight and the teacher took her by the hand and walked her to my car.

“I messy,” my daughter smiled, mud smearing that angelic face.
 I stripped her down to her pull-up and buckled her in. She seemed momentarily puzzled and then simply accepted that we had moved on. The win was far from perfect, but I’m proud of myself.
I think we all need a reminder now and again that behavioral theory calls most importantly for us to change our own behavior before we can change others’ — whether that behavior is throwing our sister’s binky or just failing to follow our own advice. Whether you’re two or 32, you’re not always going to get it right.

Each night when I tuck my little girl in we cuddle each other and swap kisses. Our shortcomings are forgiven and tomorrow is a new day.