Thursday, June 26, 2014

Why knowing better doesn’t automatically lead to doing better

Parents, and adults in general, constantly do things even though they “know better.” We don’t eat enough vegetables. We don’t get enough exercise. We don’t get enough sleep. We wait until the last minute to do our taxes (or call our accountant). We buy too many pairs of shoes and No. 2 pencil skirts and dresses during J.Crew sales.

Knowing better doesn’t mean doing better. And yet, we constantly think that just because we told our kids to do/not do something (a hundred times) they should do/stop it already (goshdarnit). 

I’m always getting really mad at myself because I have read all this parenting stuff. I’m an educator. I have a psychology degree. And yet. I’m like a super crappy parent sometimes. Like super duper crappy. I mean, ask my neighbors. (I always feel like we are the loudest family on the block, but they politely assure me they don’t hear anything. I think they are lying.)


So this article made me feel better: Why We Aren't The Parents We Know We Could Be. And this one: How People Change.

What is interesting is that, what is good for changing our kids' behavior, is good for changing our behavior. So if we can figure out how to make our kids better people, we can figure out how to make ourselves better people too (bonus). Hint: it involves more than saying, “do it!"
So what will change children's behavior? 
Kazdin and Rotella advocate what they call "reinforced practice" and "positive opposites." In brief, you can encourage desired behaviors by repeatedly eliciting them (or their successive approximations) and reinforcing them as soon as they happen, and you can eliminate undesirable behaviors by reinforcing the positive behaviors you want to replace them with. (See, I wasn't kidding about rats and levers.) Punishment in some forms has its time and its place, but it's rarely effective, and it's rarely the best choice.
These principles don't just apply to kids and to rats. If you want to change your own behavior, exactly the same ideas apply. So if you're hoping to become a better parent, you need to do more than learn some psychology or skim through some parenting books.
(And interestingly most of these principles apply to management. You know, if people actually valued the skills related to motherhood.)
I happen to cover a field — politics — in which people are perpetually bellowing at each other to be better....It’s a lousy leadership model. Don’t try to bludgeon bad behavior. Change the underlying context. Change the behavior triggers. Displace bad behavior with different good behavior. Be oblique. Redirect.
So there you go.




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