There is this little kid in my neighborhood who goes around without his slippers, he would tramp the whole street bare footed. I became a little concerned about his safety that I called him once to ask about his slippers. The following conversation ensued between us.
ME: Don’t you have a slippers?
Kid: “Owa nile!” (It’s at home.)
ME: Why don’t you put it on?
Kid: “kosi”. (Nothing.)
There and then I reprimanded him saying “If I ever see you without your slippers on your feet, I’ll beat you.” for emphasis sake, I asked him to repeat his punishment and he did. That seems to drive the nail in as there has been a drastic and wonderful improvement. His mother reports that he wears his slippers even in the house.
However several days later, I began to ruminate on that encounter with the kid and I somehow found myself wanting. “But why?” You may ask. After all you saw a problem, attempted to solve the problem and succeeded. While that may be true, but then how did I tackle the situation? How did I solve the problem? I found my self wanting with the approach. I scared him. I threatened him. I promised him a future punishment for his failure to comply. Was that the best way to solve the problem? I mean, yes it worked fine, but what if I had promised him a positive benefit. What if I had figured out a way to reward him positively, would I have succeeded? What if I had promised him a biscuit/sweet at the end of the week/month for his compliance to the commandment “thou shalt not walk barefooted.”
The above scenario has made me to examine our parenting culture in this part of the world. All around, we see parents doing more of threatening/coercion than encouragement. Even in our schools, teachers yell “if you don’t keep shut I’ll tell your mummy” or “I’ll beat you”. All that this approach achieves, is to create a certain level of fear and control in the child. Have we ever pondered on the effects of this parenting styles or techniques on our children’s psyche? For most of us in this clime, the fear of the rod is the beginning of wisdom. Parents even justifying beating by quoting “spare the rod spoil the child.” In the long run, do we even try to envisage what we’ve been doing to the personality of these children? just yesterday, I heard a mother complain about her son. She claims her son has refused to change for the better despite the number of times she beats him and after series of corporal punishments.
While I am not trying to find faults with E. L Thorndike’s “operant conditioning”. I strongly believe that positive reinforcement would be beneficial to the child. It would help eliminate unnecessary fear and give the child a more positive outlook to life.
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