Counting doesn’t count

I saw a lady whose son was hanging onto the gates near the door at the library. It wasn’t time for the family to leave yet, and she was trying to get him to come back to the children’s section. He was having none of it. He was about 6.

She looked at him and said “1.” Pause. She gave him a stern look. “2”. Pause. Another stern look. “2” she said again, looking at him like he better get the clue. And yet again, she said “2”.

I said “No, you have to say 3, otherwise 2 has no meaning.” She said three, he didn’t come, and she went to him, took him by the arm and marched him back to where he was supposed to be.

He cried, of course, and that is what she was trying to avoid. But if she isn’t firm and consistent with expectations and consequences, then she might as well not say anything at all.

Rules have to have consequences if they are broken. Otherwise they have no meaning.

Sayings “shhh” doesn’t mean anything either. The child learns that they yell, and Mom says “shhh”. It is just an exchange of sounds. The parent has to say “Please be quiet” or explain that “shhh” means that. Otherwise “shhh” is just a sound.

Then there was the mom whose child would not stay with her. He kept running to the door, or just away from her. She told him what to do and he kept not doing it.

There were no consequences. He had no reason to obey her.

It was yet another example of “Stop doing that or I’ll say stop doing that again.”

However you want your child to act as an adult, you need to mold them as a child. You are supposed to be a parent, not a friend.

Sure, they won’t like it. That isn’t the point. It isn’t child abuse to set rules and enforce consequences. It is child abuse to not do this. Otherwise they grow up wild.

Praise as behavior modification

So, I’ve figured out a way to “train” someone without directly training them. There is this lady at work who doesn’t talk to anybody. Generally, she only talks if she has something to complain about. She is kind of intimidating in her silence. But sometimes I need to say something to her because how she is doing her job gets in the way of how I need to do my job.

If I want this non-communicative coworker to do something differently, I wait until she is doing something close to it and praise her for it. This is how you train dogs and preverbal children, after all.

Sounds a bit manipulative and indirect, I know. I still get what I want, and nobody’s feelings are hurt. In fact, she feels better because I just praised her.

She is a little hard to interact with. And when I say a little hard, I mean impossible. There might be some shyness, or curmudgeon, or stubborn, or self-conscious in there. She is very old. She rarely talks. She stutters when she does talk. She has never been married. She does not interact with others unless they too are very old and female. This is difficult, because there is only one other person there who meets that criteria right now. This job is a physically demanding one, and very old people just don’t stay.

Her normal interaction with people is to only speak when she thinks something is wrong. She always leads with “I don’t mean to complain, but…” and then she complains. We never hear from her otherwise. Then when we make whatever modification to make her happy, she still isn’t happy. We can’t win. She doesn’t even talk when greeted in the morning. A “Good Morning!” is met with averted eyes.

This is all a bit off-putting, and doesn’t lead to healthy interactions.

So, when she is doing something that gets in my way, something that I “don’t mean to complain” about, I don’t want to do it like she is doing it. I don’t want to add to the awkwardness. I’d rather do things in a nice way. The trouble was in figuring that out. How do I tell someone in a nice way that how they are doing their job makes my job harder? How do I do it when I can’t even say “Good morning!” to them and get a response?

I found my answer in dog and child training books. Both of these areas “train” by celebrating the positive. In both, you can’t tell the subject what to do, because the dog or the child isn’t able to understand words. But they are able to understand praise. So when they do something that you want them to do, praise them. When they do something you don’t want them to do, ignore them. Not punish, just ignore. Beings tend to seek praise, so they will repeat those behaviors that got them praise.

There is a huge area for making carts, but she doesn’t use it very much. She’ll take what she wants to work on to the bookshelves right behind the circulation desk. That area is where we pre-sort all the AV materials. It isn’t great that she is there because she is in the way. I haven’t figured out how to get her to not be there at all without causing a row. Sometimes you have to pick your battles.

But she has started to move her cart further and further into the little alcove where I go into the back room. That is a very narrow area and I need to be there a lot because that is where we sort books to go to other branches. This is a real problem. I want to be able to walk through here easily. I don’t want to have to shimmy or squirm or sidle through here.

I fumed about this for a long time. Then I learned about this technique. So I waited until she had her cart a bit less in my walking area, and I praised her for it. I commented on how it helped me if this area was clear.

And she started doing it all the time. She started taking her cart further back into that area, so she was even further out of my way.

Ideally, she’d not be there at all unless she was working on AV materials, but I’ll count my win.