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Chances For Success

March 9, 2010

What do slot machines and financial bubbles have to do with being a brilliant Step-mum? At first glance, the uninitiated might think the answer is nothing at all, but Smumzie is here to tell you otherwise.

“It’s not like I’m buying shares of Goldman Sachs stock or sinking quarters into a one-armed bandit,” you might think as you tell your (step-)children about the candy bar that is potentially in their future if they behave themselves at the grocery store.   You’re attempting to create order out of chaos and teach your husband’s darling spawn some valuable skills.

What you may not realize is that you’ve just dipped that child’s toe into the same addictive dopamine bath that sends little old ladies scurrying off to cash their late husband’s pension checks before catching the next Fung Wah bus to the nearest casino.  Equally, parents who use the “I’m going to count to 3” method of parenting have entered their child into the same game of neurotransmitter activation otherwise known as The Erratic Incentives Schedule.

Like Granny at the slots or the steadfast investor playing the stock market, the child’s brain really likes that flood of dopamine and desperately wants another hit, revealing a flaw in this familiar system of behavior modification – one a savvy Smummie can exploit for some serious gains in parenting savoir-faire.

Like Pavlov’s puppies or Wolfram Schultz’s monkeys who received a squirt of apple juice after he played a loud tone, the child who receives the candy bar every single time quickly begins to expect it – and can cause quite a ruckus when it doesn’t appear (which, in case it’s not obvious there, completely dissolves the notion that bribing children actually works).  Likewise, the little poppet whose Smummie always counts to 3 before any negative reinforcement is dealt will step to the edge of the cliff with mischief dancing in his eyes every single time … until he hears the drawn out and slightly louder two-OOO that signifies I MEAN BUSINESS, MISTER!

Chances are good that parents who have to resort to the countdown method already have nerves stretched taught by traffic snarls, economic challenges or office cubicle mates whose cell phone ring-tone is that gawdawful but catchy Tik-Tok song humming in the back of our brains long before little Calvin decides to tempt fate (and our patience) on any given day.  And while we might temporarily forget how annoying it is to stand in line anywhere near parents who think they can bribe or berate their children into compliance, we must always remember that unless Calvin is running out into traffic, raising our voice in public is rarely necessary.

Using the Smumzie’s Guide to Creating Minions & Corrupting Fragile Little Minds system, you can transform your little monkey into one who practices mischief only for your amusement.  The secret, you see, is in providing the incentives at unpredictable intervals.

Give little Calvin a time out after only one warning and absolutely no counting on occasion.  Sometimes count to 5 just to spice things up.

Conversely, try giving your childen some goldfish crackers or some apple slices (notice we did not say candybar or apple juice – because you KNOW the resulting sugar crash will only add to your troubles) to nibble before you enter the store.  Even better – give them praise for no reason at all.

The rush of pleasure they experience occurs precisely because the reward is so unexpected – like a surprising squirt of juice or the clanging coins from the slots.

Once our system is in place, your little primate’s dopamine neurons will become exquisitely attuned to your every command. The end result is that they will be transfixed by your parenting skills, riveted by the fickle nature of payouts and consequences.

Ultimately you will find that there is much to be said for letting children be children as often as possible as long as they’re safe and not abusing people around them.  And drinking in the joy of those moments is such an exquisite payout.

Remember, this system is designed upon the principle that reinforcing desired behaviors is a great deal more effective than punishing negative ones.

While it’s easy to slip into the habit of micro managing the child’s slightest mis-step, setting your very own cheekly little monkey up for success is significantly more rewarding than waiting for them to fail and dealing out consequences.

Let them pour the water for dinner occasionally.  If it spills, “Oopsie!  Let’s clean it up together!”  In the end, it’s only water to you.  For the child, it can be a great opportunity for success – or if it spills, a learning experience on walking across a room while carrying liquids – one every parent out there understands the need to learn earlier rather than later in life.  No matter the outcome, praise the child for their success or their bravery in trying something new or if need be, their mopping skills.  Because what you say and how you say it is the most important parenting tool you will ever have.

You’re a hypnotist. During your children’s first 10 or 15 years, they are in a sort of a trance and are extremely impressionable. You hypnotize your children. Tell them they’re stupid and they’ll think they are. Tell them they’re selfish, and they’ll absorb it completely.

Whatever you say goes. Deep into their little unconscious minds. Deep, deep down, where it will haunt them for the rest of their lives.

Of course, we can use our power to hypnotize in a positive way as well. We can help our children leave childhood believing that they’re clever, responsible, helpful, kind, courageous, considerate, prompt, strong, determined, patient, organized and otherwise wonderful. It all depends on what we say.…” *

Try the Smumzie System for 30 days.  If the our predictions are correct, and your little primates behave accordingly, you will experience a few surges of dopamine yourself.

You might even wake up feeling like P Diddy.

*Sarah Chana Radcliffe (click that – it’s an excellent article!)

[As for the stock market, well, Smumzie has learnt the hard way that dopamine neurons weren’t designed to deal with the vacillations of Wall Street.   While it appears (to this very apprehensive investor) to be a determined saunter on a more or less an upward slope, it’s much more random than we can imagine or predict.  And because it remains, despite my numerous attempts, unaffected by positive reinforcement it’s utterly immune to the Smumzie system – more’s the pity.]


From → Life Skills, Smummies

One Comment
  1. Sorry for multiple updates! I misspelled the name of the author whose quote I used and it wouldn’t take the change for some reason.

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