Saturday, June 25, 2011


"Stimulus, response!  Stimulus, response!  Don't you ever think?"

My parents, who both have degrees in psychology (among other things), were trained by a bunch of Skinnerians.  It's not entirely surprising that I have, to some extent, operant-conditioned my child.

However!  I have used my powers for good.  Bug says please and thank you, mostly unprompted, because he is lavishly praised for being polite, plus he gets what he wants.  I ignore him when he's annoying me, and sometimes it even works.  He asks to go pee in the potty (because he gets a yogurt raisin).  And he stopped biting me in the nipple, around six months old, after about the tenth time I screamed and flicked him in the cheek. 

But my favorite of all is now bedtime.  Now, remember that I nursed this child to sleep every single night for 23 months.  It took about two hours every night, and sometimes longer.  It took four months to re-condition him.  Through a long series of replacing nursing with other things, we now: Read a book, hand him teddy, put a blanket over him, sing one verse of a song, pat him on the back, say "Night-night, sweetie-pie, I love you" and close the door.  It takes five minutes.  He goes to sleep and wakes up when his light comes on in the morning (it's on a timer).  There was a lot of screaming, and wailing, and unhappiness, but oh.  my.  goodness.  It was worth it.

I don't think every child can be conditioned in the same way, with the same stimuli - but I do think behavior, especially within the normal-small-child range, can be modified by conditioning.  After all, what else is a time-out for?*  Or praise, or rewards for good behavior.

(I'm not so sure about the whole homunculus thing though.)

*Aside from "get out of my hair before I sell you to the circus."


  1. Hell, an awful lot of learning is conditioning, even if you're not explicitly fiddling with reward and punishment. I.e., good luck raising a kid without operant conditioning... Me, I plan to rely heavily on social constructivism in my child rearing...

  2. Anonymous11:44 AM

    Nothing wrong with a little conditioning.

    Out of curiosity, why did you nurse him to sleep for 2 hours every night until he was about 2 years old? Had you conditioned him to do that?

  3. Anon: it's more like, HE had conditioned ME. (In essence: yes.) He nursed to sleep when he was a baby, because nursing babies are almost always conditioned to go to sleep while nursing. He never wanted to let go; I'd pop him off and he'd wake up and wail... repeat for two hours per night for two years. Then I was all like FORGET THIS.

    Conditioning totally happens without intent, too. :)


Comments are moderated, so it may take a day or two to show up. Anonymous comments will be deleted.