Sunday, February 8, 2009

Stellar advice on punishing

I must admit that when it comes to reading stuff on parenting, I usually prefer a good story than an advice manual. But this Slate piece by Alan Kazdin and Carlo Rotella demonstrates how a manual should be done.

The article takes a specific situation:
If you're a parent, you are probably familiar with being provoked into a blood vessel-popping rage that instantly overwhelms any resolution you might have made to stay calm. That's because kids are amazingly good at refining behaviors that they can turn to when they're upset or angry, especially in public, to make their parents even angrier—in fact, insanely angry.
And considers parental reactions in dealing with it. It is the kind of situation where you are torn between 'good' parenting versus a need for immediate gratification -- usually in the form of shouting but it could be any number of other actions. What are your options?

Kazdin and Rotella provide a menu. Of course, they provide it as a list but I am going to set it out the way I would like to see it: as a table. First, here is a table describing the various actions and trade-offs. It is useful but the article is richer in detail and discussion. Nonetheless, let's face it, nothing beats a good set of names for actions.

But once you have read that, the options can be summarised more easily as follows:

Of course that is just my assessment. But the parking ticket is closest to the economist way of looking at it especially in terms of not engaging in repeated punishment. Set the prices upfront in a predetermined contract. We know that takes foresight and effort but who could not want that?