What Do Austin Powers and My Mom Have in Common?


“Oh, Behave!”

My post today is in honor of my mom, Jane Mahon, and other mothers out there who do an awesome job parenting, just based on their natural intuition.  They didn’t need any of that fancy book-learnin’ that I got.  Just plain, old-fashioned, common sense got the job done, and done well.

When I was a kid growing up, my mom was a fierce wielder of contingencies.  She knew what behavior she expected of us kids and she knew how to get it.  She told us clearly what she expected, and then, through a delicate balance of privileges, both earned and removed, she used principles of reinforcement like an art form.  No punishment in our house…no spankings or the like…just good old reinforcement, both positive and negative, did the trick.

My sister was a reading nut.  She had her nose in a book any and every chance she got (sometimes even under the desk at school).  If she failed to clean her room, my mom removed my sister’s reading privileges!  Mom’s friends were horrified…stricken that here they were trying to get their kids to read more and my mom was….NOT ALLOWING READING!!!  What was she thinking?!?  My mom’s simple response?  “It works,” she said with a shrug of her shoulders.  And so it did.  You never saw a kid move faster to get her room clean (albeit, it usually had to be done over for all the things stuffed in the closet and under the bed).

My mom was tough, but she was fair and consistent.  And immodest as it sounds, we were well-behaved and turned out pretty well.  Thanks, Mom!

Now, as an adult, I look around at friends, colleagues, and parents I see out and about and I can see by the way they parent their kids that they didn’t have the opportunity to observe this kind of effective parenting as they were growing up.  So my Mother’s Day gift to all of you reading this is a book recommendation.

I was fortunate to know Dr. Glenn Latham, the author of “The Power of Positive Parenting: A Wonderful Way to Raise Children” before he died.  Glenn was a faculty member at Utah State University.  He was truly a gentleman and a scholar, always with a kind word for me, a young graduate student and then junior colleague.  His book, “The Power of Positive Parenting” is the best parenting book I’ve read in my 20 or so years in the field of behavioral science.  Glenn was a member of the Mormon faith and he and his wife of 46 years, Louise, enjoyed a large family.  When his book was reprinted in 1994 their six children had already born them 19 grandchildren…one can only imagine his progeny’s number by now.  Suffice it to say, he had plenty of first-hand opportunities to parent!

The book’s language is non-technical and friendly…its emphasis is on positive methods of parenting…how to use positive consequences to shape the behavior you would like to see in your children.  And how to do it without losing your sanity, which is also important!  The book is all about practical applications of the science of behavior, it includes real-life examples that are familiar to all of us, and the recommended programs to follow are delineated very clearly.

If you spend way more time than you would like yelling at and punishing your kids, check out “The Power of Positive Parenting.”  With some patience and a plan, you can do it!

Now, just for fun, what amazing things did your mom do when you were a kid??

“The Power of Positive Parenting” by Dr. Glenn I. Latham is available at Amazon.com and at BarnesandNoble.com.

About karen mahon

i am a behavior and learning scientist. i hold an ed.d. in educational psychology and am trained as an instructional designer. i have spent more than 15 years working in education and instructional software design.
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3 Responses to What Do Austin Powers and My Mom Have in Common?

  1. Lauren says:

    You know, as much as we talk about that story of Mom removing my reading privileges, I can’t actually remember it. What I DO remember is failing to effectively clean my room because I would find books while cleaning and then sit down and read them. :>

    I would object to the closet and bed details were it not for the fact that they’re true…

  2. Dawn says:

    Karen and Lauren,
    I have a similar story of my mother. One day she asked me to clean my room… which I accomplished by shoving everything under the bed and into the closet! She wasn’t fooled of course and the privilege removed for the day? School! I had to stay home all day and truly clean that room. I was horrified, and I can guarantee that my room was cleaner than it had ever been before at the end of the day. (didn’t last long)
    Like with your mom’s strategy, many moms would cringe at mine’s method. But she knew that I wouldn’t ever try to get out of school by … well, she knew I wouldn’t ever try to get out of school. This isn’t a strategy she would have used with my brother or sister. Common sense, firmness and a deep understanding of what makes her children tick; these were my mother’s tools. And they worked.

    • karen mahon says:

      Dawn, you were hard core!!! But both stories, I think, point to the fact that effective consequences are different for every child. It’s not enough just to choose something that would be effective for yourself or something that you think MUST be positive or negative…you have to see how the consequence affects behavior. In other words, what is the function of the consequence? It’s really powerful stuff, but parents (and everyone else, for that matter!) need the patience to experiment a little bit to find the right consequence for their kid.

      I remember once I was working in a classroom where a student “earned” his bagel snack. I asked the teacher, “How do you know the bagel is a positive reinforcer?” The teacher’s reply? “Because he eats it,” she said. A reasonable enough response, perhaps, but just because a student eats the bagel doesn’t necessarily mean that the student will work to earn it. Think about yourself. How many things will you truly “work to earn?” And then think about that with kids. If you wouldn’t work to earn something that’s kind of lame, why should they?

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