Archives for November 9, 2011

Life Guard Diaries

When children are around water they are not thoughtfully scanning the environment for feedback from authority figures.

Lifeguarding: I have a soft voice and don’t yell worth a bean.  So I got the loudest whistle made and I would just whistle, point at errantly behaving child, then point to the spot next to me, and then once they came over we could talk about appropriate behavior and what the punishment would be if warning was not heeded.  I was initially viewed as the mean lifeguard, but I had learned babysitting that if you start out nice, then any ground you take back when they abuse your trust is considered almost a betrayal of the relationship.  If you start out strict, then any ground you give is considered a favor.  So I decided to start out strict. 

Three strikes and you were out of my pool (we had two pools) so for the rest of the day they could not swim in any pool I was guarding.  This punishment worked because if their friends wanted to swim in my pool, they were separated from the reinforcer of companionship.  It took about two weeks before kids knew not to mess around in my pool.  The other lifeguards got the problem kids until they started implementing my rule in their pool too.  Then the kid was really out of luck if consistently acting in a dangerous manner.

We were basically the neighborhood’s babysitters with little to no parental backup.  During my breaks I would teach the kids to do tricks and improve their swimming skills, and we really ended the summers having so much fun.  I think that spending time with the kids was a reinforcer to them for good behavior in the pool and confidence in improved skills.  There was an escape from punishment, because they could see which guard was at which pool and if I was there, they knew what the consequences would be and could decide not to produce punishment worthy behavior.  This is escape or avoidance, because they could be in the pool when shifts changed and I showed up, or they could decide to avoid my pool altogether if they saw me already there.

Consistent conditioning was available because constant vigilance is the whole purpose of a lifeguard.  There was no variable rate of punishment.  But there was variable reinforcement of attention focused on them and their skills, I didn’t spend every break with the kids.  This increased and strengthened our positive interactions.

Ignoring Violence

The little boy I used to babysit loved to watch Avatar and Indiana Jones and other violent movies. These gave him all sorts of ideas about fighting and using sticks as swords and throwing toys pretending they were weapons. Whenever he began to try to fight me I would just turn around and ignore him. He hated this form of punishment because he loved attention so much that my ignoring him was like torture. Until he stopped trying to fight me or put down his toy I wouldn’t look at him. He eventually learned that when I stood still facing away from him it meant that his playing behavior was inappropriate and that I wouldn’t tolerate it. This form of planned ignoring worked wonders for me however, his parents always gave in and were essentially reinforcing his aggression by turning around when he screamed.


As a college student I have a tendency to get a little wild on the weekends. One weekend in particular, I went to WSU with one of my best friends Richard. In Pullman the party scene is more intense then here in Cheney. You go hard all night. Not being used to this I drank a little too much my first night out and felt hungover the next morning. This should have been my punishment however it was not because it did not stop the behavior.

The next night I drank even more then before. I ended up back at my friend’s apartment earlier then everyone else, puking due to too much alcohol. This was definitely a punisher as I no longer wanted to drink as much because I wished I could still be out with my friends. My second punisher was that in the morning I woke up and had to puke again because I was so hungover. This was the worst I had ever felt and I told myself I never wanted to feel like that again. My third and worst punisher came when I was packing up my belongings to leave. I was putting my new Steve Madden leather boots away and I realized I had puked on them. This was before I had a chance to put protector on them. I was so devastated that my boots were ruined.

Either the hangover or the boot disaster , or both,worked as a punishment. I know this because I no longer drink as much. I make sure I stop at the point before I would get sick or be hungover in the morning. I was worried that when I returned to Pullman over the Halloween weekend that I would disregard the punishers due to the scene change. However, my punishers still worked, especially because I was wearing another pair of new boots.


Towards the end of last school year, I began to do substituting as an educational assistante (EA) at the school district back home (Othello). I was able to sub on fridays since I didnt have any classes. There are three elementary schools in Othello. I was able to sub at all three schools and quickly saw that there was one major difference in one of them. This particular elementary (Hiawatha) had a unique punishment system they called “steps”.  When a kid misbehaved in any way whether in class or in the playground or in the cafeteria they were told what they were doing wrong and told to go to “step one”. Step one is where they seperate themselves from the activity at the current moment and stand by the wall or just stand somewhere away from the rest of the kids. After a while, (whatever the person that made them do step one decides) they were asked to tell why they were in step 1. If the student could say why then they could join the rest of the kids. If they couldnt answer the question, they were asked to think about it and then asked again. If the child was not ablet o answer the question sometimes the teacher or EA would tell the child why and then asked the child to answer the question again. If the child continued to misbehave they would get asked to do step 2 and step 3. They are the same as step 1. When the kids reach step 4 they had to call their parents and explain to them that they are in trouble and why they are in trouble. The students at this elementary knew these steps and I think for most this system was effective. For others, steps 1 and 2 were not a big deal, but knowing that they were getting close to callling their parents set some fear in them. This system was a bit unusual to me and I still don’t know how I feel about it. I think it is a good punishment system and whoever came up with it is a genious. However, I feel that not all the staff know how to use it effectively. I’m just glad they didn’t have this when I was in elementary. 🙂

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