Carrots and sticks for training parents

Carrots and sticks can be used to train animals, children, and even parents!

Skinner and a bunch of rats in cages helped psychology and the world understand that there are two approaches to shaping people's behaviour.

Reinforcement encourages people to repeat a particular behaviour. So reinforcement is the carrot.

Punishment discourages repetition of a particular behaviour. This is the stick.

The approach (which psychologists call instrumental or operant conditioning) is used to train circus animals and kindergarteners.

However, when separating parents haggle over the children, the Family Law Court will step in and offer their own version of training using carrots and sticks.

Two recent court cases give great examples:

Step up Dad.

In one recent decision, a family court judge awarded Mum 52.5% of the family's net assets valued at $2.2m.

It seems that Dad thought it was important to socialise down at the pub in order to maintain his profile within the community!

Mum on the other hand was at home looking after the two kids, one with Aspergers.

Move over Mum.

In another family court decision, the judge took the "drastic step" of making Dad the primary caregiver of his eight year old daughter.

Separating when the child was 13 months, the court found that Mum had limited the daughter's access to Dad, and harmed the formation of a relationship with him.

The court deemed it to be in the best interests of the child that primary custody should be transferred to Dad, with Mum given regular access to the child.

Of course, the training offered by Family Law Courts is outrageously expensive. So maybe we can encourage people to learn by these examples which psychologists consider to be a form of social learning theory.

Both cases remind us that children need a village to raise them, and the heart of that village is two parents.

The cases also remind us that there are rewards for Dads that step up, for Mums that let go (as we explore in the last chapter of our book).

And rewards for the kids too.

So maybe we could avoid all the hideously expensive training sessions offered by the Family Court if parents were to simply remember one of the basic lessons from kindergarten: "share nicely."


  1. Thanks Stephen! A timely reminder that a child usually has two parents, and that yes, it takes a community to raise a child.

    Enjoying the book by the way but it has had to take a back seat in the last couple of weeks due to 'I want it done by Christmas' syndrome :-)

  2. If only adults would sit and calmly talk about stuff.