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By Jordana Bales

I have taught AP Psychology for seven years but only since becoming a mother have I fully appreciated the area of child development. I am amazed at how these previously unproven theories (sure, Piaget and Skinner have proven them, but these results have never been replicated by The Great Mama Scientist, Jordana Bales) actually are true and can be used to your parenting advantage.

Swiss child psychologist (and father of three), Jean Piaget, spent his lifetime explaining how children develop cognitively. With some help from his theories, you may be able to figure out what’s going on in your little monkey’s head and even how to outsmart your tot. In the first year, a child develops object permanence, the understanding that something exists even though the little one can no longer see it. This is why peek-a-boo is to an infant what David Copperfield is to an adult. When Mommy is covered up, she actually disappears! If only it was really that easy to take a break during those stressful mothering times. How to use this to your advantage: Is your little one (under a year) constantly groping for your cell phone? Simply put it under a blanket and voila – it’s gone! Does your child look under the blanket hoping to find it? Congratulations! They have just shown development of object permanence.

Unfortunately children learn object permanence so quickly that it is hard to really make it work for you. Just as you realize you can trick the little buggers, they’re on to you. Fear not, one cognitive hallmark that doesn’t appear until well after the first year of life is the concept of conservation. This is the idea that if you transfer a liquid (or a solid) to a different container, the actual amount you have does not vary.Your little Einstein doesn’t catch on to this concept until around 6 to 7 years of age, so start milking this one now and enjoy years of fun.

For example, let’s say you have bought a delicious vanilla cupcake with sprinkles and you decide to split it three ways – one piece for you, one for your hubby and one for your toddler. Being the good mom that you are, you give your child the larger piece. What does the ungrateful kid do? Cry because she wants ALL of the yummy cupcake. Simply take your child’s piece and cut it in half. Boom! Now there is twice as much. Still wants more? Cut it again. It’s like your own infinite cupcake supply. Or, if your child wants more juice and you think he has enough, simply put it in a narrower cup and it will look like more. Everyone is happy. I’ve done these “tricks” with my 2 year-old daughter Ava and was shocked to see that something I’ve been teaching for so many years actually has practical applications.

I’ve mentioned how my conditioning efforts have not always been successful (check out “The Chicken Chronicles”). But recently I’ve found a renewed love of behavior modification techniques. Ava had horrific morning tantrums because the poor thing did not want to change out of her wet diaper and pajamas into her clothes. After failing with sweet persuasion and logic, and tiring of having to hold her down to get her dressed, I tried positive reinforcement. I asked her if she wanted a star sticker. She did. I explained that countless, sparkly stickers could be hers if only she would allow us to put her clothes on. I was shocked to discover that the clothing tantrums stopped. Completely.

How to use this to your advantage: Simply have a supply of stickers (or other reasonably cheap and non-sharp items to use as rewards) and go to it. As an extra bonus when know-it-all’s (non parents usually) comment that you are “bribing” your child, you can smugly state that you are most certainly not bribing them, rather you are practicing the well-respected technique of positive reinforcement.

I’ve always loved teaching AP Psychology. The concepts are fascinating and my students have such wonderful questions and interest in the subject. Now knowing that I can actually use these techniques to be a more effective parent has completely revitalized my passion for the topic. Now if only I could find some way to use that hypnosis thing to my advantage…

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kelcey kintner