Dear Ann Landers: I am an apartment manager at a small building complex. Last week, I came home from work to find that a toddler choked on a cherry and had been taken away by the paramedics. The mother had pounded on my door looking for help, and when there was no response, she panicked. Thankfully, one of the neighbors called 911.
I felt terrible that I was not available to help and knew other tenants who could have. A registered nurse lives in the apartment next to this woman, but she didn't know it. I immediately made up a list of residents in the building who are trained in CPR and the Heimlich maneuver. With their permission, I gave a copy to every tenant, along with information on nearby emergency facilities. I also recommended that each tenant, especially parents, learn these techniques.
Please, Ann, suggest this to other apartment managers and tenants everywhere.
-- Kim in New Jersey
Dear Kim: Every now and then a letter crosses my desk that could save a life. Yours is one of them. Thank you for helping me take care of my readers. They are dear to me, and I want to keep them alive and well.
Learning from primates
Dear Ann Landers: A recent column described the interaction between a young gorilla and its father, drawing parallels to human child-rearing. The young gorilla tormented its father. When the father's "patience ran out" and he lost his temper, he grabbed the youngster and "snapped him like a rag." The father then immediately comforted the youngster. The writer concluded, "This sounds like good parenting to me." Actually, this is a textbook case of poor parenting.
What does the youngster learn from this? That the way to get dad's attention is to misbehave; that violence is all right because dad permitted it for so long and then used violence himself; and that his punishment depends on dad's mood rather than on the behavior.
Adults can encourage good behavior by rewarding it with their attention. When unwanted behavior occurs, it needs to be stopped before the youngster derives a lot of fun from it. Even a gorilla can issue a warning that says, "This has gone on too long. Stop now, or there will be some dire consequences." This will usually take care of things if the parent has consistently kept promises in the past. And the consequence should be a timeout or a suspension of privileges, not physical punishment. In fact, it is confusing if we exhibit the contradictory rule "Don't use violence, or I'll hit you."
Comforting the child immediately after the punishment is confusing and it weakens the effect. Punishment should be rationally thought out and not based on whim or temper. There is no need to feel guilty if you use punishment rarely and only immediately after behavior that needs to be stopped quickly. Parents should then begin to pay positive attention again when positive behaviors resume. Parenting can be planned and proactive, not just reactive.
We can learn a lot from our primate friends -- including what not to do.
-- David A. Santogrossi, associate professor of Psychological Sciences, Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana
Dear Dr. Santogrossi: Thanks for straightening me out on "gorilla warfare." Simply because an animal's approach to discipline is "natural" does not mean it is suitable for humans.
Send your children to Purdue, folks. They have smart professors there.
Problems? Dump on Ann. Write her at The Buffalo News, P.O. Box 100, Buffalo, N.Y. 14240.