Medium 9781605093482

Whale Done Parenting

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Offers five simple and effective principles for coping with any parenting challenge

• Based on actual killer whale training techniques

• Story format makes this an unusual and entertaining approach for a parenting book

“How is it they can get a killer whale to urinate on cue, and we can’t get our son to pee into the toilet?”

Most parents feel frustrated with their children from time to time, but killer whale trainer-in-training Amy Sheldrake has a unique perspective. She marvels at the complex behaviors her superiors are able to coax out of these enormous beasts, while she and her husband struggle to make their beloved – and much smaller – son Josh obey what seem like the simplest rules.

What does training killer whales have to do with raising children? As this engrossing and unique parenting fable shows, more than you’d think. In their New York Times bestseller Whale Done, Ken Blanchard and his coauthors – including two veteran marine mammal trainers – showed how positive training concepts used at places like SeaWorld could be adapted to the workplace. In this new book they apply these same principles to parenting. Once Amy and Matt get the hang of the five Whale Done principles, they see a dramatic difference in overcoming challenges like following bedtime routines, dealing with tantrums, introducing new foods, sharing, avoiding overuse of the word no, learning to care for a pet, and instituting time-outs.

The foundation of the Whale Done approach is respect. It emphasizes communication and praise rather than obedience and punishment – this is not some Pavlovian primer. Whale Done is much more than a set of techniques; it is a way of looking at people and seeing the best that is in them. Great leaders, saints, and sages have developed this skill. Since most of us are less advanced than those paragons, this book can serve as a guide for how to bring out the best in our children.

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Chapter One An Exciting New Job and Challenges at Home

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TAKING A BREAK at SeaWorld, Amy Sheldrake sat deep in thought by a large pool, watching several of her favorite killer whales. How can it be possible that a whole year has passed since I came to work here? she thought.

“You all are some of my closest friends,” Amy said aloud. As the great gleaming black-and-white forms moved by, their eyes lifting and their great heads nodding at her, she imagined they understood every word she spoke.

“Not only that, you’re the best teachers I’ve ever had. I can’t tell you what it means to me that you’ve given me such a great start as a mom. You’ve helped me lay the foundation for all the years ahead that I’ll be spending with my son. What a difference it’s made, to be here and watch how you’ve responded to your trainers’ kindness and consistency. Every time you perform your incredible aerial maneuvers in the show, or ride us on your backs, or lift us high out of the water in one of your super leaps, the fans in the stands applaud in amazement. To them, it’s a mystery how we trainers get you to do those things. But we know, don’t we, my friends?”

 

Chapter Two The Bedtime Waltz: Establishing a Bedtime Routine

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THE NEXT MORNING at SeaWorld, the staff and the three trainees gathered at poolside for a demonstration by Clint Jordan, the park curator and head trainer. He began with a warm greeting to the three newcomers. “The staff and I want you to know you are very welcome in our training program.” Cheers and whistles broke out from the group of trainers. “Each of you,” Clint went on, “has survived a rigorous interview and background-checking process to ensure that you are in the right place. I needn’t tell you that you are entering into a job that many people would love to have. In the entire world, only a handful get this opportunity. In fact, there are more astronauts than killer whale trainers.

“Let’s talk about safety,” said Clint. “There is an element of risk in working with these animals, especially with new people they don’t know. Killer whales are the top predators in the ocean. Adult whales can reach lengths of eighteen to twenty-three feet and weigh up to twelve thousand pounds. We have guidelines and emergency procedures in case someone were to jump or fall into the pool with the whales. In our shows we have safety guidelines for the public and for our training staff. It’s imperative that you follow instructions carefully as you get to know these animals.

 

Chapter Three A-B-C: The Universal Principle

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A MY ARRIVED at work the following week eager to learn more, as the head trainer, Clint, would be speaking to the trainees again. She spent the morning learning from Jody about the very important matter of the whales’ diet.

As they went about distributing the buckets of fish, Amy said, “I imagine the water temperature is pretty much the same as the ocean would be.”

Jody smiled. “Fifty-two degrees,” she said. “When you get in there, even with a wetsuit, you know it!”

By the time noon rolled around, Amy was glad to sit down with the other trainees for an order-out lunch. As they ate, Clint came out.

“One thing we’re kind of nuts about here at the park,” Clint said, “is the importance of feedback. Most human beings don’t go out of their way to provide feedback. When was the last time someone said to you, ’Hey, I notice you’re doing something that way. Have you ever tried doing it this way?’ On most jobs, people are left pretty much alone when they do things right. The only time they hear about their performance is at some annual or semiannual review. Meanwhile, if they get any feedback at all it’s what we call a gotcha response—somebody caught them doing something wrong.

 

Chapter Four The Redirection Strategy: Handling Tantrums

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“DARN IT, Tutan’s just not getting it.”

It was a hot afternoon, and Amy was discouraged after unsuccessfully trying to get one of the younger killer whales to avoid the gate that led to the performance stadium. Each time the other animals were called there to go out into the show area and perform, Tutan would dash over there. Amy walked over to the office and found Kim Lee, her coach.

“Hey, is it just me, or is Tutan a slow learner?” she said.

“What’s going on?” Kim Lee asked.

When Amy told her, she smiled. “Tutan’s just excited when he sees any of his friends called to the gate. He knows something really fun is happening out there in the stadium.”

Kim Lee’s patient, understanding tone restored Amy’s shattered confidence. She realized she hadn’t been approaching the situation from Tutan’s point of view. “So, what’s the answer?” she asked.

“When a killer whale’s acting up like this, what’s the rule?” Kim prodded.

Amy took a deep breath and thought. “Look around for the reason?” she said.

“Sounds good. In this case, the whale is going to the gate because he knows the pool beyond the gate is highly reinforcing, and the other whales are going to get to go while he has to stay in back. So next time, what could you do to make him want to stay in the back pool?”

 

Chapter Five An Acquired Taste: Mealtime

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AFTER A LONG morning of working with the whales, Amy and her coworkers were listening to another of Clint Jordan’s pep talks. “We’re very careful about first impressions here,” he said. “We pay lots of attention to what we call core memory, meaning that we want the whales to have a positive experience from the get-go, particularly when we’re starting out to train a new behavior. And that goes for you folks as well. We want you to associate only good feelings with working here.

“When people start new jobs, they’re usually asked to observe, but here we’re kind of crazy about the matter of observation. As in all scientific inquiry, careful observation is one of the ingredients of success in working with killer whales—or any animal. Watching and mentally recording what you see is a skill that will place you ahead of those who rely merely on hearsay or traditional thinking or who carelessly work from assumptions. Your biggest task in getting to know these animals will be to earn their trust. Painstaking observation will give you an edge with them, because they’ll sense right away how responsive you are to their ways, their habits, and the differences in their preferences.

 

Chapter Six Chucking the Binky: Ending Dependency on Comfort Items

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IT WAS SATURDAY and Amy had to work, so she and Matt decided that he would bring Josh for a visit to SeaWorld. Josh’s eyes became as big as saucers when he encountered, up close, the huge black-and-white forms of the whales during their performance. After enjoying the show, Matt and Josh joined Amy backstage. Most of the staff had met Amy’s husband and child before, and they made a fuss over how much Josh had grown.

Amy asked Kim Lee if Matt and Josh could watch as she and her coach worked with Taat and her baby, Kagan, who was being trained toward weaning. When Amy fed Taat, the mother whale took some of the fish and gave it to her youngster. Kagan pushed the fish around, tasting it and spitting it out. Each time Josh saw the baby whale spit its food, he laughed and pointed.

“It looks like Kagan’s just playing with his food,” Matt said.

“That’s right,” Kim Lee said. “Baby whales start getting their teeth at around three months of age, which is the exact time that the mother whales start to offer the babies small fish. It will be a while before he’s fully weaned. At this point Taat gives him fish to play with. We also help her along, giving the baby fish to help him get used to them. As he gets older, he’ll start chewing on them and eventually will start swallowing them. Soon after that, he’ll be off his mama’s milk and eating on his own.”

 

Chapter Seven Not Just Yours: Teaching Your Child to Share

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“TODAY IS ABOUT teaching the whales to share,” Clint announced. He’d had the trainers move a pair of killer whales into one pool for practice. Addressing the three trainees, he said, “Whales are like kids, in a way. They have to learn to share their toys and food and other things.” Clint gestured toward the whales, which were busy playing with the toys the trainers had tossed to them. “Also like young children, their goals are to get attention and acquire resources. So we have to teach them to share.”

The “toys” were truly whale-size. One was a fifty-five-gallon barrel. Another was a six-foot-diameter plastic ball. “We can’t even lift that,” Clint said, “but the whales toss it around like it was nothing, even flipping it out of the water. Now, let’s see what Jody does to begin teaching Tutan to share with Taat.” Amy was taking notes as she watched the experienced trainer playing catch with Tutan. Jody would toss the toy—a thick tie-down rope—to Tutan, and the whale would swim it back to her, pushing it with its nose. “Bear in mind that what Jody is using is Tutan’s favorite toy,” Clint said. “The next stage is to get the whales to share with each other.”

 

Chapter Eight An Overused Word and a Visit to the Dentist

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“NO!”

When she saw Josh putting a pencil in his mouth, Amy yelled and ran to take it away from him. A few minutes later the boy picked up a small antique vase, whereupon Amy again yelled, “No!” Josh started to sob; soon he was wailing at the top of his lungs. Amy knew that she had scared him this time, but the vase was a valuable gift from her grandmother. Feeling sorry, she went over to Josh and gently took the vase away from him. After placing it on a high shelf, she turned to Josh and hugged him until he stopped sobbing.

As often happened, an occurrence at her workplace opened the young mother’s eyes.

The next day, Clint was telling the group about his early work with killer whales. “Back then we, mere humans, were trying to tell an eight- to ten-thousand-pound killer whale what to do. Think how silly that is! I mean, there we were, dealing with the top predator in the ocean, and we were trying to tell them no! How nutty is that?”

“Trying to make an animal do something is not that different from trying to make a human being do something. It doesn’t go over well. What is so much more palatable is to ask them to do it—and then reward them for doing it! What is the goal of any kind of leadership or influencing? It’s to have the animal, or person, want to do what you want done, on their own. Back then we had the beginnings of an understanding of that notion, but we didn’t act it out. Our mistakes had really serious consequences. Because of the size and capabilities of these animals, we did get hurt sometimes.

 

Chapter Nine Word Gets Around: Whale Done Parenting of All Ages

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AS IN MANY modern communities, people in the Sheldrakes’ neighborhood hardly knew each other. Almost without exception the parents worked; absent all day from home, they spent evenings and weekends with their families. Although Amy and Matt were on a first-name basis with their immediate neighbors, they would not have known the others except for a plan that had been instituted by people on their street before they moved in. This was the block party.

Every few months a notice would come around, stating the date, time, and address at which the next neighborhood potluck was to be held. These were always enjoyable gatherings, and Matt and Amy were happy to participate and get to know people in their area. Little did they dream that the upcoming block party was to be the means by which they could help others learn the Whale Done method of parenting.

Walking to the nearby party site with Josh, they observed a crowd filling a driveway, where tables were laden with food and people were eating and talking excitedly. The two had hardly placed their casserole on a table when they were approached by a couple slightly older than themselves.

 

Chapter Ten Puppy Love: Teaching Pet Care

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IT WAS A RAINY morning and the SeaWorld coaches and trainees were gathered in the training room. Head trainer Clint said, “I noticed some of you were working on the animals’ dental hygiene the other day. It made me think about what a far cry those procedures are from what we went through back when I first started in this job.”

“Who was president then, Clint?” Jared, a trainer coach, asked from the back of the room. “George Washington?” Good-natured kidding was part of the SeaWorld culture, and the remark brought guffaws from the audience.

“I can’t remember,” Clint replied, playing along. “I just know it was back in the horse-and-buggy days. Anyway, looking back to those times, I can’t believe how naive we were, how lacking in even a rudimentary understanding of these killer whales, compared to today. We were going strictly by trial and error.

“As you know, when we’re working with a baby whale, we spend a lot of time before getting in the water with him, establishing trust with him and the mother. Getting the mom’s trust is the main thing. She has to trust us tremendously to allow us in the water with her little baby.”

 

Chapter Eleven When Things Get Emotional: Time-outs

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”JOSH. JOSH. Joshie! Listen to me!” Amy’s voice grew louder, but it was no match for her son’s voice, as the youngster wailed, screamed, and thrashed on the floor, beating his little feet against the carpet. His eyes were pinched shut, and tears streaked his fiery red face. Amy fell silent, suddenly realizing that with her insistence, she was only reinforcing Josh’s poor behavior. He was having a full-fledged tantrum, and the longer Amy tried to reason with him, the louder and more upset he became. As she concentrated on calming herself, a scene came into her mind from a few days ago.

Amy and Kim Lee had been working with Kagan, a year-old killer whale, when the calf suddenly turned and swam away toward one of the underwater viewing ports that was being cleaned by a crew member. Kagan had been distracted by the sound of the squeegee rubbing on the window. When Kim Lee tried to get the whale’s attention by slapping the water with her open hand, Kagan started to swim toward her, but at the last minute, he swung back in the direction of the glass. He even slapped his tail several times in an aggressive manner, letting Kim Lee know that he didn’t want to cooperate. The whale was throwing a little tantrum.

 

Chapter Twelve Potty Party: Potty Training

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Chapter Thirteen Please and Thank You: Moral Development

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KNOWING THAT what people called “good manners” were simply ways of treating others with respect and kindness, Amy and Matt wanted to instill those attitudes early on in their child. Having observed other small children acting rudely, they decided it was time for Josh to learn politeness before a problem arose.

In discussing how best to teach the behaviors they wanted from him, they came up with a Whale Done way of practicing them. Matt said he wanted to be the point person, so that Saturday he and Josh sat down on the living room couch, and Matt set a bowl of Cheerios®—Josh’s favorite cereal—on the coffee table.

“You and Daddy are going to play a game, okay?” Matt announced.

Josh nodded, eyeing the Cheerios hopefully.

“The game is called ’Please and Thank You.’” Matt took one of the Cheerios and held it up. “Can you say please?” he said. As Josh reached for the cereal, Matt continued to hold it out of his reach and repeated, “Say please.”

This time Josh said, “Pease,” while continuing to reaching for the Cheerio.

 

A Poolside Chat: Resources for Applying Whale Done Principles

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DELVING INTO greater detail, this section will help answer questions you may have about the Whale Done approach as you prepare to use it with your own children. While this book has focused mainly on young children, Whale Done also works with older children, including teenagers—and, indeed, with people of all ages—because the approach is based on universal principles of behavioral science. We realize we have covered only a few of the many typical issues parents face. However, if you have been reading between the lines, you realize that Whale Done is an approach that, used with skill, can be applied to virtually any parenting situation. So, whenever you are faced with a parenting issue, think, What would a Whale Done Parent do?

Part of setting things up for success is understanding the concepts that form the basis of the Whale Done method. Following are some definitions of terms used in the book.

A Whale Done is any positive response on the parent’s part to a desirable behavior the child exhibits. It calls attention to doing right and reinforces that behavior. The response might be verbal, tactile (e.g., a pat or hug), or material (e.g., a treat, toy, or Whale Done sticker on a chart).

 

The Science behind the Whale Done Approach

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This book brings to the parenting of children many behavioral principles and techniques that have succeeded spectacularly in training killer whales and other marine mammals, making it possible to work with these animals cooperatively. In fact, these principles and techniques have been so successful—even with the most feared predator in the ocean, the killer whale—that they have changed the entire field of marine mammal training. And they are now expanding to the training of many other animal groups, from other wild animals to domestic pets.

What has made these principles and techniques extraordinarily successful is that they are based on leading behavioral science research and universal discoveries about changing behavior. This research initially focused on changing human behavior—both child behavior and adult behavior—and it is very consistent with the knowledge about human behavior that Ken Blanchard draws on in his many books. For a good introduction to this behavioral science research, see Alan E. Kazdin, Behavior Modification in Applied Settings, sixth edition (Wadsworth, 2001).

 

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