Parents raising children with the same techniques killer whale trainers use? That's the theory behind "Whale Done Parenting: How to Make Parenting a Positive Experience for You and Your Kids," written by Jim Ballard of Amherst and New York Times best-selling author Ken Blanchard.

Two SeaWorld trainers, Chuck Tompkins and Thad Lacinak, also contributed to the book, which adapts an approach the authors first advanced in a previous book about getting along in the workplace: "Whale Done! The Power of Positive Relationships."

The new book, which was published by Berrett Koehler Publishers of San Francisco in November, is based on a trust-and-reward system used by the whale trainers called variable reinforcement. It tailors the rewards for appropriate behavior to individual preferences, says Ballard. For example, one animal might like having its belly or gums rubbed while another prefers receiving a toy or some food instead.

The same principle applies to children. What motivates them?

"If you are going to create a system of rewards and recognition, you need to know what they really go for as individuals. You can have two kids that have very different likes and dislikes," said Ballard.

The book is written through the eyes of a fictional character, Amy, a new whale trainer at SeaWorld. She discovers that many of the techniques she is using with the whales can be adapted to raising her 3-year-old son, Josh.

The book opens with Amy arriving home from work to find Josh, who is being cared for by her husband, Matt, having a temper tantrum.

Amy and Matt look at each other as their son's fit continues. "He's trained us well," Amy says.

Matt sighs. "That's right. I wish we could reverse it and become the trainers ourselves."

Adapting parenting problems to situations encountered by Thompkins and Lacinak, "Whale Done Parenting" suggests three basic strategies which the authors claim are simple, effective ways to deal with common issues such as tantrums, mealtime and bedtime struggles, dependency on comfort items and sharing.

Ballard, 76, a parent of four and grandparent of three, has spent many years working with children, teachers and parents. He served as a teacher, guidance counselor and principal in the Amherst area for 10 years before he started running teacher-training, management and team-building classes. He also has experience doing corporate training. He and Blanchard, a former UMass School of Education professor who has gained renown for his management techniques, have co-authored several books including "Managing By Values," "Everyone's a Coach," "Mission Possible," "Customer Mania" as well as the "Whale Done" books.

In a recent interview at Cushman Cafe in North Amherst, Ballard said that to be most effective, there are certain things a parent must do: set the child up for success, redirect or ignore failure and recognize the positives and successes.

But, he noted, establishing trust comes first.

"It's the same as with anyone else in that trust must be earned," he said. "Trust is not given just because they're your kids." What makes the relationship somewhat different, however, is that children look up to their parents from the start, he says.

Still, maintaining that trust is not easy. It means keeping your word and being in your children's corner when they're right, he says. "Don't be random in your responses to things they say and do; be consistent, and therefore predictable."

To set the stage for a child's success, says Ballard, a parent should observe what the youngster does well and use it to his or her advantage. Verbal reward is the most common form of recognition. Using sentences that begin with "I appreciate" or "I'm happy when…" is a good approach because it includes what the child did and how you feel about it, he says.

In Ballard's view, parents use the word no far too often. "Ignore the small stuff," he said, "and when you can't, we use the strategy 'redirect the energy."

That means instead of yelling and reprimanding when a child does something wrong, a parent can nudge the youngster toward something that he or she can do right. For example, a parent can use a simple time-out and go over the rules of the house. Or the parent can explain the proper way to act in a given situation and ask the child to try again.

"A redirection can be a promise of a reward when things are done right," said Ballard. "The ideal redirection is one which ends up in a praising for doing things the right way."

Say a boy is teasing his sister, for example. Ballard suggests that the parent coach the sister to ignore the taunts so that the brother is not being rewarded with a reaction from her. If, when the boy finally does say something nice to the sister, the parents give him verbal praise, he will ultimately learn that he will get attention for good behavior as opposed to his annoying actions, says Ballard.

That also illustrates the final rule in "Whale Done Parenting" – the "whale done."

"This book has a very simple message," said Ballard. "Catch kids doing right." And then reward them, which can be as simple as reminding them that you love them.

There is also a chapter in "Whale Done Parenting" that deals with teenagers.

While the basic principles apply to them, Ballard says the authors wanted to point out specific age-appropriate adaptations.

Teens enjoy feeling like they are a part of something, says Ballard, including having their parents' trust. "I think listening is more important than talking," he said.

Ballard says that when working with teenagers, it is important to do two things. Ask open-ended questions such as What are you thinking about? Then pay attention to the feelings and opinions expressed and reflect them back without agreeing or disagreeing. Acceptance through reflecting feelings will indicate to the teen that you understand, and that will encourage him or her to tell you more, says Ballard.

"Whale Done is at work when you say things like, 'Nice job on the grades. Let's go celebrate," or 'I was glad that you came home last night when you said you would. I admire someone who keeps their word,'" said Ballard

To apply the whale-training techniques to parenting issues, says Ballard, he would often contact Lacinak and Tompkins, present them with a problem and ask them to relate it to their experience.

Most of the book was written during weekly conference calls, since time and geography kept the authors from being together, he said.


Source: Amherst Bulletin –