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A Failed Attempt at Behavior Modification
At Kinkos Copy Center, Delaware, USA

Here are some notes from a Kinkos copy center in the USA. October 23, 2001. S.Hein


While I was working on the Internet I overheard heard a mother talking to her son in a manipulative, insincere, mechanical tone which reminded me of a stressed school teacher talking to a child in her class who she viewed as just a one of twenty bodies who were interfering with her goal of getting through the lesson plan. This mother's goal is to make copies. Her tone more than her words caught my attention. I look over and see her trying to make copies, cut things out, etc. There is McDonalds food on the floor around her legs. I start to pay attention to her exact words. I type them in as she speaks. She says:

"Thank you, Jake I really appreciate you cooperating."

She did not really sound appreciative. In fact, she sounded a bit threatening, as in "If you don't keep cooperating there will be trouble." Soon after I heard her say things like:

"Can you be a really good boy and sit there quietly while I do this? Thank you. You are good boy."

"Jake, can you please share today so we can finish here and go home and play?"

"Jake, I really need you to help me right now. You are my big boy. My big helper."

"Okay Jake, other people are working here so don't yell--thank you for doing that."

"Okay, what's the matter?" (Impatiently)

Everything she said sounded fake and forced. Every time she said "Jake" she sounded ready to snap.

I feel stressed and I want to do something, but I don't want to make things worse. So I consider offering to watch the kids and play with them for a while." I am afraid of her response, but I decide it is worth a try. So I say something in as friendly as a tone as I can manage. She says, "Thank you that is really nice of you," but like everything else she has been saying it sounds forced and insincere. She barely acknowledges me actually. She doesn't try to make conversation with me or ask me any questions. I try to make a little conversation with her, though and I find out she is an educational consultant, which doesn't surprise me. She says she designs curriculums and I suspect she was teacher herself once, and that is where she learned to talk like that. She tells me her husband went out of town last night so she was left to watch the kids and get ready for her presentation at the same time. I learn that the girl is one year old and her brother is four.

While I am there she invalidates the girl by saying "Becka, it is not that bad."

Then she says, "Jake get Becka's farm please." He obeys.

Next Rebecka is expressing some discomfort about something. Without looking down to see what it is, the mother says "You're okay sweetie."

Then the daughter expresses herself more loudly. The mother says threateningly, "Beck?" She says it as if to say, "What did I just tell you? Do you want to get punished?"

Next it is "Jacob! Share with your sister!"

I realize there is not much I can do and she is still acting as if I am not there, so I go back to my chair. I hear here continue to say things like: I need you to do this. I need you to do that. Don't cause trouble.

5 minutes later...Becka is crying. Mother says, "Okay we are leaving. We are leeeving. She starts to sing as way of distracting herself, or the kids or managing her stress. She then grunts "Aaargh!"

Next I hear her say, "Okay I think on that note we are leaving." Then: Jake, Jake let her have it right now. That will keep her from crying

Evidently the daughter tries to hand her something. The mother says "No, I don't want that. NO! I said I don't want that."

She then says "I am never going to (something or other) again." And she tries to sing again.

Next it is:

Jake, how old are you?

I comment to myself that she tries to manage her own emotions but isn't attending to theirs. Worse than neglecting them she is over-controlling them, overstimulating them with a constant stream of chatter, instructions, implicit threats, rewards.

Next I see them making their way to the door after she has gone to pay for the copies. She says in a loud voice:

Where is the black cap? Jake, where is the black cap you had?

Jake Underwood! (He stops and she continues walking)

Okay Jake we are leaving. (sounds threatening)

Listen to me!

Listen to me, Jake. If you are going to stay here then I guess we will go home without you.

Jake, hey! (He is crying now.)

The more she tells them to be quiet, the louder they scream and cry. She tries to tell them that they have to leave now because Becka needs to go home, then she adds more truthfully, "... and I am done here." It is clear that her needs come far ahead of the children's.

She is trying to get them out of the store because she feels embarrassed. I am afraid she will lecture him later and say "You really embarrassed me in there. I need you to listen to me. I need your help. I can't do everything by myself." She is setting him up to fail in life because he will never be able to succeed in pleasing her, filling all of her unmet needs, raising his younger sister. It is role reversal. Instead of her filling his needs, he is there to fill hers. Instead of her raising her daughter she expects Jake to.

It is an impossible mission she has laid out before him. He will make himself mentally ill trying to accomplish this mission.

I watch them as they get into a shiny new looking mini-van and drive off. I wonder what will become of the children.

S. Hein

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