Learning to Drive
I learned to drive when I was four years old. My father let my brother and I both take his go-kart out for a test drive at the parking lot at the local elementary school. He blocked off the roads into the parking lot so no traffic came in when we were practicing. To me it was a learning experience, for my brother it was real practice for the racing that he wished he could do as an adult. I was slightly afraid, not of the go-kart, but of letting my father down in some way. My brother was just terrified of probably my father too, but at getting hurt. Regardless of our trepidations, we both jumped in the go-kart with helmets on, strapped in, and fully instructed on how to use the brakes.
My brother began first and drove slowly around the bright orange cones that my father placed as a reference point. He did not speed around the corners and did not “over-use” the brakes. He was positively reinforced for being conservative in his driving. I, on the other hand, was angry at being instructed to watch him as an example of what I should be doing and not the other way around. My brother handed the helmet over to me and I jumped in, put the seatbelt on, and was told to be conservative just like my brother had.
I immediately throttled the go-kart and decimated the first cone I was instructed to drive around. I squealed the tires and watched gleefully as my brother and father chased me to push some button to end my sibling-rival induced ride of rage. I was eventually caught by my father and he looked more worried than angry, but I also glimpsed a sense of admiration for not having any fear. I was, of course, punished and my dad again let my brother show me how to conservatively drive the go-kart. I was sad that my dad was upset with me and even though he did not yell at me, I promised myself that I would drive much better and more conservatively the next time.
When my brother got out of the go-kart, my dad told me to wait while he got something out of the back of the truck. There was only three of the four cones left, which he scooped up and put away. Instead he asked my brother to help him pull out two large bales of hay from the truck. He re-shaped the track (and my thinking) when he put a bale on the middle of each side of the two “straight-aways” on the make-shift track. He came over to me and said that I obviously already knew how to go around in a circle and didn’t need the cones (which visibly upset my brother as he was forced to use them). Instead he said that I could have the space that I needed to learn how to drive and that I should “not feel restrained, but to use restraint” while driving.
With my father happy and my brother upset, as I liked things and the new set-up, which I felt was made just for me and my unique style I drove. I was conservative and respectful, I steered clear of the hay bales and paid close attention to the brakes, as to not “over-use” them. My dad gave me the “thumbs up!” I did not drive too fast, but I did lift my hand from the wheel for a moment to wave and was promptly yelled at (as was necessary amongst the loudness). I put my hands back on the wheel and took a few more laps before I happily got out of the kart to see my dad still smiling.
I feel like the punishment of having to sit out and watch my over-exulted brother drive combined with the reinforcement of the “thumbs-up” (and the sheer fact I was trusted enough to be allowed to drive again) combined with the literal shaping of the track to be more conducive to my own style allowed me to learn how to drive and to be confident in that experience. Over the years I have used the same types of methods to learn other behaviors (at least when I have someone their to reinforce/punish). Though, I have learned to shape and re-shape stimuli (if you will) when learning things independently!