What training dolphins taught me about dealing with bullies

I used to train dolphins. That’s me with a dolphin named HIapo.

Jennifer training a dolphin in Hawaii

What I teach about how to stop bullying, comes directly from the behavioral techniques I learned training dolphins.

Operant conditioning are the techniques trainers use to shape behavior. It’s a way of teaching behavior. It involves reinforcements and responses, signals and deltas.

The point of it is that we can intentionally choose our responses and by choosing our responses, shape the behavior of the animals we are training. The skills required to train a dolphin, require control of self first.

And when I say, control of self, one time I was working with one of the dolphins and I injured my hand issuing a delta (a signal to return to station). I called up to the lead trainer and told them I needed to be replaced. They asked why. I said I hurt my hand. Once they looked at my hand they asked me how come I hadn’t been screaming out in pain. It didn’t occur to me to do that because while it hurt, I was also in front of a dolphin and I was so used to controlling my response, that I didn’t want to freak the animal out. So I remained calm.

What’s My Point?

If you want to control a behavioral dynamic with the people around you, you first have to control yourself and your response and choose your responses strategically. And yes, you absolutely can do this.

Extinguishing a Behavior

The specific operant conditioning technique to use to get an unwanted behavior to stop is called extinguishing a behavior. It’s what I teach in all of the online content available for free on this website.

I teach what responses work to make unwanted behavior stop. Doesn’t matter what the unwanted behavior is.

Parents, you should learn this to help you help your kids and kids should learn this to learn what works to stop mean people from upsetting them.

All kids can learn this. Yes, you may have to practice the response to make sure you do it right under pressure, but it does work. I helped a mom whose child had language difficulties on account of having drowned when she was 2. The child learned a response, and was able to say it to a bully in the cafeteria. It works.

Check out all the free resources on this website to learn more.