Or — the gentle art of Choice Architecture
Every day we make thousands of decisions, most of them unconsciously. What we decide often depends on the way in which the choice is framed and the context in which a choice is made. Economists have been concerned with how people make decisions and behavioral economists specifically, among them Nobel Laureate Richard Thaler, were the first to incorporate insights from psychology into their work.
Thaler has developed a whole science revolving around how people make choices.
In its highest application, this science is used to help people to make the choices that are best for them. This is called “Choice Architecture” and Thaler writes about this in his books “Nudge” and “Nudge, the Final Edition”.
Here we are going to apply these ideas to parenting — and for transparency’s sake, I will say that all the ideas in this post are stolen from this brilliant man!!!!
Think about what words you choose when you speak with your child. This can drastically alter what choice your child makes!
For example, when you want your child to go to bed, you say, “Are you ready for bed?”
And your child says……….”No”.
Of course. What do you expect them to say?
Thaler would say that you have constructed the question in the wrong way.
If you want your child to go to bed, you need to say, “OK, time for bed! Do you want to jump into your bed like a frog or slither into bed like a snake?”
Or something like that.
You can give your child a choice. You can give him or her SOME power and agency. But you DO NOT give them a choice about WHETHER or not they go to bed.
To get your child to do what you want them to do, make the choice simple for them.
For example, let’s say your child is five and you want them to get dressed in the morning on their own. And let’s say your child has put up some resistance to doing this.
Ask yourself why.
Figure out what’s making it hard for them to get dressed on their own.
Let’s say you go into their room and realize that their drawers are a mess, full of clothes that are too small or for the wrong season.
Or let’s say you think about it and realize you gave your child six choices about what they COULD wear. You know the old, “do you want to wear a dress or leggings or maybe tights and a skirt or here’s a nice pair of jeans you liked last month.”
In the first case, your child might be unable to get dressed because he or she finds it so frustrating to look through the drawers and find something.
If you need to, help clean and organize the drawers. Put things that are appropriate for the season in the drawer, get rid of all the old stuff and put pants and shirts and socks and underwear in different places so they are easy to find.
And, if you have to go a step further, lay out two outfits — but no more.
Make it easy for your child to do what you WANT them to do.
Look for whatever obstacles are getting in the way of their doing what you want and REMOVE THE OBSTACLES!
If you want to reduce certain aspects of your child’s behaviors, make those behaviors you don’t like harder for them to do.
Let’s say your child likes to run around at night after bath and before bed. He gets himself all excited and then it’s hard to get to bed and the whole process takes too long. You’re exhausted by then anyway and this makes it worse.
Try something new. Pick your child up in his towel (let’s say he’s five or younger) and say something loving and distracting (“oh, you’re so snuggly after a bath”) as you walk to his room. Once there, shut the door(s) without saying anything and then help him get the pajamas on. If you need to, make up a story — this is our bear den — let’s be cozy here. Do you want two books or three? Let’s make this room our princess castle, here’s your princess nightie. ETC.
In other words, get your child to their room without making a big deal of it, shut the doors and don’t let them out.
But do it quietly. And subtly.
This way you reduce your child’s ability to run around wildly. The trip between the bathroom and the bed is obviously a hard one for your child and one that invites running! Removing the obstacles to their doing what you don’t like, in this case, means removing the temptation — and the ability — to run around
Or let’s say you don’t want your child to eat so much junk food.
Sorry — but you’re going to have to either hide the junk food you like or stop buying it all together. And don’t go to fast food places together either. If you want your child to stop eating so much junk, make it hard for them to find any!
These three principles WILL help — if you think about how to use them. They are not magic. They won’t make parenting a snap in five minutes as so many blogs promise you their advice will do — but they WILL help.
Thank you, Richard Thaler! The next book you write should be for parents!