3 Principles Which Will Help You To Nudge Your Children into Doing What you Want –

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!!!!

Principle #1

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.

Principle #2

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.

Investigate.

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.”

No.

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!

Principle #3

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!

Baby Gorilla Born for the First Time in the Cleveland Zoo’s History – what happened next and what we as human parents can learn from this!

Cleveland Metroparks Zoo announced that for the first time in its 139 year history, a baby gorilla has been born there.

The baby was born to Nneka, a 23 year old female, and Mokolo, a 34 year old male.  

This was Nneka’s first baby and either she did not know how to care for her baby or she was not interested.  

However, Fredrika, or Freddy, the troop’s oldest female, who had raised four infants herself, WAS interested, and she took over.

The team at the zoo had been preparing for this possibility for months.  They had brought in a stuffed gorilla baby and had bottle fed the “baby” in front of the female gorillas.  They also rewarded the female gorillas if they brought the “baby” to a team member for feeding.

After the actual gorilla baby’s birth, Freddy held the baby almost constantly and brought him to team members for feeding when he seemed hungry, just as she had been taught to do with the stuffed “baby”.

Weighing around three pounds at birth, newborn gorillas are in almost constant bodily contact with their mothers for the first six months of life and they nurse for about three years.

SO much like humans, right?

But one problem – humans, at least in Western societies, usually do not have an older female readily available if they do not know how to care for their first babies – or if they are ill or suffering from postpartum depression. AND parents usually don’t have a team available to help if there is a problem during the early weeks and months of a baby’s life.

What can we learn from this?

Well, it’s been said many times, but it DOES take a village. Or a team. Or a grandmother, aunt, uncle or a few friends.

Before YOUR baby is born, think of who you want on your team.

And if you already have children and don’t feel like you have enough help, try to bring some relatives or friends closer.  And if this isn’t possible, look for a parents group in your community where you can meet other parents and possibly make new parent friends with whom you can trade some babysitting, advice or support.

After all, we are ALL primates – and we can learn more about parenting even from our cousins, the gorillas!

HALLOWEEN READING WITH KIDS

From Lisa Walton Medium Daily Digest:

16 Spine-Tingling Halloween Books Kids Will Love

Spooky stories are a great way to draw in reluctant readers

Photo by Ehud Neuhaus on Unsplash

It’s the season of witches and warlocks, goblins, and ghosts. And one of the best times of year to hook your kids with a good book. Even reluctant readers are often sucked in by the thrill of a good mystery or ghost story. Here are 16 spine-tingling Halloween books that kids will love.

Take advantage of the eerie allure of Halloween to pick a book that will delight your readers. From mildly-spooky to spine-tingling to sweet, there is a book just right for every reading appetite.

This spoiler-free list includes Halloween choices for readers of all ages.

Picture Books (Grade K-2)

Room on the Broom

by Julia Donaldson

This classic Halloween read about problem-solving, friendship and making room for everyone is sure to bring a smile to young readers.

How to Catch a Monster

by Adam Wallace

This sweet bed-time story is just spooky enough to qualify for Halloween. It reminds kids that things aren’t always as scary as they seem.

Bonaparte Falls Apart

by Margery Cuyler & Will Terry

This Halloween story is chock full of monsters. With encouragement and support, they help Bonaparte keep himself together during a stressful transition.

Frankie Stein

by Lola M. Schaefer

One of my favorite Halloween stories of all time. Frankie Stein is not the child that his parents expected. This story about love and family teaches children and parents alike that it’s okay to be different.

Young Readers (Grades 2–4)

Case Closed #1: Mystery in the Mansion

by Lauren Magaziner

This choose-your-own-adventure story is packed with puzzles and clues. The readers join the story to help Carlos and friends solve the mystery and save his Mom’s detective agency. This book is the first in a series so it’s a great way to get kids excited about reading.

The Nocturnals

by Tracy Hecht

Three unlikely friends learn about friendship, teamwork, and laughter as the Nocturnal Brigade solves unexpected mysteries of the night. This series is perfect for virtual learning. Visit the website for printable online activities and educator guides.

It’s Halloween, I’m Turning Green, My Weird School Special Series

by Dan Gutman

Another kid favorite! I couldn’t included a list of Halloween books without a selection from My Weird School. Join A.J. and the gang from the laugh out loud funny My Weird School series in a holiday-themed chapter caper about candy, costumes, and more.

Middle Grade (Grade 4–7)

Ghosts

by Raina Telgemeier

After Maya and Cat learn their new town is haunted, Maya becomes determined to meet a ghost. But Cat is not interested. Can Cat put aside her fears and make the spirits appear?

The Haunted Lighthouse

by Zander Bingham

A classic mystery that kids will love. After Jack’s aunt buys an old lighthouse, odd things begin to happen. Mysterious figures in the windows, strange noises, flickering lights. Could it be haunted?

Ghost Squad

by Claribel Ortega

This action-packed debut novel weaves a thrillingly spooky tale about family and phantoms.

Premeditated Myrtle

by Elizabeth C. Bunce

This smart new series combines unexpected plot twists with a strong female lead trying to earn the distinction of most daring and acclaimed amateur detective ever. You can’t help rooting for Myrtle.

Spirit Hunters

by Ellen Oh

We Need Diverse Books founder Ellen Oh bring us this captivating ghost story about a seventh-grader who must face down the dangerous ghosts haunting her younger brother. Its twists and turn will have you guessing with every page.

Young Adult (Grade 8–12)

One of Us Is Lying

by Karen McManus

This New York Time Bestseller is one of my favorite reads. The twisty plot keeps you guessing until the end. Five strangers walk into detention and only four walk out? Who did it? Can you guess? You can’t go wrong with any of McManus’ books.

Cemetery Boys

by Aiedn Thomas

This modern ghost story is perfect for Día De Muertos. A transgender Latinx boy summons a ghost to prove to his family that he is a real brujo. Only now he can’t get rid of the spirit? A wonderful book for Halloween and beyond.

Rafa and the Real Boy

by Emily Juniper

This exciting new release blends family drama, romance, friendship and suspense. Readers will find themselves engrossed in Rafa’s complex, emotional journey and guessing at what is real and what’s not.

What Does It Mean To Truly “See” Your Child?

Recently I read an article about Adam Phillips, the wonderful British child psychoanalyst. In it he was quoted as saying, “There’s nothing to you until someone sees something in you.” 

At first I wondered, is this really true?  Don’t we know ourselves and know what we are capable of even without someone else noticing?  And then I remembered my developmental training.  In studying child development, I learned that it was eye contact with the parent that helps the infant to settle down when agitated or frightened and it is through eye contact with the parent that infants learn social regulation. In fact, the greater the amount of parent-infant eye contact, the better the social regulation of the infant. 

So, quite literally, from the very beginning babies need to be looked at by the parents.

I also remembered that later in development, at ages two and three and four, the greater the ability of the parent to “see” and to admire their child, the more likely it is that the child will feel worthwhile and known. The child of this age who feels admired and valued by the parent will incorporate these feelings into their own sense of themselves as admirable and valuable. This is the basis for self-confidence.  

All two and three-year-olds will say, “Look at me!” and what they need is for the parent to see who they are and what they are doing – and then to express admiration.  Children of all ages want to know that they are noticed, that they are valued and that their particular abilities are appreciated.

Thinking about this raised the question of what exactly it means to “see” your child and to let your child know that they have been seen.

And I remembered a family I saw in my practice many years ago.  The father was a self-made man, the first boy in his extended family to go to college and the only one to ever go on for an advanced degree in medicine.  When he had his own four children, he wanted the same success for them that he had had.  He valued education and he wanted his children to do well academically.  Of his four children, it was clear that his two favorites were the two who were most academically inclined.  One of the others showed signs early on of being artistic.  She loved dance and painting from her earliest years. While her father was loving and well meaning, he did not understand her. He projected onto all of his children his own wishes and values.  What had made him successful is what he wanted for them.  As a result, his artistic daughter felt misunderstood and “unseen”.  She did not feel valued by her father and while talented, she eventually lost faith in her own artistic ability.  She became an angry and unhappy teenager.  She was furious with her father, although she did not exactly know why, and she had very little confidence in herself.

This father wanted his daughter to be like himself.  He was not able to love and appreciate her as a different sort of person.  Of course, his desires for his children came from a loving place; he wanted his children to be successful in life.  But unbeknownst to him, in not being able to value his daughter’s unique talents, he contributed to her lack of confidence in herself.

So one important element in “seeing” our children is to be able to see them for who they are, not for who we want them to be, to value their unique character traits and abilities, and to reflect our appreciation of them – just as they are – back to them.

But how do we do this?

It occurs to me that there is no one simple answer to this question – but there are some starting points.  

First of all, to be truly “seen” children need to feel that they are understood.  Every child needs to feel that their parents know what they like and what they don’t like, what is easy for them and what is hard, when they are making an effort and really trying and when they are not.  And every child needs their parents to be able to be with them for prolonged periods of time and accept their interests and their way of being.  This is related to something talked about all the time these days – being “present”.  

Being present with a young infant, a toddler or a young child means just being there with them as they do what they are doing. It means being able to hold back on our own projections and agendas and just to be.  Is your baby lifting up his head during tummy time?  Can you take joy in this moment with him in his effort? Is your two-year-old collecting rocks?  Can you be with her and collect some too rather than hurrying her along or telling her to drop them because they’re dirty? Is your four-year-old drawing a three-armed man?  And are you able to comment on how interesting this is rather than saying “but people have only two arms?”

To allow our children to “see” something in themselves, to feel confident at least some of the time, and to move forward in development, we must first be able to “see” them clearly and be able to love and admire what we see. Secondly, we need to be able to be present with them as they are and to put into affectionate gestures and words how much we admire them.

This is the beginning of what we need to do to truly see our children and to allow them to become people who see something valuable in themselves.

And while we’re at it, we all need to try to expend some effort on “seeing” our partners and our friends as well.  We need to acknowledge more often that we appreciate their unique selves and that we value their efforts. Just saying, “You are such a good cook and you made a great dinner tonight even though you were exhausted” or “Thanks for making the effort to call/text/email” will go a long way.  

After all, we ALL need to know that we have been seen.

Talking to Kids about Porn

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Dr. Corinne Masur

You aren’t going to want to read this, even though you need to read this:

Kids and Porn

This is a difficult subject.

Parents don’t want to believe that their kids are watching porn.  But…your kids, if they are computer literate, are probably watching porn. I’ve had patients as young as seven who admitted that they had gone to a porn site and watched “sex.”  This was accompanied by giggling and embarrassment.  But behind the giggling, I found, was confusion over what sex is and why people are all watching this stuff.

Older kids, from ages 10 through adolescence, may understand more about the meaning of the word sex and why people watch porn– but don’t assume that they have accurate ideas about either.

A teacher at Philadelphia’s Friends Central School, Al Vernaccio, teaches sexual literacy starting in elementary school.  He begins by talking about puberty to the 4th and 5th graders, continues with discussions about romantic crushes with the middle school kids, and in high school he talks about the question: what is sex?  Continue reading

Kids Can Be Foodies Too! Check Out Netflix’s Family-Friendly Show “Somebody Feed Phil”

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It can be difficult to find a family-friendly show that’s a good fit for both younger and older kids. We love the new Netflix series Somebody Feed Phil, which follows the travel and food adventures of Phil Rosenthal, a television writer who brings enthusiasm and wonder with him whoever he goes. He was recently interviewed by 7-year-old fan Evan Wittenberg, who asks the hard-hitting questions we want answers to, such as “What’s the grossest food you ate this season?”:

https://www.tastecooking.com/phil-rosenthal-vs-a-7-year-old/

We hope you enjoy the show too!

How Much Choice Do Kids Need?

UnknownDr. Corinne Masur

Once upon a time (when I was growing up) children were told, “Tonight we are having chicken a la king for dinner.”  Now, you might have hated chicken a la king, or perhaps you had the same thing for lunch at school…but that was STILL what was for dinner.

At some point parenting changed, and the idea that choices were important for children’s development became popular.  “Child centered parenting” was on the cutting edge, and giving children choices in what to wear, what to eat, and what to do was part of that.

At the very same time, our society was becoming increasingly industrialized with more and more consumer products becoming available in stores.  In the 50’s, as the world was recovering from WWII, middle class people in Western nations might have a car– or they might not.  But they usually didn’t have two cars.  Adult women might have a few nice dresses and a few for everyday wear, but that was it.  No one had a walk in closet–they didn’t need one! Children had clothes for dressy occasions, school, and play, and these categories did not mix.

Now that we have prepared foods at grocery stores, take-out food, fast food, Amazon, Target, and Walmart (plus lots of things imported from other countries where labor is cheap), dinner is often whatever your child wants. Kids often have a great deal of choice in clothing, and their weekends are full of playdates and activities of their choosing.

Is this helpful for children? Continue reading

Talking about Technology

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Dr. Corinne Masur

The promotional website for Screenagers, a film about technology in families, is offering new conversation starters for parents every Tuesday. This week, they’re focusing on how kids feel about their parents’ connection to technology and asking the following questions:

  • What are some of the best ways I give you my attention?
  • Do you find that I’m on my phone, tablet or laptop when you want my attention?
  • What are ways you can tell that I am only half paying attention?

And if you’re interested in learning more about the movie: “Award-winning SCREENAGERS probes into the vulnerable corners of family life, including the director’s own, and depicts messy struggles, over social media, video games, academics and internet addiction. Through surprising insights from authors and brain scientists solutions emerge on how we can empower kids to best navigate the digital world.”