Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Here You Go... Nope! Loss Aversion and Parenting

The other day, I wrote about our new summer schedule.  In this schedule, I have built in plenty of opportunities for "special treats" like Slip and Slide time, trips to the beach, desserts each day and automatic movie/video game privileges. Now this may should crazy and very mean, but I needed to add all of these special bonuses in our day - to take them away.

Stay with me!  Hear me out!  My boys have been soooo crazy, rude, entitled, out of control...  I needed to offer MANY wonderful activities to get them excited.  I would explain what was going to happen and then my expectations.  I knew my boys were capable of appropriate behavior but we're in the bad habit of not listening.  I needed this to stop immediately.  In the past, I would be frustrated that I couldn't take away privileges, because there weren't many.  My boys have to earn movie time with our "Smile Point" system. I still very much appreciate this system.  I don't want my kids to have excessive screen time and there's nothing wrong with working toward goals.  We didn't have dessert daily because I don't think food should be a reward.  We rarely buy new toys because I think that kids have too many and it's hard to keep kids' rooms clean when they can't find the floor through their excessive piles of junk.  While I hold all of these parenting convictions still, I had to look at what was more important to me: sticking to my guns or having well-behaved kids.

So I'm trying a new experiment (let's be honest, parenthood is one big experiment).  In economics and decision making there is a theory called "Loss Aversion."  It is the idea that people are more motivated by the thought of losing something they have than by gaining something new.  I needed to give more rewards, ni order that I have more Mommy-leverage.

Here is an incentive I previously used regularly: "If you are well behaved, I will get you a treat."  With loss aversion in mind, I know say:  "We are going to a restaurant after this for a special snack.  However, if you misbehave (I list my expectations) you will not get a snack there, you'll just have to watch us."  It's a subtle difference, but it seems to make a big impact.

Here's an example: Monday I brought the kids to the beach.  I began by saying that I was going to buy an ice cream treat for each of them before leaving.  Yay!  I said that I expected them to play nicely where I could see them.  No throwing sand, and they needed to get out of the water the first time I called them.  If they didn't live up to these expectations, they'd lose the ice cream.

Who doesn't love ice cream?!

They have a fantastic time playing and digging holes in the sand.  Only one warning about the sand throwing was needed.  Then, the true test, leaving nicely.  I gave a five minute and two minute warning.  Then I called both of them by name.  They both got out of the water, but continued to play in the sand while I packed up.  I called again and walked to the concession stand.  Reed (5 years old) saw where I was heading and ran to me.  We both ordered an ice cream treat.  I called to Jacob again, who again ignored me.  We paid for the ice cream and walked to the car.  Jacob (nearly 7 years old) joined us along the path.  Then he noticed our ice cream.  Whoa.  He did not appreciate the lesson I was trying to teach him.  He continued to alternate between anger and pleading for the next several hours after leaving the beach.

Tuesday we again went to the beach.  I reminded the boys of my expectations and of the treat at the end.  We had another fantastic time at the beach and amazingly, the boys got out of the water and came right to me at the end of beach time.

The key to making loss aversion work is that you actually have to follow through with the consequence of losing the reward.  It would have been so much easier to go back to the concession stand with Jacob and get him a treat.  Or get him something at home, but he wouldn't have taken me seriously Tuesday.

Give it a try!  If your kids earn an allowance from doing chores, but aren't motivated - change it somehow to money they receive weekly, but will lose that money if chores aren't finished.  Again, it's a subtle difference, but people are more likely to work harder to not lose something they have than to work to earn something new.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Summer Schedule

Ahhhh... summer...  Slower days, playing at the pool and beach, no commitments...  Wouldn't that be nice?

My summer has been a bit crazier.  We were lucky to have out-of-town guests staying with us as the boys finished their school year.  As much as we love company, it does throw our schedule off.  We stay up later, eat different meals, more restaurants, fewer rules.  It quickly turns into a crabby free-for-all.  The day after our guests left, we moved to a new house in a new town.

Sigh.  Another big change that can make kids a bit nutty.  I let the kids have more movies and more snacks, later bedtimes and fewer rules while I unpacked our new home and finished things up at the rental.  After one week the kids were pretty much out of control, and I was pulling my hair out.  It was definitely time to get everyone on a schedule.

Drum roll please!

The constant snacking have led to poor eating habits and picky eaters.  We've had more meal battles over the last few weeks than ever before.  It dawned on me that the kids have had too many choices.  It's so important that children have choices to develop a sense of identity and feel in control, but there is security and safety in being told this is what is happening right now.  It's just want my boys need.

Our day begins with breakfast at 7:30, followed by getting dressed, brushing teeth and making beds.  Once these are done, the boys can have "inside playtime."  I even went a step further and told them which toys they could play with.  I know this sounds crazy, but I have found that when my kids are out of control and more moody, they are searching for the limits.  I am giving them many to help them feel secure and will loosen as their behaviors improve.

At 9:00 the kids cleaned up toys and began 20 minutes of quiet reading time.  The Renton Public Library has a wonderful reading program that rewards kids after 500 minutes of reading time.  I'm building 20 minutes of reading time in our day several different places.  I find silent reading to be a helpful grounding activity.  Jacob has become a wonderful reader, and Reed is working on sight words and using pictures to "read" the story.

Morning snack is at 9:30 followed by outside play time.  Today the boys played in the Slip and Slide and used their remote control cars to knock down block towers.  Awesome fun.

Meals and snacks are presented at very specific times with appropriate serving sizes.  They are take-it-or-leave-it, but there are no other options and no dessert if not eaten.  Today I was told "I don't like that" four times, but each time the meal was finished.

After lunch we will be doing something special.  Today was a trip to the beach and a playground.  They had a blast!  Other days we will visit the library, a museum, or meet up with friends.

3:00 is another round of snacks and quiet reading time, perhaps a board game or two.  It's a good time to slow down and relax.  At 4:00, the boys get to was a movie or play some video games.  This gives them time to zone out and time for me to blog and make dinner.  Once Adam gets home from work we eat dinner together and have some family time before bed.

Our new summer schedule has given the boys a sense of direction and the security of limits that they seem to need.  They will now ask what time it is and check the schedule for what they should be doing before asking for a snack or requesting a movie.  It has been the structure that the boys have needed and been searching for.

If your family hasn't been running as smoothly as you wish it would be, give this a try.  Make a schedule, post it on the wall and see what happens.  Enjoy your summer!

Friday, July 4, 2014


Our family has been searching for a home for the past few months.  We still own a home in Minnesota and have been renting a house in Seattle.  We loved our neighborhood and friends, but we couldn't find a home in our price range and wanted a better commute for Adam.  So we looked other places.  After expanding our search parameters several times, we found our new home!

Our new home!  I'm looking forward to adding my touch to the landscaping.
I see hydrangeas in the future!

Welcome to Renton!  We found this gem!  It was built in the 1950s and was recently completely remodeled.  It features original hardwood floors, a huge kitchen, three bedrooms, lots of windows and easy access to a huge, fenced in backyard.  It's at the end of a quiet cul-de-sac only three blocks from the elementary school.  What more could you ask for?!

We're in and the pictures are hung.  That's the true test for me.  The boxes are unpacked and hauled away, the beds are up, closets full, food stocked, but are the pictures hung?  Yep, all moved in.

Our new living room!
The other important task when moving is to get a library card.  Check.  Got them last night.  Now we are officially Renton-ites.

As an organizer, I looked at this often stressful event as a way to accomplish all necessary tasks in the more efficient way to better help you, dear reader.  I used Google Drive to make a "Giant List of Things that MUST Be Done."  Adam and I could add and edit our list from either phone or computer and check what needed to be done.  We also used Google Calendar to keep appointments straight.

Here's a little breakdown of how I organized our move:

Once our offer/counter-offer was accepted, I gave notice to our property management company that we would be moving out of the rental house at the end of the month.  I began my "Giant" to-do list and took inventory of our household items.  We were moving from a 1400 sq foot home with a large storage room to a 1100 sq foot house without one.  Not everything could come with us.  It was once again time to purge.

Clearly labeled boxes are key.

Adam helped me empty the storage room into the playroom.  We sorted everything into piles: camping, decorations, party supplies, pet items, kitchen items, baby boxes, etc.  I then tackled each pile.  I separated each pile into keep, donate, toss.  I had a giant donate pile, some garbage, and the "keeps" which went straight into moving boxes.  Because we had seen our new home and I had an idea of where I wanted everything, I could label the boxes with the content and room it should be delivered to.  Then all of these boxes went back into the storage room and the donate items went to the garage.

Over the next two weeks I repeated this process in each room, with one exception, I did not pack the items we needed for everyday life.  I left some art supplies, some toys, and all of the clothes; my whole kitchen stayed intact until the day before the move.  As I finished sealing and labeling each box, I'd bring it down to the storage room.  I wanted the upstairs clean to move about and still "live" in the space.  We were also accommodating the property managers to have the house ready for showings.  I wanted to be able to tidy the house and get out within 15 minutes notice, having all of the boxes out of the living space helped greatly.

I got quotes from a few moving companies.  Having packed most of the house, I knew approximately how much would be moved versus how much would be donated before the move.  We hired Jordan River Moving and reserved them for the day after closing.  I began collecting the release of records forms from the doctor and dentists offices.  I picked up a change of address form from the post office and made an appointment to tour the boys' new elementary school.

As the days got closer, I began to systematically clean the house top to bottom.  I re-primed the walls white (per our agreement with the homeowner) and washed door frames and doors.  I washed cupboards and drawers as they were emptied.  I made appointments for after the move to have the carpets and blinds cleaned (again, per agreement with homeowner).  The day before the move, I packed the kitchen.  We enjoyed sandwiches and cereal for our last few meals.  I returned library books and dropped the used motor oil from the garage at our local O'Reilly's (the moving company would not transport this).

The last stack of  boxes to be loaded.

Our wonderful friends offered to watch the boys for us on the day of the move.  We took them up on it!  The morning of the move, Adam brought them to our friend's house and picked up coffee on the way back.  I finished any last minute boxes and got some fragile items ready for the car ride to our new home.  The movers arrived and loaded everything, disassembled our furniture, and we were ready to leave in three hours!  So impressive!

They unloaded the boxes and reassembled the furniture.  We had only one casualty: our Kitchen-Aid Mixer didn't survive the move :(  Adam and I worked very well together.  The beds were made, the boys' loveys were on their beds waiting and several boxes unpacked before 5:30.  Then we stopped for the day to get our boys.

The kids built this amazing fort with their friend Liam.

The next several days have been busy with more unpacking and organizing.  We've gone to Target, Lowe's and Home Depot a few times.  But I'm happy to report that the house feels like home!

I hope this little tutorial will help with your next move.  Remember, Sigh of Relief Organizing is here to help your move run smoothly.  Check back for tips on how to help your children transition to the new home easier.