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.