Controlling your kids’ minds: Quick and dirty tricks for parents and teachers (II)

Obviously, many parents want to apply mind control against their children, if the reactions to the last week’s column are any indication.  Before, I thought the column was going to be considered weird, thinking others don’t count among us, the many long-suffering parents.

We, who are on a daily basis, manipulated, subjugated and thoroughly terrorized without having the power to fight back – because we’ll consider ourselves bad parents if we do.

Greyerbaby / Pixabay

But now that we’re united on the plan to learning the tricks and strategies  – including, shamelessly borrowing from the dark arts – on how to manipulate the little manipulators, let’s quickly move unto other techniques. The first one is actually not a trick.  It’s a powerful tool from philosophy which teachers have employed for centuries.

Abstraction – how to explain sickle cell anemia to a six-year old

Why can’t an AS person marry another AS?  A child asks.  How do you tackle that question?  Use abstraction.  Abstraction is a powerful tool for explaining concepts to children.  Here I’m going to explain what it is, using different experts’ definitions and how we used the technique on my son.

Abstraction, to use Stanford’s Wordweb’s definition, is “the process of formulating general concepts by abstracting common properties of instances.”  Used in this sense, abstraction functions like a theory.  In her book, “Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance,” Angela Duckworth explains what a theory is: “A theory is an explanation. A theory takes a blizzard of facts and observations and explains, in the most basic terms, what the heck is going on. By necessity, a theory is incomplete. It oversimplifies. But indoing so, it helps us understand.”

kangheungbo / Pixabay

The essence of Duckworth’s explanation is that a theory or the abstraction of an idea sacrifices accuracy in favour of facilitating understanding. Since, we know that children don’t need to know everything about an idea either because aspects of that thing is not appropriate for their age or because they do not have the cognition to understand the idea, what do we do to accommodate their incessant questions?  Use abstraction.

We were in the car discussing the health difficulties of his cousin – who is a sickler – with the mother.  Of course he wasn’t invited into the conversation.  But like many children, he crashed the party and completely distracted us from what we were discussing.  “Both parents are AS,” the mother told me.

“What is AS?” My son asked.  Therefore, from discussing his cousin, we moved to explaining the concept to him, as both of us struggle to find the right words for him.  After many attempts failed to make him understand, we settled on the following explanation.

An AA person doesn’t get sick.  An AS person gets sick sometimes.  An SS person gets sick all the time.  Therefore, if you are an AS person like Baba (my son’s father), you must marry an AA person like Mama.  If not, you may give birth to an SS child and the child will get sick all the time. You don’t want that to happen, do you?  Silence.  The next question he asked showed that he understood our explanation: “So where is the AA woman for me to marry?” He asked.

Of course this elicited some laughter.  “Slow down young man,” we said, “when you become a big man, you will find an AA woman to marry.  In sha Allah.”

We thought that was all.  But something happened in the evening which demonstrated that abstraction sacrifices accuracy.  The mother had a headache.  So she was resting, lying down.  “Did you pray for Mama to get better?” I asked him completely forgetting our afternoon’s discussion on the super powers of the AA.

“What is wrong with Mama?” He asked.  “She has headache,” I replied.

“But Mama is AA and AAs don’t get sick.” He said, confused.  This necessitated us to revise the theory a little bit.  “Actually an AA person also gets sick sometimes.  But not as frequently as others.”

It would appear that he gets it now, but there’s no guarantee that he wouldn’t ask more questions on the subject again.

I realize that we had the space to discuss only one technique this week, we’ll continue with others next week, including how I used the superiority my son feels over his two-year old sister against him.

Controlling your kids’ minds: Quick and dirty tricks for parents and teachers

I was engaged in an intense negotiation with my six-year old for many months. We were at an impasse until a couple of days ago. He wanted a bicycle and also wanted his tablet repaired or another one bought for him. However, when his mother and I encountered the study that said too much time on TV and tablet could lead to absentmindedness in children, we decided to cut back his access to electronics. So this was an opportunity for me. I told him to choose between a bicycle and a tablet. He chose the tablet. His choice was logical. He played safe and chose the familiar – he has been with tablets since he was two. On the other hand, although he’s interested in bicycles, he can’t ride one, even with a gun to his head. Even though he’s had two bicycles in the past, he’s completely hopeless with the machine.
Since the tablet wasn’t our choice for him, what to do? Our negotiation stalled for weeks – during which time, I simply ignored his request. Of course, we could have gone ahead to make the choice for him. But we wanted him to be part of the decision making to teach him the value of things and in matters like this, consultation is important. Later, I decided to introduce a decoy among the options – a technique perfected by behavioral economists. As expected, he chose the bicycle this time. Yippee!
On the utility of decoys, Dan Ariely, a behavioral economist and author of “Predictably Irrational” wrote: “Once you see the decoy effect in action, you realize that it is the secret agent in more decisions than we could imagine. It even helps us decide whom to date—and, ultimately, whom to marry.”
Continue reading to see how I introduced the decoy and to learn other techniques to control the minds and behaviours of your children. The techniques are taken from psychology, negotiation, philosophy, behavioural economists and our old, wise parents.
Here are the fancy names of the techniques we are going to learn shortly: setting the default, splitting the issue, abstraction, using a decoy, synchronous activity and participation.
It is said that if you have a child, you’re a parent, but when you have two or more, you’re a referee. What if you want your children to cooperate and stop fighting? Or if you’re a teacher, you want to get them to pay attention and do group work? Get them to do a synchronized activity. That would give you what you want.
For instance they can sing together. Match in step together. Research has shown that when participants were asked to do an activity with others, they create an emotional bond and are more likely to cooperate. It may be the reason why God almighty prefers that we pray in groups. Muslims know that you get more reward when you pray in a group. Why do you think every country has a national anthem and we are always required to sing the anthems together? Why do our military march in step? Why do football supporters sing together?
This is supported by the research of Stanford University psychologists Scott S. Wiltermuth and Chip Heath who conducted series of experiment to confirm the effect that synchronous movement affects group interaction and bonding. Summary: if you desire cooperation among the children, get them to do a synchronized activity – singing rhymes, praying, marching and so forth.
Participation – making them work hard for it
Do you have a child, like my son, who doesn’t like to eat? Make them participate in cooking the food. They are likely to eat it now, because they can claim ownership of the outcome. Why does this work?
Eden Dranger explains this in an article for “Because we’re all narcissistic shitheads like that. Coming away from any task with the sense that you’ve accomplished something tangible and real is going to feel like a win. Again, take your shitty kids for example: they might instinctively kick and scream at the sight of vegetables, but if you ask them to participate in preparing and cooking a meal with those vegetables, they’ll probably eat them just because they’re curious how this thing they helped build will taste.
“People will always like stuff they put their work and time into, even if it’s shitty. IKEA exploits this better than anyone by making you work the hardest for their products. It’s a nightmare while you’re in the midst of the project, but once you’re finished, you feel like you’ve done something not everyone has the ability to do. You saw that mountain, you climbed it, and you’ve got a rickety-ass bookshelf to prove it.”
To be continued.

Ben Franklin: Simplest ways to make a convert of an opponent

Franklin: Simplest ways to make a convert of an opponent

As a child, my father never tired of telling me the stories of how Prophet Muhammad treated his neighbours.  “He once had a neighbour who threw trash into his house,” my father told me.  The Prophet   would scoop the trash and throw it away.  A time came that the Prophet expected the trash but didn’t see any for a while.  So he asked after the offensive neighbour and was told that the man was sick.  Long story short, he visited the sick and the trash throwing stopped.

In keeping with this principle, the Qur’an also mentions that we should return bad with good. 

“ Repel evil by that which is better, and then the one who is hostile to you will become as a devoted friend.”   Fussilat 41:34-35


Ben Franklin: Simplest ways to make a convert of an opponent
Peggy_Marco / Pixabay

However, this can be difficult to do some times.  Thus, I’m going to share two more techniques you can use to turn an enemy into a friend.  That way, you can elect the one you find easier to employ.  The other two methods are from the American statesman, Benjamin Franklin.  Franklin had made a habit of requesting – with different tweaks – from those that would be considered his adversaries.  For example, although I learned the second technique from an organizational psychologist, author of ‘Give and Take’ and the youngest tenured professor at Wharton, Adam Grant, it was the reading of Franklin that made it click for me.

So if you want an opponent, a boss, or anyone to look favourably toward you, you should ask them for advice.  Yes, ask them to advise you on an issue.  Of this, Franklin said:  “We admire the wisdom of the one who comes to us for advice.”

This is effective for many reasons.  Kenny Linjenquist said three things tend to happen when someone asks us for advice.  First, we feel flattered, which makes us feel good and happy.  “Cool, this guy thinks I have a lot of wisdom,” we say to ourselves.

Secondly, to be able to offer advice, we have to put ourselves in the shoes of that person, which forces us to develop empathy for them. Thirdly, once they flattered us, and we empathized with them, we’re likely to help them.

Also an additional benefit of asking for advice is that it makes us look competent.  Alison Wood Brooks of Harvard University and her colleagues, Francesca Gino and Maurice Schweitzer found that even experts think we’re competent when we ask them for advice.  They explain in their paper (2015) in the journal, Management Science: “people are reticent to seek advice for fear of appearing incompetent. This fear, however, is misplaced. We demonstrate that individuals perceive those who seek advice as more competent than those who do not.”

Another way to win over an opponent, also from Franklin, is to ask them for a little favour.  Malam Benjamin Franklin wrote in his book, Franklin 1868/1900:  “He that has once done you a kindness will be more ready to do you another than he whom you yourself has obliged.”

Indeed, later studies have found that someone who has done you a favour previously, is more likely to do more favours than the beneficiary.  Which actually doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.  Before the elections of 2011, while trying to persuade voters to choose Buhari over Jonathan, I wrote an article for Sahara Reporters titled, Benjamin Franklin Effect: The Simplest Way to Choose our Leaders in which I wrote:

“Imagine that you’ve just given me a valuable gift. Now here’s a question: who is more likely to love the other, you who gave or I who received?  The receiver? Wrong.  Another question: who is more likely to return the favour or give again?  The receiver? Wrong again.

“It happens that the person who gives will love the one he gives more; also, he’s more likely to give that person again.  The opposite is also true.  He, who takes or injures or cheats or bullies another person, is more likely to do it over and over again; not only that, he’s more likely to dislike the victim than the victim is likely to hate the tormentor. It’s called Ben Franklin Effect.

“This insight was a result of a personal experience.  Franklin was annoyed by a political opponent in the Pennsylvania state legislature. He thus set out to win him over; this is described on pages 216-217 of the aforementioned book:

‘“I did not … aim at gaining his favour by paying any servile respect to him but, after some time, took this other method. Having heard that he had in his library a certain very scarce and curious book I wrote a note to him expressing my desire of perusing that book and requesting he would do me the favour of lending it to me for a few days. He sent it immediately and I returned it in about a week with another note expressing strongly my sense of the favour. When we next met in the House he spoke to me (which he had never done before), and with great civility; and he ever after manifested a readiness to serve me on all occasions, so that we became great friends and our friendship continued to his death. This is another instance of the truth of an old maxim I had learned, which says, “He that has once done you a kindness will be more ready to do you another than he whom you yourself has obliged.”’

In that article, I also illustrated my argument by citing a laboratory study by Jecker and Landy (1969) to confirm the effect.

In sum, if you ask an opponent for advice and get him to do you a favour, he would be even more willing to do you more favours and more likely to be your friend.  However, if you think the last two techniques are manipulative, you’ve the option of using the first one.