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.
Synchronization
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 Cracked.com: “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.

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