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The scientifically proven way to get your kids to work harder

Batman Costume


Calah Alexander - published on 12/14/17

This is how to make those chores more bearable.

When it’s time to pick up his toys, my 5-year-old Lincoln has an epic meltdown. Every. Single. Time.

“But I’m tired I don’t wanna there’s too much my foot hurts no I won’t waaaaahhhhh!!!” he wails, as he flops around on the floor like a dying fish.

I have tried a zillion ways to get him to pick up without resorting to yelling (which unfortunately always works), but most of them have failed. The one standout was the day Lincoln was pretending to be a puppy, and I asked him if the puppy could help pick up the puppy toys.

He panted and nodded and scampered around the tile on his hands and knees, picking up all the toys (and socks, and shoes) with his mouth. It was hilarious, adorable, and good for his immune system. Most importantly, though, it prevented the meltdown.

In the most awesome study ever, researchers have applied a similar concept to school-aged children. They divided 180 kids into three groups and gave them all a boring computer task, an iPad, and 10 minutes. They told the kids the work was important but if they got bored they could play on the iPad. They also told each group of children to ask themselves a question and repeated that question over a speaker every minute.

The first group asked themselves, “Am I working hard?” The second group asked the same question in the third person, like “Is Hannah working hard?” The third group, however, got to dress up as Batman and ask themselves “Is Batman working hard?”

Unsurprisingly, the Batman group spent the most time actually working. World Economic Forum reported on the study and offered a few theories about why dressing up as Batman helped kids concentrate:

Donning a cape and mask, the kids from the recent study were better at what psychologists call self-distancing. One reason the kids engaged in imaginary play had better focus might be that pretending to be another person allowed the greatest separation from the temptation. A second potential explanation is that the kids in costume identified with the powerful character traits of the superhero and wanted to imitate them. Whatever the cause, the superheroes showed more grit.

These are all probably partially true, but it’s also true that work is boring and pretending is fun. Pretending while working helps kids focus on the fun instead of the boring.

So whether it’s a puppy or Batman, encouraging our kids to make a game out of a chore can be all the impetus they need to get through it without meltdowns from them or yelling from us. What could be better than that?


Read more:
When meditation slips into mind chatter

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