If Pavlov was a Dad (and had an iPhone)

A lot of parents struggle with getting their kids to take a bath or go to bed on time.  There are a number of ideas that people suggest – and I’m sure your mother-in-law has a “secret recipe” for success that she reminds you about daily.  But, I’d like to think that I stumbled upon some golden nuggets for raising kids to be prepared and excited about bath time and bedtime.

Who is Pavlov?

It starts with a brief story about a guy named Pavlov.  No one knows his first name (except Wikipedia), but this is his story.  He wanted to train his dogs to eat when they heard the sound of a bell.  He would ring the bell, then feed them.  What’s really interesting, is that eventually all he had to do was ring the bell, and the dogs would begin salivating (drooling), even if food wasn’t present.  An audible stimulation was able to cause a physical reaction from the dogs.

A fun story that kinda relates (but not too much)

Our psychology professor in college wanted to teach us a lesson about conditioning in a way that would make sense to everyone.  He told us that if he shouted Rumpelstiltskin – and then poked us in our eye, eventually all he would have to do is shout Rumpelstiltskin and it would cause us to blink. We would be conditioned to blink from a simple auditory stimulus.

The next day I saw the professor in the hallways – so I ran up to him, shouted Rumpelstiltskin at the top of my lungs… and poked him in the eye.  He paused for a second – looked at me – and said, “That was very creative.  You get extra credit.”

The Solution

So this is what I do – I set my iPhone alarm to go off at 6:30 for bath time – and I have the alarm sound set as… ducks.  Yes, ducks.  Why? Because little kids think it’s hilarious.  Start off when they are babies.  I have the ducks start quacking at bath time, then the kids get excited to go play with their ducks in the bath.  My oldest is now 4 years old and thinks it’s hilarious every time she hears the ducks start quacking.  Her and the 1 1/2 year old run into the bathroom and start stripping off their clothes.  I have effectively conditioned them to think that the sound of ducks quacking is an exciting time to take a bath (let’s just hope they don’t start stripping in the park when we feed the ducks).

Let’s keep it going

We have them in the bath, which is half the battle. But now we need to get them out of the bath, into their PJs, and into bed.  So I have the alarm go off again at 7:00 – but this time the sound is crickets.  Convinced that Jiminey Cricket is telling them that it’s time to go to bed, they eagerly hop out of the tub getting water all over the bathroom floor, grab their monster towels, and head to their room to get their pajamas (and jump on the bed).

A Summary

Getting your kids to bed is easy.  I started this when they were babies, so I have no idea how well it will work if your kids are older when you begin this.  The important thing here is to stick to your routine, and use a stimulus that works.  For me it was:

1. Set an alarm on your phone to go off at bath time (I used the sound of ducks quacking).
2. Set an alarm on your phone to go off at bedtime (I used the sound of crickets chirping).
3. Brag to your husband or wife that you are the “greasy children whisperer” and request a back massage as reward.

Comment below and let me know if you have similar ideas and if this works for you (or doesn’t).

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William Harris
As the founder and CEO of the rapid-growth ecommerce advertising agency, Elumynt, William Harris has been critical to driving growth for multiple startups in ecommerce and SaaS with 6 recent exits, the largest selling for almost $800M. His contributions have been featured on Forbes, Entrepreneur, Fast Company, Shopify, The Next Web, and many more.

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