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How CHIBE Researchers Use Behavioral Economics With Their Kids and Family

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CHIBE researchers spend their days experimenting with the best ways to encourage patients and clinicians to make decisions that are in their best interest. How can we nudge patients to take their medication every day? How can we encourage physical activity? What helps people quit smoking? What might deter clinicians from overprescribing opioids?

But what about in their own families? Do CHIBE members hang up their proverbial behavioral economics hat when they enter their own house? Or do they take some of the principles from their field and apply it to tooth brushing or tantrums? Hear from some of our CHIBE researchers on how they use behavioral economics at home.

CHIBE Associate Director Jingsan Zhu finds financial incentives to be a helpful motivator for encouraging his kids to do yard work, and he asks them to do tasks like folding laundry in order to earn video game time. He also used a behavioral economics device to help with his wife’s medication adherence. “I told her to take her medication with the first sip of water after she woke up in the morning. That’s what I have been doing for years, and it works for her too,” he said. “This can be explained by something behavioral economists call temptation bundling in which you bundle up the action that draws instant gratification (such as the first sip of water or drink after a long, dry night) with another action with a delayed benefit that you don’t necessarily want or remember to do.”

CHIBE Associate Director Dr. Jalpa Doshi also uses temptation bundling with her daughter. “When in-person school and sports activities closed down due to COVID-19 in March 2020, my husband and I encouraged our daughter to walk on the treadmill to keep up her physical activity each day,” Dr. Doshi said. “She initially was not excited at all about it for the first week, so then we told her that she could only watch her favorite shows while walking on the treadmill. No surprise to me – she was super excited. There wasn’t a day since then when she complained. She always looked forward to going on the treadmill.”

CHIBE-affiliated faculty member Dr. Shivan Mehta leverages commitment devices with his family. “I have found that eliciting a commitment to follow through on a particular goal is helpful for our entire family (kids and adults in the household),” he said. “It helps to keep us motivated to do the things that we hope to do like exercise, chores around the house, and treating others with kindness. It is even better if we can write it down, which makes it public and continually reminds us of our commitments.”

CHIBE Associate Director Dr. Christina Roberto said she definitely uses general behavioral principles in parenting and has found The Everyday Parenting Toolkit: The Kazdin Method for Easy, Step-by-Step, Lasting Change for You and Your Child particularly helpful. “This parenting book is rooted in behaviorism and is a favorite of mine. It’s evidence-based and made a HUGE difference with toddler tantrums, and I use it for everyday parenting strategies.”

CHIBE Associate Director Dr. Amol Navathe meanwhile uses a star system to give his kids immediate rewards for good behavior and penalties for not-so-good behavior.

Incentives have also worked for CHIBE Associate Director Dr. Rinad Beidas and her family. Her background as a behavioral clinical psychologist has helped with influencing behavior, and she has used temptation bundling for herself back in college when she would allow herself to read US Weekly only at the gym. With her kids, Dr. Beidas uses a reward chart for engagement in desired behaviors. She also finds it helpful to offer her kids two choices, rather than asking them an open-ended question.

As for CHIBE Director Dr. Kevin Volpp? He said the tried and true tool of a parental mandate has been successful in his family.