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Blogging on how to use behavioural science to make behaviour more likely

Getting your children to load the dishwasher

December 8, 2017

 

Often when I arrive home from work and go into the kitchen I find the dirty dishes are placed next to the sink and not in the dish washer. The dishwasher is situated one step, yes one step away from where the dirty dishes have been placed.  
My usual reaction (following a hard day at work) was “aahhh for **** sake why can't anyone be bothered to put the ******* dishes in the dish washer?” I would say this out loud, so others could hear my pain and surely feel guilty.  Then I proceeded to correct the wrong adding to my irritation. My actions of vocally exclaiming my distress and hoping the guilty parties would change their behaviour wasn’t working and had inadvertently created an environment of fear and bubbling resentment. With my new frame of mind and recently acquired behavioural science skills, I started to hatch my plan for change. My experiment was about to begin. 


Knowing that when I arrived home I would walk into the devastating environment that will be awaiting me in the kitchen, I mentally prepared myself that I should not become irritated by this calamity of dirty dishes. When I finally arrived home I headed straight to kitchen opening the door slowly with anticipation of finding the usual greeting of dirty dishes placed haphazardly next to the sink. My plan was now ready for implementation. An eerie silence befell the kitchen, no vocal exclamations of frustration, silence, just silence. I was feeling calm rather than the usual anger. I listened out for the suspects chatter, there was silence too in the rooms that they were residing in. Slowly one by one they entered the kitchen. I positioned myself next the offending articles, smiling. Seeing this they nervously greeted me. 


This was my moment to push for change for the betterment of the house and its population. So, I threw in a simple enquiring question "I see the dishes have been left by the sink today and not in the dish washer?" pinpointing their behaviour. "Yes love", "yes dad" "we can see that" they said at the same time.  Feeling an air of resistance I decided to tread carefully, so I asked "why do we put the dishes next the sink instead of the dishwasher?". Quickly and without hesitation came their reasoning "they're not all my dishes I only used one, and the dishwasher is full of dirty dishes". I asked "what can we do so that we put the dishes in the dish washer?". This was a second and unexpected question asking for their involvement for a solution, rather than my usual "oh thanks a lot just leave it to me then". Their defences started to lower and the burning issues were starting to be discussed, the suggestions came in thick and fast.  We questioned why the dishwasher wasn't put on in the evening after dinner. We discussed the dishes would be cleaned that evening and it could emptied that evening ready for the next day’s dirty dishes. I could see and hear a change in their behaviour because of my change in behaviour, an individual and collective responsibility appeared to be being adopted by the three of us. 


As I am last to go to bed of an evening I agreed to empty the dishwasher. This further opened the conversation as I was taking personal responsibly and leading by example. The physical environment would now be changed and the behaviour change of placing the dirty dishes into the dishwasher rather than putting them next to the sink were accepted by all. 


The gloom has lifted from my journey home, the friction in the household diminished and the sun now shines into the kitchen unobstructed by dirty dishes, for they are now being placed into the dishwasher.      

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