How to 'Nudge' Your Kids the Right Way

How to nudge kidsABC News Photo Illustration
How to nudge kids.

It's the age-old question: How do you get your kids to put down the burger and pick up the carrot sticks? How do you get them to transform a bedroom that looks like a tornado recently passed through into a gleaming beacon of cleanliness?

According to parenting experts, one way is to give them a little "nudge" in the right direction.

"A nudge is any small feature of the environment that captures our attention and alters our behavior," Richard Thaler, co-author of "Nudge" told "Good Morning America." "Nudges can and do work on kids. It's just a question of finding the right nudge."

VIDEO: Nudge kids to eat healthyPlay

Now it may seem like trickery to some parents, but oftentimes children can be swayed just by the way things are presented to them.

To test out the nudge theory, "GMA" set up two experiments -- one aimed at getting kids to eat healthier and the other to get them keep their rooms tidy -- to see if fairly small changes had any big impacts.

The Great McDonald's Switch

In 2007, a study conducted by the Lucile Packard Children's Hospital found that if you want kids to rethink healthy food, try wrapping it in McDonald's wrappers. Kids told researchers food wrapped in McDonald's packaging, even if the food was not actually from McDonald's, tastes better.

To put this study to the test, without any input from McDonald's, "GMA" invited a panel of 15 experts, kids between the ages of 7 and 13, to a luncheon. On the menu were burgers, McNuggets, cookies, apple slices and milk from McDonald's and veggie wraps, carrot and celery sticks, bananas, apple slices, milk and water from the "GMA" cafeteria.

All the food was unwrapped on day one and the kids took what they liked. The most popular items that day were the McNuggets, burgers and cheeseburgers. Not a single veggie wrap was touched.

On day two, the same amount of food was laid out in the same order, but this time the veggie wraps were wrapped in McDonald's wrappers and put in Happy Meal bags with toys.

This time the results were very different. Kids took 11 veggie wraps, and carrot and celery stick consumption doubled, even if some were less than impressed with their Happy Meals.

"I went for the Happy Meal because I wanted McNuggets and french fries," one of the little testers said. "But I ended up with the evil green sandwich!"

Clean Up or Pay Up

Kathy and Scott Simone of Johnstown, N.Y., take pride in keeping a neat house, but their sons, 12-year-old Zachary and 8-year-old Mikey, don't share their passion for cleanliness.

"The boys' room is a drastic flip-flop of the rest of the house," Scott said.

"You walk into the boys' room and it's like 'Whoa!'" Kathy said. "Everything shoved underneath their bed."

To tackle this problem, Kathy and Scott gave the kids a little more than a "nudge." Call it a shove. According to child development experts, one means of getting the kids to clean up is by taking action when they don't.

That means when things are left out on the foor, parents can box it up after a warning and make the kids pay or do chores to get their beloved toys and clothes back.

When Kathy and Scott tried out the new strategy, they found that initially just the threat of losing their stuff kept the kids in line. But after a month, Mikey left his Legos out, so mom and dad took action.

After confiscating the toys, Kathy and Scott told Mikey he had to clean the rest of the room before he could "earn" his toys back. Minutes later, the room was clean.

"I can't believe it really worked," Kathy said.