December 21, 2014

Ready, aim, nudge: Helping little boys pee straight


Boys may need more than a nudge to hit their target

Boys may need more than a nudge to hit their target

A nudge is better than a nag for toilet training.

Moms know nagging kids endlessly only backfires. They end up deaf to everything. And harassing boys about peeing straight is a losing battle.

So I decided to give my boys a nudge by using choice architecture to get them to pee into the toilet …  and not around the bathroom.

As a mother of twin boys, aged seven, I know pee. I’ve cleaned it up, wiped it down and sat in it more times than I want to talk or write about.  It’s made worse because my boys love to chat while they’re peeing. See photo at left to see how a giggle can distract.

The solution to my problem came when I read the book,   Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness, by Professors Richard H. Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein. They wrote about how airport officials in Amsterdam realized men and boys daydream while they pee and lose focus.

The result? A smelly mess that cost a lot to clean up.

When janitors at the airport put an etching of a fly on the wall of the urinal, spillage was reduced 80%. You can see examples of how it works on the Nudge blog.

Do try toilet training at home

I decided to try the same thing at home.

I wrote AIM with a big, red Sharpie pen on the wall of the toilet bowl,  see above, in a spot cannily designed to avoid the boys splashing the seat or rim above.

It worked. The smell and odor has improved. It isn’t twin-proof, as the photo shows.

Spillage, not the word we use at home, has decreased markedly.

Only problem, my Sharpie pen keeps washing off. Next time, I’m going to try putting a sticker on the back of the toilet.

We read Nudge for book club where the pee idea was a great hit. Trust me, when I say we are the Queens of Pee.

Our book club includes four mothers of multiples, including two lots of 7 year old boy twins, one girl/boy set, and a younger set of triplets and a mother of four.

Now, if only Nudge could come up with a way to encourage boys of all ages to lift the seat before taking aim.

Any ideas? …

Read and hear how urinal flies are keeping men peeing on the straight and narrow around the U.S.  in Robert Krulwich’s story, “There’s a Fly in My Urinal,” on Weekend Edition on NPR.

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About the Author: Julie Power is a writer and editor with experience in both the United States and Australia. After living in the United States for 16 years, she recently returned to live in Sydney with her husband and twin boys (9 years old). Follow @juliepower





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  1. […] Julie set out to adapt the urinal fly lesson to her home. She writes about the mission in the blog Moms to Work. I wrote AIM in big red sharpie on the wall of the toilet bowl…in a spot cannily designed not […]

  2. I’ve never been so proud to have seen a toilet…@juliepower ‘s with the “AIM HERE” sign. Just regretting I didn’t blog about it when I saw it! Think I’ve got a pic in my iphone! :) Congrats, Julie. I think Leno is next!

  3. Ali says:

    What a topic you are discussing about, peeing of little boys! So let me tell you some thing then, not bad if you know that in my culture the male people avoid peeing while standing! In my country it’s so, as my religion has recommended not to pee while standing, and to do it while sitting or squatting. I know there, they teach the kid when he can stand up, how to pee while standing, but it’s not so here. However, I am male and quite healthy, but I don’t pee while standing. You should consider that there are many different ways and theologies around the world.

    To my own, peeing while standing is a nasty actions, also it does not feet a man’s character, that’s like you imagine a respectable man standing up still some where, his penis is out and his piss line in front of him! Who made the rule that males MUST stand up while urinating? And don’t relate it to the nature, potentially many things are natural as an ability; one can bring it out (gun), aim and kill, but he has choosing power, although he has the ability, but he may not do it if he is sane; one can just bring it out, aim and piss, but does it mean he can not do it in a way but that?

    Why stand to pee? Why aim? Aiming is for the time when you are distant to your target and can’t be close to it, but when you can be close to it, and if you are sane, you prefer being close to your target than aiming to the target. So sit down and be relax, the name of the place you are doing that in, is rest room! And why you waste your time and energy in cleaning bathrooms? You can save it for more useful affairs by reducing the need of bathroom to be cleaned!

    As for those who say “peeing while standing is of a few pleasures of a man!”, I should say that a man is more valuable than way of peeing places as his pleasure and property! It does not fit a man to consider that as his worth! Men have more valuable special abilities to be mentioned! And as for those who say “peeing while standing is much easier than doing it while sitting or squatting”, I should say that bending over and pulling down pants, and keeping a part of panties down for a while and aim for a while both need an attempt; and the fact that which one is easier for a person depends on habit. The way in which one’s habit is based on, is easier for that one, and to which you habit, it will be easier for you! As God has made the ability of peeing while standing easily in guys, it must have an advantage, and yes it has. In men’s jobs some times urgent situations happen, and some times they have to do some thing in a short time when the speed is important, and some times men have situations that they can’t sit or squat or are in places where sitting or squatting is not easily possible; in such times they can use their ability of peeing while standing easily. But these urgent times just some times happen, not always! So I think there should be a project for men to stop, or to say better, manage peeing while standing. One group are already doing that and their site is: http://www.mapsu.org .
    As I mentioned, there are some occations when it’s needed to pee standing up, then it happens for both men and women! So what should women do? So easy, they can instantly pee standing up using a small device, one is here: http://www.travelmateinfo.com/page002.html .
    However, it will be great if the current way of peeing of guys in toilets and bathrooms, in the most parts of the world changes.

  4. Rodger says:

    It’s very simple.
    Follow Dutch etiquette.
    When out at a friend’s house men and boys all sit to pee.
    I brought this into my home so at all times the boys simply sit to pee.
    No mess and no seat left up. It’s not a big deal.
    When out the boys can still use the urinal like everyone else or a cubical if its available.

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