Urinal Fly: Give Them Something to Aim For

I told my graduate school professors I wasn’t writing a Mommy blog on subjects like potty training. That’s just not my thing. (None of my kids wear diapers anymore; No need to visit those medieval times.) But something’s going on with the alignment of the moon with Uranus or something because there was a definite theme to my day yesterday…and the theme was toilets.

It started in my guest bathroom where I noticed we were out of toilet paper, just the brown cardboard roll, forlornly hanging there, deprived of some soft folds of Charmin.

It’s a simple thing for me to grab a new roll of toilet paper from under the sink and replace it, which I promptly did. But the simpleness of that action annoyed me because it’s a simple task that any one of my four kids all using that very bathroom could have done, too! And suddenly I’m sitting there…no, I’m standing there, lest you’re forming a mental image of this…I’m standing in the bathroom thinking, Why am I always the one to have to replace the toilet paper???

A great wave of indignation and self-pity engulfed me, so I did what we all do when these crazy notions occur to us, I wrote about it on Facebook because my friends needed to know that my children are selfish little creatures, untrained in the art of replacing toilet paper.

Then I arrived at my class last night, and a portion of the lecture focused on communications and behavioral change.

I typed lecture notes into my laptop: “Behavioral intentions, what you say you will do, is one thing, but what you actually do is different. Behavior is usually considered the hardest to change.”

My mind went to Mr. Whipple and his inability to stop squeezing the Charmin and my children’s inability to ease a roll of Charmin onto the toilet paper dispenser. Grrrr.

I was thinking behavior change –> children –> toilet paper and, just like that, telepathically or something, Hanson Hosein (one of our instructors for the course) started talking about the men’s restroom at Schiphol airport in Amsterdam.

Apparently, men have terrible aim. Their minds wander. They lose track of what they’re doing, and they make absolute messes of the walls, the floors, whatever surrounds a urinal. And it’s a safety issue because the floors are, as those signs say, “slippery when wet.”

Enter Dutch behavioral economist, Aad Kieboom, who decided they should etch the outline of a fly onto the back wall of each porcelain urinal at the Schiphol airport in Amsterdam. It’s inexpensive and easy to install. Kieboom’s staff conducted the fly-in-urinal trials and discovered the “etchings reduce[d] spillage by 80 percent.”

The fly improved a man’s aim, gave him something to think about, I guess. Without signs, instructions manuals, or even Siri to guide them, the fly appealed to guys’ sense of target practice or gaming instincts or whatever it is that improved their accuracy and the sanitary conditions of Amsterdam’s lovely airport restrooms.

I love happy-ending stories like this! It’s not just because clean bathrooms delight me. I appreciate simple solutions. Cheap solutions. Solutions that require some out-of-the-box thinking to affect appropriate behavior changes.

It made me recall the children’s book, “All-of-a-Kind Family” by Sydney Taylor where the author wrote about her large Jewish family growing up in Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Taylor wrote about the sloppy job she and her siblings did of cleaning and dusting the front room of their house until their inspired mother hid pennies in the room that the children could find if they did their jobs thoroughly, lifting vases and rugs to clean everything.

I’m betting Taylor’s mother knew nothing about behavioral psychology on habit formation and addictions, but she wisely varied her penny rewards, sometimes hiding pennies and other times not, which caused her children to vigilantly, obsessively clean the room every time in the hopes of turning up a reward.

The urinal flies also reminded me of a New York Times piece, “What Shamu Taught Me About a Happy Marriage.” The author relates how she adapted animal training techniques to her husband and marriage.

That was my takeaway from Networks and Narratives last night. I shall figure out my own urinal fly: a simple, cheap, fun solution to getting my kids to replace toilet paper rolls in our home. It might require “approximations” (rewarding small steps to learning a new behavior). I might need to figure out an “incompatible behavior” that prevents my kids from leaving a bathroom if they’ve used up the last square of toilet paper without replacing the role.

No monetary rewards for replacing toilet paper because my children are geniuses at gaming the system and our household will suddenly experience a marked increase in toilet paper usage (or half-used rolls in the trash) if I incentivize them with money.

I’m not sure what modification technique I’ll employ, but I’ll keep you blog posted. Suggestions most certainly welcomed.

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shellyngo

Shelly Ngo is the social media strategist for the King County Prosecuting Attorney's office in Washington state and the creator of www.Citizens ofSeattle.com. She completed her master's degree in digital media from the University of Washington in June 2015. Besides dabbling on Facebook and creating content for websites, she is also the full-time laundress, driver and cook for four kids and a capricious canine.

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