As the mother of an almost 1 year old, my daughter Grace is fast developing a personality and each day understands much more about her world. She now understands simple commands and recognizes people and places. She’s also learning to test boundaries (and sometimes my patience). I want to shape the person she becomes – from her sleeping and dietary habits to avoiding public tantrums (I can dream, right?).
I constantly scour blogs for the latest in parenting news and research, and it recently dawned on me that my mommy and professional worlds are colliding. As a social marketer, I’m in the business of shaping behavior. When developing a social marketing campaign for a client, we employ a trusted framework and lean on behavior change models and theories. The same is true in parenting, and there are a lot of parallels. The majority of mommy literature reads somewhere between the socio-ecological and social learning theories – using the environment and influencers (peers, parents, grandparents, daycare providers) to shape a child’s behavior – and the theory of reasoned action – moving a child from awareness to action. The more I think about it, the more the lines are blurred, and I see myself applying lessons from social marketing to raise my daughter, and vice versa. Often, parenting models and frameworks are simple, direct, and practical. It’s this kind of no nonsense approach that can have a big impact. I recently came across a tip sheet from the Penn State Extension’s Better Kid Care resource center and thought it applicable to our field. Here are their top four tips for “Guiding Infant and Toddler Behavior,” which I think is a relevant framework for any public health challenge.
1. Prevent Problems. Just like a toddler who knocks everything over in reach because “it’s fun,” we all give into temptation for the same reason. Removing stimuli from one’s environment is an important and effective step in shaping a desired behavior. This can be a policy change – a tax on sugary beverages or banning smoking in bars – or a shift in the environment that makes it harder/easier to do something – access to walking trails that promote exercise. This also speaks to the importance of knowing your audience. The sheet actually directs you to “crawl around the floor on your hands and knees.” Knowing your audience and their world is the first and most integral step to shaping behavior.
2. Ignore Some Behaviors. Let’s face it; no one is perfect. This is why there are cheat days in diets and why social marketers hone in on the most important behaviors to address. To me, this step is about setting and prioritizing goals.
3. Distract or Redirect. In social marketing, we often employ this approach by communicating the advantages of a new or desired behavior to help shift attitudes, beliefs, and ultimately behaviors. This is the strategically placed calorie count on popular menu items.
4. Respond in the Moment, Calmly, like a CEO. The author of this step must have a communications background. I chuckle every time I read it. This is that credible thought leader or spokesperson delivering your message. Any good social marketer or communications pro knows that a message must be authoritative, direct, and timely.
There are many ways to approach social marketing just as there are parenting. We all have our tried and true frameworks for shaping behavior. But, for your next big social marketing challenge, shake it up. Think outside the box. There’s a lot to learn and borrow from other disciplines (be it parenting or something else) that can prove relevant and successful in social marketing.