An Experiment Gone Wrong: How I Failed a Family

change experiment failure perfectionism Oct 06, 2023

I love experiments. Anyone who has worked with me in the office or the Family in Focus coaching community has heard me talk about little experiments.

Well I want to share with you how I f'd it up.

Experiments are little trials or tests. It's where you try something new and see what the result is. Perhaps you have a hypothesis - a guess - of what will happen. 

I'd venture that we never exactly know what the outcome will be of an experiment. 

When I meet with parents, I ask them about creating a little experiment for the next week - something that they can try.

But here's the secret ingredient: it's their experiment, not mine. We have already talked about what's going on, the struggles, the things that are going well, and what is important for them to focus on now.

So let's talk about when I met with Jada a few weeks ago (yes, names have been changed). Jada is a 9 year old who I met for her well visit in the office. I noted her growth was above the growth curve. As a new patient, I had no idea where she had grown before.

I asked her family about their concerns that they wanted to focus on: none. OK, so of course I started with sleep because (say it with me): "Sleep comes first."

Jada went to bed around 9:30 in the evening and got up like waking the dead at 6am in order to get ready for her family's morning commute. On the weekends Jada will sleep a good 11 hours and be rested. The family was also mentioned about her weight and that she would go back for large second portions of dinner. When I asked her what it feels like in her body when she was hungry, she famously told me, "It feels like more."

We explored a bit more and then I asked the family to create their experiment:
They opted to have a consistent one-plate policy at meal time. Jada was on-board with trying it, as she still got to have the foods that she wanted.

And I asked if I could suggest an experiment: What about trying bedtime just 30 minutes earlier? As a pediatrician, I know that the suggested sleep amount (per the CDC) for a 9 year old is about 9-12 hours per night. She's getting about 8.5 and very tired, but sleeping 11 on the weekend. 

"OK," the family agreed.

They returned this week with mixed results:
"Guess what, Doc? The one-plate experiment is working like a charm."

"I don't even miss it," Jada reported.

Fascinating. I can't make this up. What 9 year old says that? Apparently a 9 year old who created an experiment and it is working for her.

But mom was very disappointed that the sleep experiment didn't work. "We failed. We just couldn't do it."

I asked about their experience.

Mom reported, "We like to watch a TV show together. She begs to stay and watch with me, and I just can't say no to her."


This is the info I could and should have found out before. This routine of going to bed at 9:30 WORKS FOR THE FAMILY. They had no interest in changing it and

it wasn't their experiment.

It was mine.

I noticed at that moment that the expert-doctor had been in the room.... the one that thinks that she knows what everyone needs and should be doing for optimal health.

Ahem.... that is the person who messes it up and sets people up for FAILURE.

Mom thought that they were failing because the sleep experiment didn't work.

No, and I apologized: It just wasn't your experiment. It was mine.

There was no motivation for the family to make a change. In fact, the desire to not hear the child beg and fuss, as well as the association of the time as family bonding time meant there is no way this was going to change. 

I tell this story because it is everyone's story. How many times has someone asked you to change something and you agreed, only to find that you "failed" at it?
You didn't fail. It just wasn't your plan to change. It wasn't your experiment. It's like a family member asking someone who smokes to stop. But the person who smokes may not be considering stopping, or don't feel that they can. In the stages of change (Prochaska), they may be in precontemplation (I won't/I can't) or contemplation (not now).


Check out the Family in Focus with Wendy Schofer, MD Podcast!

Listen Now!

Stay connected with news and updates!

Join our mailing list to receive the latest news and updates from our team.
Don't worry, your information will not be shared.

We hate SPAM. We will never sell your information, for any reason.