How to deal with your little negotiators: Try “The Game Theorist’s Guide to Parenting”

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Kids are masters at negotiation, and we as parents need to be up to the task of negotiating with them. That’s the theory behind Paul Raeburn and Kevin Zollman’s “The Game Theorist’s Guide to Parenting: How the Science of Strategic Thinking Can Help You Deal with the Toughest Negotiators You Know — Your Kids,” ($25, Scientific American).

game theoristEach chapter, Raeburn and Zollman give you another game to help solve your kids’ problems, usually having kids negotiate among themselves to settle on a solution. Some of it makes total sense. A friend of mine had two children. One child got to make decisions for the family such as where to eat or what fun thing to do on even numbered days as well as do the chores; the other child took the odd numbered days. On months when there was a 31st of the month, it was Mom’s day.

Some are more complicated. Both kids need to clean up the playroom. The kid that does the most work gets the biggest reward. The kids the does the least amount of work gets the biggest punishment. In theory, they both pitch in to get the reward.

There’s also a guide in when to vote and how to vote when solving a family problem like where to go on vacation.

Some of it, feels really complicated and I’m not so sure that my children would come up with the same results. Many “games” require for each child to bend a little to be able to benefit from the awards. In theory it all works, but sometimes family dynamics or children’s personalities mean that one child will almost always give in and another child will almost always not.

And some of it, without parental supervision could turn into a re-enactment of “Lord of the Flies.”


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