Strategic Thinking for parents the book


When you are considering or soon to be a parent, you guess that the most difficult task you will face is how to educate your children.  But when you become one, there is a reality that was not part of your initial equation: kids are surprisingly clever negotiators. How can we avoid those all-too-familiar wails of “That’s not fair!” and “You can’t make me!”?

Jealousy, envy and the sense of justice are concepts that are present in every negotiation between parents and their kids.

As a mother of two, I sometimes lose my temper, so I’ve decided that It’s time to put strategic thinking into practice. The book we are talking about today, can teach us parenting strategies that will work, no matter how smart our kids are.


In The Game Theorist’s Guide to Parenting, the award-winning journalist and father of five Paul Raeburn and the game theorist Kevin Zollman pair up to highlight tactics from the worlds of economics and business that can help parents break the endless cycle of quarrels and ineffective solutions. They provide us with strategic thinking for parents rules.

Raeburn and Zollman show that some of the same strategies successfully applied to big business deals and politics—such as the Prisoner’s Dilemma and the Ultimatum Game—can be used to solve such titanic, age-old parenting problems as dividing up toys, keeping the peace on long car rides, and sticking to homework routines.

Raeburn and Zollman open each chapter with a common parenting dilemma. Then they show how carefully concocted schemes involving bargains and fair incentives can save the day. Through smart case studies of game theory in action, Raeburn and Zollman reveal how parents and children devise strategies, where those strategies go wrong, and what we can do to help raise happy and savvy kids while keeping the rest of the family happy too.


Example 1:

For siblings who refuse to work together, Zollman recommends a version of the prisoner’s dilemma. Assign them a task they can do jointly, like picking up the toys, then give them each the same reward or punishment based on their performance as a team: If one kid slacks off, the next time around the other one is likely to refuse to cooperate, and both will lose out. Over time, this setup compels teamwork.

Another example

Pareto optimality. Let’s go back to the cake. Suppose we have a cake,  half chocolate and half vanilla, and you have a chocolate-loving daughter and a vanilla-loving son. Rather than cutting two half-vanilla, half-chocolate identical pieces, cut it into a chocolate piece and a vanilla piece, to make the division as fair as can be.

In “The Game Theorist’s Guide to Parenting,” Zollman and Raeburn write:

“Psychologists have found that how children approach negotiations—and whether they share or turn spiteful—depends in large part on notions of fair play. And game theorists have devised various ways to approach any negotiation—some of which are more likely to result in fair outcomes than others.”

The key to successful negotiation, Zollman says, is thinking about problems from another person’s perspective.

“You can’t just think about ‘what do I want,’” Zollman says. “Both people can be made happy because you can think of trades. That skill is really fundamental to finding your way through the world.”

With The Game Theorist’s Guide to Parenting you will learn how to deal with your little negotiators, applying strategic thinking for parents. Practical win-win parenting methods that teach kids about human nature, negotiation and cooperation.

This is a book we highly recommend it. This is not one of those parenting books that lectures and presents strict rules. This book covers game theory concepts and mechanisms that would be useful for parenting. For now only available in english.

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Featured image THE NEW YORKER