Parenting hacks from Game theory

Games that chuntitledildren play often ends up in fights on -how unfair the other was with her or he got more share than her or she would be the first to start the game …. List is endless but what seem trivial or ‘not so important to adults becomes the matter of utmost prestige and importance to kids. The small things we have to do as parents for kids like sharing, dividing and compromising—become challenge.

We did it as kids and we continue to do this as adults also its just that our games are upgraded. Your colleague getting more bonus than you!

I see my daughter crying over the red ball that she wanted to play first or she remaining upset for days over who got more chocolates by granny or little sis getting more share of cake. I want to tell her its not such a big deal. Its not so important.  I want to cram my learnings of all these years and present a formula and feed my child!. I want to tell her – life is like this, mostly unfair, know your purpose, shuffle the cards and play your game. The instant challenge to present that instant formula feed for understanding and awareness of a 5-7 years old is how they would process that knowledge. So you need anecdotes, Asop fables and examples from daily life to bring your point home.

I was listening to Simon Sinek addressing leaders and executives and I was thinking if I have to present my 6 years old daughter with an idea of ‘Game theory’ how would I do that. The idea of playing your game. I can not give her example of MicroSoft & Apple and how Microsoft keeps an eye on Apple and how Apple just play its game….the concept of Finite and Infinite players. Though its not a bad idea to let the generation of instant gratification and gadgets know the theories of social interaction.

Game theory is a study of mathematics that aims to analyse the strategies competitive situations where the outcome of a participant’s choice of action depends critically on the actions of other participants. For example, a game of poker or bridge; hence “game” theory.

In a less literal sense, game theory can be applied to economics, and psychology as “the theory of social interactions”

Well, well, well ! that will be too much too soon. So, as parents I have to play my own games and little tricks.

New York Times reported that “researchers found that children as young as 19 months seem to understand the concept of fairness, and appear surprised by scenes of blatant favoritism – such as when one puppet is given toys and another puppet goes without. By age 7, some children will choose to forgo candy rather than get a significantly larger share than others”.

Here, I come across this book The Game Theorist’s Guide to Parenting coauthored by the award-winning journalist and father of five Paul Raeburn and the game theorist Kevin Zollman. They  paired up to highlight tactics from the worlds of economics and business that can help parents break the endless cycle of quarrels and ineffective solutions. “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.”( Scientific American, 2016)

In the book the author states that parents can divide time, but how can they fairly divide the “first time?” Coin tosses and simple games like rock, paper, scissors are often suggested, but they come with their own set of risks, like older kids taking advantage of their younger siblings. Instead, game theorists propose auctions.

According to the authors, “If you have one item that can’t be divided, you want to assign it to the person who desires it most.”

By using an auction system, kids are expected to announce how much they’d be willing to “pay” for an item or experience — Raeburn and Zollman suggest that payment be in the form of chores.

Another bonus: game theory empowers children to take ownership of their decisions and begin to comprehend the consequences — to themselves and others.

When children are faced with the job of cleaning up a joint mess, suggest “you pick up one, then he picks up one,” said Raeburn. “We had mixed results with Tit for Tat,” he admits. His 9-year-old son was able to manipulate his 6-year-old brother into doing more. “This probably works better with children who are closer in age, or at least both over 7.”

Credible Punishments: In game theory as in parenting, you have to deliver on your threats, like actually turning off the TV if you said you were going to, even if it punishes you too. Joshua Gans, an economist at the University of Toronto and the author of “Parentonomics,” offers advice for gaining a credible reputation at home. When his children were young and would disobey, he would say, “I’m thinking of a punishment.” It’s much easier to pretend to think of a punishment than to come up with a new one every time, he notes—or, worse, to issue a noncredible threat in the heat of the moment. (“That’s it, I’m canceling Christmas!”) Once he earned his credibility, he found that he had only to close his eyes and count to 10, and his children would spring into action.( Wall Street Journal, 2014)

All in all, these tricks are not going to work all the time in the desired fashion. Empathy and perspective as parents will always be needed with a cuddle to just reason out with your little one… if you can !

What our kids are being showed in the name of entertainment — Watch out!

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I was vacationing in India this summer. The sultry and scorching days did not leave any choice for me and my daughter but to slump in the couch and watch some cartoons. I switched on the TV and after some careful shuffling through buttons, we settled on one of them. It was a commercial break that took forever to end. Guzzling down that advert was not without efforts , there was a beauty soap advert, where there was a fuddled husband running behind his wife to know the secret of her lasting fresh looks. I wondered what was there to achieve through this commercial that was running on a channel dedicated for children.

The commercial break ended after conducting a litmus paper test on my patience.

It’s good to see a good bunch of home-grown cartoon characters coming up. It’s equally sorry to see the contents famished of positive messages. There seems to be no concerns for what an average mother must be going through when she overhears her kids laughing and rolling over something like, “Bidu tera fatela hatela advice nahi mangta”.

There are some new crop of characters and episodes running on different channels. One common pattern that runs through the tapestry one after another is that all protagonists are good at kicking, punching and resorting to physical violence to teach lessons to the devil ones. One popular cartoon series is about three ghosts who keep track of sins committed on earth and they come down from their ‘bhoot-lok’ to torture and punish. There is also a timid and coy cop in the story. Law or rules are at mercy of these supernatural trio. If you are going to tell me that it’s a harmless subtle entertainment, hold on, this is exactly my issue. Our definition of entertainment is so grim and gross! From an early age we are allowing those impressionable minds to get conditioned to normalcy of laughing at somebody’s misery, pulped beaten faces, deformities and abnormalities.

How are we defining entertainment for school going children? What kind of apathy and aggression are we slowly injecting in them through the colourful hunky-dory characters?

The Indian cartoon factory is yet to spin out a character which can solve his problems with his good humour and positive attitude without having to beat the devil ones to pulp.

We should move towards more participatory and interactive format, where parents have more say in what kind of cartoons characters they want to be aired on TV. Definition of entertainment that is being formed and slowly gaining acceptance will have detrimental effects in the long run. There is another new series in which there are two he-cats who flirt around a neighbour she-cat. This she-cat has the tendency to tilt towards the stronger and better provider of her needs. It’s appalling!

As Indians we have the tendency to adjust to everything, make room for everything. Let this passivity not hamper the personality development of our kids. Their understanding of life should not be marred by the junk they take through TV every day. Let’s take the control button in our hands and let our voices be heard.

Narrative of the goose that was killed for laying golden eggs

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The Aesop’s fable ‘The Goose that laid golden eggs” has always been told from the point of view of the greedy farmer. It was all about him: his penury, his luck, his greed and his debacle. None of the narratives have ever come from the poor goose. What was its side of the story?

It did not last to tell its story of being loved, wronged and then finally killed.

If all unfortunate events are mapped on a sheet and red mark is put on every story that happened because of somebody’s greed, believe you me there will be many. Our poor earth is one such goose that is being killed for laying golden eggs and the farmers aka corporate owners will one day find nothing but parched surroundings enveloped in smuts and smokes. Our education, health, political and economic systems are being milked with apathy to the point that they are starving of values and dying of sheer disregard of principles. So, in one way or other, at this place or some other, golden gooses are being smothered to death for greed of “more of much”.

Anyway, let’s come back to the point. What would the goose have to say if it were given a chance to tell its version? Men write stories for men and see things from their perspective and those that serve their interest. What did that poor animal have to say to other animals and give lessons from its side of the story?

Here we go, let’s listen from the goose who just transmitted its message from heaven. Heaven? Yes, heaven since for those who are wronged, suffered and killed, the best form of salvage that this world provides to victims is the promise of Heaven … if not justice.

The Goose’s narration

Hello everybody,

I am the poor Goose from Aesop’s fable. I was not always poor, how my life was snuffed out, made me poor in the pages of stories. I was a free Goose that moseyed and dawdled in lush green surroundings of my natural habitat. I pecked the grains, pruned my feathers and plonked my head in the warmth of my arms to sleep. I was living my life on my terms and was free to run in the face of attack from wolves and dogs. One day I got tired of running and saving my life on my own and gave myself willingly into the hands of a hunter who came to catch geese from the Jungle.

So, here my friends is the first lesson from my life:

  1. Don’t exchange your freedom for anything

The hunter sold me to a farmer couple. They put me in a coop and gave me grains to feed. The grains were neither too much nor too little. I prayed to God to give me the ability to lay gold eggs so that the farmer would grow rich and give me enough grains.

  1. Don’t give more than what one deserves

Things improved for the farmer and his family. But my share of the grains did not improve. They remained just a handful. I was wronged and had the gut feeling that the farmer would not return the favors. But I still gave him another chance by laying more golden eggs.

3.      Once bitten twice shy

I wish I had not given him more eggs or had restored to giving just the normal eggs but it was too late. The greed had taken the better of him and one day the farmer came in my coop with a shining knife. He killed me.

So that’s my side of story.

What is bad, what is evil… dishonesty, greed, treachery and backstabbing all are there to stay. Even Adam and Eve could not be spared and they too had to leave paradise. The lessons were passed on from ages to ages but poor geese forget it every time, let’s remember the lessons the Goose’s ghost came to tell us… Don’t give the best of you freely and in undeserving hands.

A conversation on friendship with my 5 year old daughter

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It’s easier to talk to children above ten about complex things like relationships. (Maybe I am oversimplifying the problem). But when it comes to the audience whose understanding is limited to ‘sharing is the way of caring baba, baba black sheep’ it’s difficult to present something complex in a simple way.

Though Khalil Jibran has explicitly put everything that friendship is in these lines:

 Your friend is your needs answered.

He is your field which you sow with love and reap with thanksgiving.

And he is your board and your fireside.

For you come to him with your hunger, and you seek him for peace.

When your friend speaks his mind, you fear not the “nay” in your own mind, nor do you withhold the “ay.”

 The problem was how to talk about this to my little 5 year old. There were many helpful parenting sites that talked about the clinical aspects of making friends or being one. I was looking for something more. I was looking to touch the root of the concept, to talk a bit of philosophy with my bitsy baby.

Let me tell you the background of what prompted me to take up this topic with her. After we shifted to a new country, I had a daunting task at hand. There was a park nearby our apartment. I and my daughter would stroll down there in the evenings. The task was to find a friend to play. A few initial visits were stressful for me, she played swings and slides with her roving eyes looking for a pal amidst her unanswered smiles and waves. My little one was disappointed but not disheartened.

One day she took her new bicycle to the park and there was a girl of her age who came to play with her. They both rode the bicycle by turns. I was also relieved that she finally had a companion. The next day she went without her bicycle. She looked for her friend everywhere. Finally, she saw her playing with a group of children. She waved to her and went near them expecting that she would be invited to play. But nothing like that happened. The bicycle friend turned out to be an opportunist.

That day my little brave heart was heartbroken. She came running towards me and she plonked her head in my lap and cried. We returned home.

She was yet to start her new school. Her mom, dad and a few stuffed bunnies and bears were her only acquaintances in the new land. I wanted to talk to her about what had happened in the park but I kept it to myself. Though she was back to her normal self but it was evident that she was hurt. It was the next day at bed time when I groped a chance to begin the conversation on Friendship and making friends.

I chose to read ‘The Stinky Little Kitten’  — Jim Peterson, a story about a friendly kitten who is refused help by all the farm animals when she jumps over onions and starts stinking. A piglet, whom she had always avoided, is the only animal which comes to her help to clean herself. When the stinky little kitten is washed and cleaned, she runs up to her mother, nonplussed as to why none of the animals whom she thought were her friends, helped her. To this, the smart mommy cat says:

“It’s not always that you choose your friends. Sometimes the friends choose you.”

 The end of the story brought a smile on my kitten’s face. I smiled back.

Me: “What do you think of the story?”

She :“I liked it.”

Me: “What did you like in it?”

She: “The stinky little kitten found her friend at last.”

Me: “Ummm okay but what made her think that the piglet was her friend?”

She: “Because he helped her.”

Me: “Yes dear helping is friendship, but it’s not just helping that makes good friends.

She: “Aunty (maid) helps you too.”

Me: (laughing) “I pay her. Helping is in return of something.”

She: “I know mama friends share things.”

Me: “Hmm okay you shared your bicycle with that park friend.”

She: (frowning) “Hmmm I was friend, she was not friend.”

Me: “Yeah okay tell me which cartoon friends you like the most.”

(Thinks for a moment)

She: “Yes I like Bambi and Thumper”

Me: “They are my favourite too. Why are they your favourite?”

She: “Umm Thumper and Bambi have lots of fun together.”

Me: “Yes they do, indeed.”

She: “Why do you like them?”

Me: “I like them because they are different yet they understand each other, try to improve each other. Remember how Thumper teaches Bambi to ski on ice.”

She: (giggling) “Yes I remember.”

Me: “So a friend is someone who has all these traits. Somebody who shares toys but doesn’t help is not a friend. Somebody who helps but does not understand you is not a friend.”

She: “You are my best friend.”

Me: “Yes, I am dear and will always remain your friend. When you will start your new school, when you will attend your music or craft classes, when you will grow up, you will find such a friend who will be polite, helpful, understanding and who will like the things you like, who will not come to you because you have a special toy or a new bicycle. That friend will befriend you for who you are.”

 A bright, bright smile spread across her face that brightened my heart too. I switched off the side lamp. While sleep was slowly pulling my eye lashes down this quotation by Gloria Naylor was running through my mind, “We cannot tell the exact moment a friendship is formed; as in filling a vessel drop by drop, there is at last a drop which makes it run over; so in a series of kindnesses, there is at last one that makes the heart run over.

 

The Frog Prince – retold!

frog-1591896_960_720When a kid in kindergarten gets work, it’s not the kid who gets the work, it’s we – the parents who get work. It’s our comprehensive ability at test. So when my ‘daughter’ received homework on learning and understanding the moral of the story ‘The Frog Prince’, it was inevitably I at work.

The best I could decipher, I wrote. “It’s a story of a princess who is fooled by a manipulative frog to free him from a curse.”

The next day, I found a red mark slanting deftly across the paragraph I had written with a one liner penned with much annoyance and haste at the bottom of it –

“That which thou hast promised must thou perform.”

With all sincere apologies to Grimm Brothers, I want to retell this story.

Instead of running amok perplexed and letting her father cajole her to give in to the demand of a stalker frog, the princess could have made a different choice. Yes, that tiny green, slimy amphibian stalked her around the palace until he landed on the royal dining table to cry foul.

Anyway, before I tell you ‘how it could have been’, let’s quickly recap the original tale.

“IN OLD times when wishing still helped one, there lived a king whose daughters were all beautiful, but the youngest was so beautiful that the sun itself, which has seen so much, was astonished whenever it shone in her face…”

So begins the old fairy tale ‘The Frog Prince’.  It is the story of a princess who was playing with her golden ball near the palace. The ball slipped from her hand and fell into the well. She started crying. Hearing her cry, a frog crocked, “Princess if you let me eat from your plate, sleep on your bed and kiss me, I can bring your ball.” A talking frog!

In the evening, the princess was dining with the king when a soldier brought the frog into the dinner room. “The princess has broken her promise” the frog croaked. Quickly, he told the king all that had happened.” The king said –“That which thou hast promised must thou perform. Get him in.”

Though the princess was disgusted, she let the frog eat from her plate. Later, she reluctantly took him to her room and placed him in a corner. The frog however, hopped onto her bed. Furious, she threw him at the wall. The frog lay motionless. Ashamed of her action, the princess picked up the frog, placed him on her bed and kissed him. Immediately the frog transformed into a handsome prince. “Thank you, princess,” said the prince. He told her that a witch had made him a frog for refusing to marry her. Soon, the prince and the princess were married.

 As if the marriage was the panacea of all their worries in the world!

Hopefully – they lived happily ever after.

In exchange of a ball, a frog smartly manipulates a princess to promise him a dinner and a kiss. The princess knows it’s crazy and tries to save herself from keeping those ‘forced-commitments’. My issue is, why was a girl’s ‘No’ not enough? The frog had his way foxily. A girl is an instrument in the story through which a prince can regain his lost form. She is tricked into making weird commitments and then conscripted by her own father to keep them in the name of integrity.

It will not be out of place to recount a case I handled during my career as HR and a reporting point for sexual harassment cases in the organization. I asked the girl the reason for reporting it so late. She had been facing indecent overtures from her fellow colleague. She said that she was confused because the guy had been very helpful to her. He helped her in her projects and went out of the way to get things done for her. So, she owed him! In the barter, he was taking liberty in making sexual overtures.

Now what could possibly be different in the story – The Frog Prince?

Here I go:

Once upon a time there was a king. He had three daughters, whom he loved equally. The youngest of them was witty and brave. One day she was playing with her golden ball in the lawn by the pool. The ball slipped off from her hand and fell in the pool. She was thinking how to get it back when a frog jumped out of the pool. He was a talking frog!

The frog said, “I can take out the ball for you.”

The princess said, “O great! Please do.”

Frog said, “But you will have to promise me that in exchange of the ball you will have to let me eat from your plate, sleep on your bed and kiss me.”

The princess realized that was a freaky frog. She asked, “What is your problem, frog? Be realistic.” Frog was adamant and so was the princess. She said at last, “Ok you stay there I will get it myself.” She dived into the pool and got the ball. Drenched, the water dripping off her cloth in the puddle at her feet, she sat at the brink of the pool. The frog was sad. She asked him, “Why are you so strange?” The frog then narrated his story of how a witch transmogrified him into a frog. The princess felt sad for him but it was not easy for her to trust him as he had just tried to trick her into kissing him.

The princess scooped him up in her palm and planted a kiss on him. He transformed back into a prince. The prince was happy. He proposed her for marriage.

The princess said, “We don’t know enough of each other yet.” And she walked back towards her palace.

Her eyes had a gleam, her feet were light and her heart was brimming with pride and happiness.

Such a generous, witty and brave princess surely lived happily ever after.