If you have more than one child, quarrels between siblings are typical. Just let them iron things out, right? Until they call for you to intervene and decide, of course. And when you do, you always hear," That's not fair!" Playing referee can be tiring indeed.
Psychologists have found that children largely approach negotiations, even those that involve discipline, based on fair play. If they think you're fair, then they are more likely to accept reward or punishment and not question your authority. So how do you accomplish fair play?
Kevin Zollman, associate professor of philosophy, believes the game theory, or the "science of strategic thinking," can be helpful in these interactions. In every discipline scenario, "two parties want slightly different things. Game theory can help parents to find ways to create situations where both sides feel good about the outcome," Zollman, co-author of The Game Theorist’s Guide to Parenting, tells Mind Your Decisions.
Here are five win-win game solutions that can take you off referee duty:
#1 Force them to work together Assign your kids a task that requires them to work together, and give your children the same reward based on their overall joint performance. It will foster teamwork and prevent one child from sabotaging their chances of receiving the prize. The kids can even end up having an arrangement of their own, which is good because at least they're working together.
#2 Auction off things/experiences Not all things can be divided or shared equally. Zollman and co-author journalist Paul Raeburn suggest in Slate: "If you have one item that can’t be divided, you want to assign it to the person who desires it most." Kids bid how much they're willing to "pay" -- by way of chores -- for the auctioned item or experience. Older children may have a skill advantage so make sure to quantify the type of task they can bid.
#3 Distribute fairness If your kids are worried about having a lesser share, let them do the "I cut, you choose" technique. One child divides, for example, the cake, and then the other child chooses her share first. The child who cuts the cake will be compelled to take a slice of the same size as his sibling. The authors call it an "envy-free" outcome, as long as kids take turns in cutting and choosing.
#4 Use "random" to your advantage Your kids always argue about the song to play in the car, the movie to watch, the place to eat, etc. We suggest that before you leave or do any task, have everyone write down their suggestion on a piece of paper. Place the papers in a hat, a bowl or cup them in your hands. One person draws from the hat, and no one can complain it isn't fair because it's random.
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#5 Tit for tat "An eye for an eye" may have a negative connotation, but Raeburn suggests it can also be good. If one child does this amount of work in a joint project, the other one should have done the same. That way, everyone has done an equal part. "This probably works better with children who are closer in age, or at least both over 7," the journalist and dad of five admit to The New York Times.
You have to do these games consistently to make them work. Follow through on the consequences you have set. And don't bail them out when the going gets tough. They need to learn from their actions.
Another upside to using games? You're reinforcing your child's critical thinking and decision-making skills. While we want to teach kids altruistic behaviors, a sense of fairness can go a long way especially if they want to succeed in life.