Game theory is, in essence, the science of strategic thinking—a way of making the best decision possible based on the way you expect other people to act. It was once the domain of Nobel Prize-winning economists and big thinkers on geopolitics, but now parents are getting in on the act. Though game theory assumes, as a technical matter, that its players are rational, it applies just as well to not-always-rational children.
A key lesson in game theory, says Barry Nalebuff, a professor at the Yale School of Management, is to understand the perspective of the other players. It isn’t about what you would do in another person’s shoes, he says; it’s about what they would do in their shoes. “Good game theory,” he says, “appreciates the quirks and features that make us unique and takes us as we are.” The same could be said of good parenting.