Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Extreme incentives

We are fond of setting incentives in our household for various activities. Just this week, we decided to make a push on memorising times tables. It needed an incentive on the basis that it was a pretty mindless activity that was hard to justify on any real academic basis but it was just convenient to have these things memorised for the future. The deal was: learn them this week or no Survivor. Suffice it to say, we went through much anger and bargaining before we got to resignation. Of course, we have a few days left to see if it worked.

I wondered if this might have been a bit much until I read this today from Ian Ayres:
When my 7-year-old daughter said she desperately wanted a dog, I told her (in a twist on another Obama story) she could have one if she published an article in a peer-reviewed journal.
Wow, that isn't necessarily attainable when people have to publish to keep their job. That said, apparently it worked! Here is the paper.
Our dog is named Cheby (Shev) in honor of a statistician.
Of course, when you think about it, this seems like an easy incentive compared with those Obama kids who had to get their Dad elected as President in order to get a dog.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Tooth fairy lies

Selfish Mom neglected her tooth fairy duties. [HT: Motherlode]
Jakie lost a tooth yesterday morning. It started bleeding at breakfast, and when he brushed his teeth a few minutes later, out it came. He put it in a plastic bag. We talked about it all day, and when he went to bed he put it under his pillow. And that was the last I thought about it.

Until this morning, when I got out of the shower and my husband informed that the tooth fairy hadn’t come. Shit.

I went downstairs, and Jake was in a ball on the couch pouting. I asked him what was wrong, and he started crying and said that the tooth fairy hadn’t given him any money.

I told him that that had happened to me a couple of times when I was his age. I told him that sometimes so many kids lose their teeth in one day that the tooth fairy can’t make it to all of the pillows, but that when that happens she usually gives a bonus dollar. At least that got him to stop crying.

This reminded me of one of my first posts on tooth fairies. Here is an extract:
On Thursday, our daughter lost her sixth tooth. On Friday morning, she woke up to tell us that the tooth fairy hadn't come. And then trouble ensued.

My initial reaction to this sad news was to go up and check her 'tooth box' carrying money in my hand in a vain attempt to suggest that she had just missed it being bleary eyed in the morning. This plan was aborted when I opened the box to find, well, a tooth. Obviously, to take the tooth now would be a tad too obvious.

On to plan B; imaginative lying. We settled on, "obviously, lots of children must have lost teeth on Thursday and the tooth fairy is just one fairy and can do so much. She will be here tonight." Our daughter bought that and, indeed, when discussing the incident with a friend, it turned out the same thing had happened to him once. (We must remember to thank the parents!)
So there is a broad parental conspiracy at work. That is the key to lying. Make sure it is the same lie and everyone toes the line.

That said, we didn't include the bonus. Instead, in our household, we have floated the tooth exchange rate.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Buck passing

A conversation:
"You lost your sports bag. That isn't good."

"True but it's not my fault."

"Really, whose fault is it?"

"Yours. You were the one who decided to have me. Had you not done that the bag would not have been lost."
And there began a line of logic that has led to a week of buck passing in our household created by what appears to be a deep existential understanding of moral attribution. This, of course, included an extensive discussion whereupon it was discussed whether it would be reasonable for me to similarly pass the buck for the aforementioned lost sports bag to my parents, their parents or a series of 300,000 generations to some ape in Africa. It was then decided that the ape really wouldn't care about issues of lost bags and so saddling them with that one was going to far. They would be content to pass the buck for all their current and future sins to me.

A later conversation:
"This dinner is terrific."

"Well, you can thank your daughter for it. Cooking it that way was her idea."

"Yes, you can thank me Daddy."

"I don't think so."

"Why not?"

"Well if I hadn't chosen to have you, then we wouldn't have had this great dinner. So I'm waiting."

"Thank you Daddy for this great dinner."
Her brother then started to object to this apparent lack of praise.
"No, it is good this way. I'll take not being at fault over not getting thanks any day."
My daughter had opted for full insurance in her typical risk averse way. I guess she only has half of what it takes to make a good investment banker.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Parentonomics Now Shipping

It is six weeks ahead of schedule but I just got an email that my own pre-ordered copy of Parentonomics is now shipping from I guess the wait is over. It looks like we are still waiting on shipping outside of the US but I'll provide an update when I know more.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Is there a pyramid in the house?

That's a good question and it is exactly what my 10 year old daughter asked me the other night. She had a homework assignment that I must admit was on the lame side for what should usually come for a 5th grader (but then again it was the first of the year, a warm up). She had to identify 6 of each of several 3D objects including a pyramid.

"Is there a pyramid in the house?"
"We don't tend to have Egyptian artifacts lying around."
"It doesn't have to be that. Just something that is a square based pyramid. Not a triangular based one like you suggested last year."
"What was the triangular based one?"
"Some piece of some puzzle blocks."
"Still not sure we have one."
"Well, I have to find six of them to fill in this table."
"Six. There aren't six pyramids in an Egyptian palace let alone here. What are your teachers on about? Can we build one from Lego?"
"Well, you'll have to tell them we don't have them."
"Dad, like the teacher would set this assignment if pyramids weren't common in NORMAL houses."

Just my like that some descendant of Professor Carter will turn up her class with a pyramid swag. We had similar issues with the rest of the table. Only cylinders and rectangular prisms were in healthy supply. We had a square prism (thank you tupperware and Nintendo GameCube) but no triangular prism and we were short of actual cubes. We made up Toblerone and found an old Rubik's Cube.

Then it occurred to me that I could use Twitter to tap into the mob of followers to see what they could find. So I put out a call and alas nothing came back but a suggestion to look for toys. Sigh. If I can't use my web presence to inappropriately help my daughter with an impossible homework assignment, what good is it?

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Stellar advice on punishing

I must admit that when it comes to reading stuff on parenting, I usually prefer a good story than an advice manual. But this Slate piece by Alan Kazdin and Carlo Rotella demonstrates how a manual should be done.

The article takes a specific situation:
If you're a parent, you are probably familiar with being provoked into a blood vessel-popping rage that instantly overwhelms any resolution you might have made to stay calm. That's because kids are amazingly good at refining behaviors that they can turn to when they're upset or angry, especially in public, to make their parents even angrier—in fact, insanely angry.
And considers parental reactions in dealing with it. It is the kind of situation where you are torn between 'good' parenting versus a need for immediate gratification -- usually in the form of shouting but it could be any number of other actions. What are your options?

Kazdin and Rotella provide a menu. Of course, they provide it as a list but I am going to set it out the way I would like to see it: as a table. First, here is a table describing the various actions and trade-offs. It is useful but the article is richer in detail and discussion. Nonetheless, let's face it, nothing beats a good set of names for actions.

But once you have read that, the options can be summarised more easily as follows:

Of course that is just my assessment. But the parking ticket is closest to the economist way of looking at it especially in terms of not engaging in repeated punishment. Set the prices upfront in a predetermined contract. We know that takes foresight and effort but who could not want that?