Analogous to “doctor shopping,” children practice parent shopping.  My son comes to me and asks if he can play his computer game.  When I say no, he goes and asks his mother.  That is, assuming he hasn’t already asked her.  After all how can I know that I’m not his second chance?

Indeed, if she is in another room and I have to make an immediate decision I should assume a certain positive probability that he has already approached her and she said no.  Assuming that my wife had good reason to say no that inference alone gives me a stronger reason to say no than I already had.  How much stronger?

If its an activity where he has learned from past experience that I am less willing to agree to, then for sure he asked his mother first and she said no.  It’s no wonder I am the tough guy when it comes to those activities.

If its an activity where I am more lenient he’s going to come to me first for sure. But his strategic behavior still influences my answer.  I know that if I say no, he’s going to her next and she’s going to reason exactly as in the previous paragraph. So she’s going to be tougher.  Now sometimes I say no because I am really close to being on the fence and it makes sense to defer the decision to his Mother. Saying no effectively defers that decision because I know he’s going to ask her next.  But now that his Mother is tougher than she would be in the first-best world, I must become a bit more lenient in these marginal cases.


(Addendum:  If you want to know how to combat these ploys, go ask Josh Gans.)