Outpsyching two children at once
My 4-year-old and 7-year-old both used to want to get out first when they had a bath together. And when I say "want" I mean wanting of the big-fuss-if-you-don't-get-your-way variety. Over the last year or so, this has resulted in an elaborate evolution of procedures for getting them both out of the bath without tedious scenes from at least one of them. (I've sometimes mismanaged it to the extent that they have both ended up in tears, but fortunately that's the exception rather than the rule.)
Initially it was fairly simple: they just took turns. The younger one complained when it wasn't her turn, but she got used to the system. But then new grounds for complaints came in. They would have a hairwash every other day, and after a while the 7-year-old started saying things like, "It's unfair that I never get to get out first when it isn't hairwash day." So for a while we tried a system where one child would get out first for two days, and then the other, and so on. That created another difficulty -- that of remembering where we were in the cycle -- but it wasn't too bad. Another problem was that the 4-year-old (then 3) didn't really understand the system, and would say things like, "But Octave got out first yesterday!" which would be true.
Sometimes our normal routine would be disrupted -- for example, if we were out and got back too late for them to have a bath. I think it was something like that that threw me so much that I resorted to tossing a coin to decide who should get out first. That opened up a whole new can of worms. First of all, my 7-year-old liked the system and asked for a coin to be tossed every evening. So far so good, though of course there would be occasional lucky streaks for one child and consequent complaints by the other. But then a new dispute arose. For some time the 4-year-old always wanted to be tails and the 7-year-old always wanted to be heads. But then the 4-year-old decided she too wanted to be heads, and the 7-year-old was not ready to change.
Oh, another development I've forgotten to mention is that at some point the reward for the winner was not to get out of the bath first, but to choose who got out of the bath first, because they stopped automatically wanting to get out first. For quite some time, the 4-year-old would, when she had the choice, say that the 7-year-old was getting out first, and he would say, "Ha ha ha -- that's what I wanted anyway," but after a while she got wise to it and better at calculating what would annoy her brother.
Anyhow, going back to the coins, I introduced a new element, which was a guess-which-hand routine. The person who guessed which hand the coin was in got to decide whether they were heads or tails. No prizes for guessing what happened then: they both wanted to guess my left hand.
The most baroque procedure I ever used was a four-round one. I started by insisting that the 7-year-old chose tails and the 4-year-old chose heads. Then the winner of that round got to choose whether they were heads or tails for the next round, and so on. Then the winner of the last round chose who got out of the bath first. The idea was that the injustice of the first round would not be keenly felt after a few subsequent rounds, since by then usually both children would have won at least one round and had the illusion of controlling their destiny.
Finally to what happened yesterday. I didn't have a coin on me so I did a what-hand procedure. A trick I've introduced recently is to play this in rounds too. If they both choose the same hand, I then open my hands to show them which one contained the object, and we have another round. This sometimes induces them to change hand, and after a round or two I usually end up with them choosing different hands.
Yesterday, I had a new problem. They both chose my left hand, but just as I was opening my hands to show them that they had both been right, my daughter (the 4-year-old) switched her guess to my right hand. So I told my son that he could choose who got out first. Unsurprisingly, my daughter complained about this on the grounds that she had chosen my left hand too.
It was a bit of a grey area, so I decided I had better run the game again. But that was a little unfair on my son. So what I needed to do to make everything work out was ensure that my son would win again. The point of this post is that that was possible. I don't know quite how I was so certain, but it was obvious to me that my 4-year-old would reason, "It was in his left hand last time, so it will be in his left hand," while my 7-year-old would reason, "It was in his left hand last time, so it will be in his right hand." So I put it in my right hand, and my daughter did indeed choose my left hand and my son my right hand. For what it's worth, my son then chose that my daughter should get out first, and my daughter was OK with that decision.
My guess is that there is a development stage that my son has been through and my daughter is yet to go through. Certainly there are interesting experiments in the psychological literature -- testing things like whether children can put themselves in the position of other people -- that would suggest that something like that is going on. But my son's development isn't yet finished: when he's a few years older, he will realize that there isn't just bluff, but also double bluff, treble bluff etc. and then neither of us will be able to outpsych the other.