If you’re a parent the chances are great you’ve heard this exclamation from your child – It’s not fair! When that occurs, what’s a parent to do?
When children utter those words they’re calling for equality.
‘Jimmy has a bigger cookie than me. It’s not fair!’
Kids believe that fair means equal. Because parents hear their child calling for equality they often choose to go out of their way to become the equalizer.
‘Here, let me trim off the excess of Jimmy’s cookie, cut it in half and give each of you an equal amount.’
Attempting to keep all things equal can be very exhausting and is nearly impossible.
Fairness in cookie distribution might look like equality, but in more important areas, being fair isn’t a question of things being equal. For example, the child who’s had a bad day at school might need a little alone time with a parent. It’s not unfair to give that one child what he needs while the others play. A parent trying to achieve fairness through equality might feel the need to spend 15 minutes with the hurting child followed by 15 minutes with every other child – whether or not that is what’s needed.
A child who believes he or she should always receive what’s been given to another could easily become an entitled child, wanting things to be fair (equal) whether or not situations are the same.
When responding to the statement ‘it’s not fair,’ it might be tempting for a parent to say, ‘life isn’t fair.’ That’s definitely true, but a younger child isn’t able to understand the bigger meaning.
Instead a conversation with the child can go a long way.
‘You’re right, Jimmy’s cookie is bigger. Try as I might, I don’t always get my chocolate cookies to come out the same size. They all taste good though!’
That’s it. You’re not being sarcastic; in fact you are showing understanding and also explaining the situation.
When your school-age child tells you a teacher has not been fair, listen to the complaint and feel free to commiserate if you agree. Then talk about why the situation may have arisen and encourage your child to let it go.
Helping your children learn to cope with the inequality of life will help them as they transition into adulthood because in truth, life is not typically fair – reasonable – impartial –rational – or non-discriminating.