By Amy Speidel
Fairness does not mean everyone always gets the same thing; this is the fastest road to unrealistic expectations. If one child grows out of his shoes, should everyone in the family get a new pair? How do you help your kids understand that fair does not mean equal?
Fair Does Not Mean Equal
As a parent how do you strive for fairness among your children? What is fair? We’re all tempted to call “foul” when we believe we have been treated unfairly, and by that we may mean, “other than how we assume we should be treated.” Before we can understand fairness, we must be able to gauge what is reasonable and assess when a situation becomes unreasonable. For example, it’s fair to wait when the light turns red; it’s not fair to wait if the light never turns green. If that were to happen, it is likely you would break the rule and go (cautiously of course) on red. So, in this situation we see that “fairness” derives from established norms and the predictability of events.
When we endeavor to establish fairness among our children, what are we really attempting to do? Children first learn about fairness from their world and through a very personal lens: “Is it fair to me?” Depending on how you address your children’s needs, they may become demanding in their expectations or believe that they should expect nothing. Alternatively, they hopefully find a balance between their needs and the needs of others. The latter is evident when children are able to wait for a turn or sacrifice what they want in order to accommodate others. Think about your children’s day, and you will probably find that their ability to dole out fairness runs the gamut.
Children and Fairness
Yet, when you strive to establish fairness only to hear, “That’s not fair,” it may start to feel unattainable. These few, simple guidelines may help to create or restore a sense of family fairness:
- Dispel faulty thinking. Fairness does not mean everyone always gets the same thing; this is the fastest road to unrealistic expectations. If one child grows out of his shoes, should everyone in the family get a new pair? Fair is not the same as equal.
- State what fairness is for your family and live it out. “In this family we strive to be fair by….” Let your children know how you define fairness, and help them build confidence in your ability to maintain it. Openly communicate your values and how they relate to fairness.
- Needs are not the same as wants. Fairness generally focuses more on needs than wants. It is fair to pay for your children’s equipment for a sports team and yet expect them to earn money to purchase any extras they may want.
- Listen. When children feel that something is unfair, listen to their reasoning. They may have a point. Listening doesn’t mean you have to change direction, it just means you’re willing to consider another perspective.
- Sometimes life is unfair. Offer empathy rather than judgment when a child is frustrated by life’s injustices. It’s hard when the world doesn’t operate the way they think it should. Empathy gives them the boost they need to accept the disappointment.
Amy Speidel is a Certified Parent Coach at Senders Parenting Center and an instructor in the Conscious Discipline Philosophy for parents and teachers.