“That’s not fair! Elyon got more ice cream that I got!” or “That’s not fair! You bought Adi a new shirt and didn’t get me!” or “That’s not fair! You give me a consequence when I push Itai but you don’t do anything when Itai hits me.”
Whether our children’s concept of fairness is right or wrong, valid or invalid, it often pushes our buttons and often makes us not care about what they are saying.
As parents, when our children tell us it’s not fair, aside from being annoyed, we often feel that we have two choices:
- Give in; or
- Try to appease the other child with something else.
For example, you might say back, “I don’t have more ice cream but I could get you extra cookies.” I know I often feel guilty or badly for the one who feels that I have mistreated them or chosen favorites. Sometimes I am so tired and don’t have any patience to hear whining and complaining so either I say firmly back, “no whining,” or just give in to make the unpleasant sounds of whining stop. Moreover, I also have to admit, that I used to think that in order to be fair, I must try to treat each child equally.
After an episode in a shoe store the other day, when one child got new shows (since his current shoes were too small) and the other didn’t (since his shoes still fit), I decided to really think about why it bothers me so much when my children give me the “its not fair” line.
First I realized that I, a mother who tries so hard to be in tune with all my kids’ needs, feel in that moment that I’m being blamed or falsely accused. And then I realized that a child’s concept of fair is developmentally normal for school age children and thus shouldn’t be taken personal. This helped me not take their complaints as personal accusations.
Second, I realized that it makes me so upset because my children are not telling me what they want based on their needs but rather what they want based on someone else’s needs or wants.
I want to stress here the importance of teaching our children to express what they need and not what they want in relation to their sibling. When your child responds with an “I’m not fair” to a decision you made, you can ask your child to express his/her feelings with a statement about “her/him,” rather than about her sibling. Once your child is able to tell you her feelings, you can then empathize and respond based on “her/his” needs and not her sibling’s. The bottom line is that the words “it’s not fair” is un-constructive and shuts down communication between you and your child.
Moreover, we must remember that we should teach our children that “fairness” usually has nothing to do with the situation. For example, if your four year old complains that she can’t stay up as late as your ten year old child, the answer has nothing to do with fairness. Rather, the younger child is younger and needs more sleep. If we give in, then we deprive our children of what they really need.