“It’s not fair!” is an exclamation most parents hear with alarming regularity. Kids seem to be born with an inherent fairness detector, and a need for social justice…when it comes to themselves, of course.
My kids use fairness to argue for their rights to everything around our house: whose turn it is to shower first, who gets the biggest scoop of ice cream after dinner, or who get to turn our fairy lights on each evening. Everything must be taken in turn, and everything must be fair. Even when I think I’ve hit fairness square in the middle, someone is usually in tears about some imagined slight or miniscule variation in what each child has.
But what I’ve come to realise is that perhaps trying to maintain fairness isn’t doing anyone any favours. Whenever I would whine about a lack of fairness as a child, my grandfather would grumble that old cliché: “Life isn’t fair. You may as well get used to it.”
He was a grumpy old dude, but he had a point, didn’t he?
How does it prepare our children for a future out in the big bad world if they expect everything to be doled out in equal amounts? If they expect everyone to have a fair crack at everything? And if they expect complaining at a lack of fairness to get them anywhere?
What we’re doing is raising a generation of kids who are entitled and selfish.
So what can we do instead? Well, we could take my grandfather’s gruff approach, but here are some other ideas that will help our kids learn to cope better with life’s ups and downs.
- Teach your kids to care about others as well as themselves. You can do this by modelling the behaviour yourself. When they see you taking an active interest in the wellbeing of others, it sends a powerful message, and they are more likely to follow suit.
- Provide a secure environment for your kids at home. That means routines and set expectations that give kids a framework for their behaviour. This can help them feel secure and loved in themselves, and to develop empathy for others.
- Share special family time together regularly. Meals and other activities build bonds between the whole family.
- Play games together without letting the children win. This will teach the children about competition, and that they need to earn their wins – all in a friendly and supportive environment.
- Encourage your kids to wait for their turn, and praise them when they’re being patient.
- Give privileges and responsibilities to older kids. Let them stay up later and give them special rewards, but also expect more from them. And ensure those standards are kept for younger kids as they get older and reach the same age. This teaches them patience and that good things come to those who wait.
- Share responsibilities. When my brother and I were growing up and there was a tasty treat to be shared, my mother would allow one of us to cut it in half and the other to choose which half they wanted. This gives power to the children and takes away their ability to complain about the outcome.
- Talk about the longer term. Sometimes things may not seem fair, but they will often even out over time.
- Talk about your child’s feelings that things aren’t fair. Tell them you understand that they feel frustrated or sad or jealous, and that those feelings are okay. This will give them the ability to recognise those feelings themselves as they mature.
- Don’t level the playing field. It can be tempting to control situations and help younger children to win or have an easier time, but in the long term, this will do them no favours. This is a prime opportunity to teach both the small kids and bigger kids about patience, kindness and compassion. And as all of them move out into the world, they will have a greater understanding of their role in helping others and handling disappointment when things don’t go their way.