It’s Not Fair!

“It’s not fair!”  How many parents are really tired of hearing that phrase?  I know I am!  It seems like I am hearing these three little words a lot lately.

My friend and mother of five children agrees.  She says those three little words are like the equivalent of a swear word in her house.  I know that when I hear the whiny “It’s not fair!” come from my little children’s mouths, I just cringe.  I have tried different approaches and as a parent, I try my very hardest to give my children what they need and treat them fairly.  So why are they still whining?

Young children think that fair means equal.

My son thinks that it is not fair that his sister gets to stay up later than he does.  He thinks that if she can stay up until 9 p.m. then so should he!  Children think that fair means everything is the same for everyone and they all get what they want.  What he doesn’t take into consideration is their age difference, the amount of sleep they require, how tired he is, etc.

Ultimately, I am the parent and I AM being fair.  Those three little words are simply his protest.  Instead of yelling back “Well life isn’t fair!” (which I do feel like doing sometimes) we talk about how fair does not mean equal and that when he is the same age as his sister he will get to stay up until 9 p.m. and his younger brother will go to bed earlier than him.  Then I give him an extra cuddle and tuck him into bed. That is fair.  Fair is giving each child what he or she needs at the time.

As parents, we need to remember that when children use this phrase they are merely trying to communicate their disappointment.

We should try to react calmly and acknowledge their feelings. “I know you are upset that you have to go to bed now.  Come on and we can have an extra cuddle when I tuck you in.”  Help your child to talk about his feelings and give him more vocabulary than just the all familiar, “it’s not fair”.  Help your children to substitute different words about how they are feeling for the “it’s not fair” phrase.  “I feel upset” or “That makes me sad” are just different ways for your child to protest their disappointment.  It will help your child deal with the disappointment if he or she is able to talk about it with a compassionate parent.

The hardest thing to remember, but maybe the most important, is that as parents we need to make sure we are not creating the problem.  If we have more than one child and treat them all the same, we could be feeding our children’s expectations for fair being equal.

In her article The Problem with “It’s not fair!”  Betsy Braun warns parents “In families with more than one child, parents bend over backward to make sure that the children get the same.  The children come to understand that fair means equal.”  If one of your children needs a new coat, resist the temptation to buy them all new coats.  You may avoid the dreaded “It’s not fair!” protest, but only for the short term.  Give your children what they need at the time and only what they need.  Rest assured that you are being fair.