If you are a parent, you know that spring break season is upon us which hopefully means some lazy, carefree days with our children.  Yet often times, our days can feel anything but carefree because of our kids arguing over the topic of fairness. 

As parents, we often bend over backwards to make sure that we give equally to each child and treat each child the same.  We assume that if each child gets equally, then how could there be any cause for hurt feelings or jealousy?  But, somehow when we put our energy into giving equally, each child ends up feeling a little shortchanged and like she is not quite getting her fair share.

I’ve heard many parents say that when it comes to fairness they feel like they can never win with their kids and that trying to always keep things equal is an exhausting task.  Parents tell me that their kids never appreciate how hard they try to be fair but they definitely notice the times when they think the parent is being unfair.

So, how do we avoid falling into the fairness trap?  We want to treat each child as a separate individual.  We want to respond to each child’s unique needs and feelings.  When we try to always be fair and give equally to our kids, each child ends up feeling like she’s somehow getting less.  But, when we treat our children as the unique individuals that they are, with their own special feelings and desires, each child ends up feeling as if she is getting more and fairness complaints become fewer and fewer.

But, kids are kids after all so what do we do when our six-year-old complains that her little brother got more goldfish crackers in his bowl than she did (a true scenario that happened at our house many years ago on the first day of spring break and while it may seem silly, it was the scene that helped me to truly understand why I was bound to fail every time I caved and fell into the fairness trap)?


Molly and Carter during the spring break when we learned all about fairness.

Molly – Mom, you gave Carter more goldfish than me!

Carter – No you didn’t, Molly has more than me!

Molly – No, I don’t!

Carter – Yes, you do!

Here are just a few thoughts on how we might handle this situation:

We could respond to the desire rather than the fairness complaint with a comment like, “Are you still hungry Molly?  Would you like more goldfish or a piece of fruit?”  If we’re in the mood we might decide to use a little humor like, “Okay, everybody freeze!  I’m calling the goldfish police right now and telling them we have an emergency!”  It also helps to remind ourselves that fairness complaints are often a child’s way of saying, “Do you hear me?  Do you value me for who I am?  Do you see me?” So, rather than starting to quickly count goldfish we can try to respond to the message behind our child’s words and show her that she is loved uniquely for whom she is.

“Rearing children is like growing a cactus, a gardenia plant, and a tub full of impatiens.  Each needs varying amounts of water, sunlight, and pruning.”

~Phyllis Theroux


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Posted in Attention, Children, Emotions, Fairness, Family, Happiness, Language, Motherhood, Parenting