According to my three year old, you need to precisely portion the two pieces and then hand him the bigger slice.

Children have their own way of understanding and acting in social situations. They learn the rules from watching others and then imitating their behavior.

You often find children arguing over who got a bigger piece of the chocolate cake (though broccoli seems to be less of an issue), why they are sent to bed one full hour before their older sibling and how come they are not allowed out of the house after 10PM, like their older peers.

The principle underlying all these examples is fairness. Being fair means treating people equally without favoritism or discrimination. But what seems fair to us doesn’t necessarily seem fair to our children...

So, how can we solve ‘fairness arguments’ with our kids?

Him, his sibling and his peers: When your child is saying: “That’s not fair!” he is placing himself in a reference group, without being aware of it. He is comparing himself to either his siblings, his peers or sometimes even to you.

If his 14 year old sibling is allowed to stay up until 9:30PM, why shouldn’t he be allowed the same!? After all, they both share the same parents, the same house and thus, in all fairness, should also share the same house rules.

You, on the other hand, place your son in a different reference group: the group of ‘10 year old children’. Tell your son that you agree that he should get the same treatment his sister does. It is only fair then, that he gets the same curfew she had when she was ten years of age.

Explaining to your son, why you think he should be placed in a different reference group to the one he thought of might help him accept your decision. At the very least it will help him see the logic behind your decision.  

We are all individuals- We are all different:
Most children are smart enough to show you that there are enough examples in their reference group to refute your preliminary claims.

For example, your daughter wants to go out to the movies with her friends on a school night. When you tell her you don’t think that’s a good idea she replies: “But all the other girls are going!!”.

This is the perfect time to launch your second line of attack; The subtle version of “Would you jump off the roof if x did?”

There are a few different reasons underlying your decision. It may be that your daughter is not really a ‘morning person’ and going out at night means she won’t be able to be ready in time for school the next morning, or perhaps you believe that this might affect her concentration in class the next day.

Explain to your daughter that your decision is based on what’s best for her. That same logic might not apply to her friends. Some of the other girls might not be affected as much by lack of sleep, or perhaps their parents don’t mind as much if they doze off the first few couple of lessons at school.

Fairness, in this case, comes second to her individual needs.

Train them to become judges:
In cases where two siblings are claiming they were wronged, try a different approach. Instead of visiting the lion’s den try delegating this daunting role to your own children.

Have them deliberate a solution that is acceptable by all. For example: One of them cuts the cake equally and the other chooses which piece he wants.

Another option is that they take turns in judging their arguments; They will have to accept each others verdict, which is not easy, but with time they’ll understand that if they judge fairly, their sibling is more likely to do the same.

And when it comes down to it, fairness is the name of the game, right?

It may be tempting to tell your kids in the heat of the moment that: “Life isn’t always fair!” but showing your kids how fairness works may produce better outcomes.

Fairness depends on relating to the right reference group, it is balanced by other values such as the person’s individual needs. And of course, the more fairly you act toward others- the more likely others will act fairly to you.

This column is brought to you as general information only and should not be a replacement for professional advice.


Shimrit Nothman has a Masters degree in Conflict Resolution and believes that like charity, conflict resolution begins at home. She recently published her first children's book teaching conflict resolution in the family on Amazon. If you have any questions for Shimrit, please use the comments section below or email her at familymatters.jpost@gmail.com


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