“It’s not fair!”
Maybe it’s unfair that one kid got a chocolate chip cookie today and the other didn’t get a cookie yesterday. Perhaps a child finds it unfair they don’t get to go first down the slide. The situations where unfairness presents itself in childhood are endless!
Every kid has said it. And it’s true: life is not fair. Kids will recognize this early on. We, as parents, can help our kids navigate through this realization.
With guidance and professional tips for every stage of parenting, BLOOM offers online resources and courses to guide you on your parenting journey. Discover courses on Emotional Control and Regulation, Parenting a Needy Child, Collaborative Conversations with Teens, and more.
Helping Your Child Understand “Unfairness”
In moments when life is not fair, and your child is in the midst of it, it can be challenging as a parent to know what to do. You want to avoid making your child feel unimportant but also attempt to teach your child that sometimes life doesn’t go exactly how they want it to.
It’s best to broach this topic of life being unfair with your child at a calm, uneventful time rather than at the moment when something seems unfair to them.
Begin by teaching your child that things are not always black and white. Often, we do one thing A, and we naturally expect to get results B. We can help guide our kids so that our children are aware that things don’t always pan out as neatly and fairly as we envision. The goal of understanding fairness is to help them develop the concept in their minds that life is not always fair.
We often see this play out with twins. In the beginning, they may get treated exactly the same, but as they grow older, they may expect to always be treated fairly, although that’s not really possible. Or, one may have a talent that the other does not have. Sometimes children perceive something as unfair, but in reality, they need to realize that parents are human too and cannot give exactly equal pieces of chocolate cake.
Acknowledging Your Child’s Feelings When Life Isn’t Fair
When a parent is dealing with a situation where a child is complaining of unfairness in the moment, they can still use a particular methodology by saying, “I know you see that she got a quarter of an inch more chocolate cake than you did and I know that you feel like that’s not fair. I hear you, you are right, it’s not fair.”
With this kind of statement, you are showing an acceptance of their feelings of unfairness rather than trying to rationalize it, and you are showing them that you can handle their intense emotions and remain connected to them through it.
When a parent can handle their child’s strong feelings, it gives them the space to have strong feelings and then move through them and heal from them.
But how does one move through feeling like something isn’t fair or when something has angered us? By allowing ourselves the time and space to really feel it to move beyond it.
If a child stays stuck in his feelings of unfairness and just keeps up his mantra of “It’s NOT FAIR!” “It’s NOT FAIR!” then they are missing the acceptance that life isn’t fair. This is when it is time for a reality check.
Questions to Ask Your Child About Fairness
It’s best to give your child a reality check at a time when things are not volatile. For example, taking advantage of times when you’re driving in a car is a great and comfortable time to provide a reality check.
You can do this by having a conversation with them and giving them examples of things in life that are not fair.
Ask your child, “Is it fair that your friend got a scooter and you didn’t?” They’ll realize that, no, it’s not fair.
"Is it fair that you get a big piece of roast chicken for dinner, and your baby sister only gets a few slivers of chicken?" No, that's not equal and fair.
“Is it fair that your older brother goes to bed later than you?” No, that’s also not fair.
"Is it fair that you got a prize from your teacher for knowing your multiplication and your friend didn't?" It's great for you, but your friend might not feel it's fair.
The setting of a car is great for this conversation because when you are driving, you are not really making eye contact with your child. This gives them the space to accommodate their strong feelings that would come up during a conversation about unfairness, whereas having eye contact could make them nervous.
Helping Your Child Understand That Life Isn’t Fair
Life isn’t fair. The sooner you can help your child understand this realization, the resilient you’ll be in adolescence and adult life!
It’s normal for a child to question the fairness of the world. It’s also normal for parents to struggle to support their children through this phase.
BLOOM’s mission is to support children and families at their greatest point of need. With courses Parenting a Needy Child, Emotional Control and Regulation, and Collaborative Conversations with Teens, BLOOM provides applicable resources to help you better support your child at home.