My children frequently say, “It’s not fair!!” I have a twelve year old, a seven year old and a 4 year old. I am frustrated and tired of feeling as if I need to defend my decisions or try to make everything equal.
All parents have heard those words of injustice; “That’s not faaaiiiiiirrrrr!” (Taking note to the drawn out faaaiiiiiirrrrr added for that extra dramatic effect.) As a parent it is difficult to hear those words and our first response is to justify our decision or to use logic to explain why something is the way it is or by saying life isn’t fair. To a child this means nothing, they do not have enough experience in the world to understand that life is not fair.
As adults we realize that fair doesn’t mean equal; fair means acting on the person’s individual needs at that time. Each stage of childhood has its own understanding of what fair is. Young children are egocentric, thinking of how things effect only them. They often feel that fairness equals sameness. For example when the youngest sibling says, “Why can’t I stay up like brother? It’s not fair!” As a parent you can say, “I understand that you are upset that your brother gets to stay up longer but you are 5 and 5 year olds need more sleep then 12 year olds. When you are 12 you can stay up later too.”
School aged children (age 6 to 9) are focused on rules, they are trying to understand the moral world. Rules should be followed! Rule following helps shape their understanding of their surroundings. For example if one of your children need a new back pack because theirs ripped the school aged child may say, “Well I need a new back pack too.” Reassure that child that you understand how they feel. “Right now your sister needs a new pack but yours is still ok.” Remind them that it all evens out, when it’s time for them to get a new back pack you will take them out to purchase one.
Teenagers often use it’s not fair when they don’t get the answer they want to hear. Teenagers want to have new experiences, but we as parents want them to be safe and make good choices. Teens are beginning to pull away from their parents to test their values; to see which ones work for them. “Everyone else’s parents are letting them go why can’t I go? It’s not fffaaaaiiirrr!” Many of these complaints are because of peer pressure. “I need to go, I’m not going to have any friends!” For parents the main thing is keeping our children safe. Explain to them that you are not just being mean, you have specific concerns. Explain what they are and brain storm together on how to be safe and allow some independence to your teen.
Tips and Suggestions for helping deal with “It’s not ffaaaiirrr!”-
1. Remove “that’s not fair” from you own vocabulary. Grown-ups say it more often than we think.
2. Stop trying to treat your children equal. Different children need different things. Trying to be equal only shows children that life should be “fair”.
3. Listen to the complaints, allow your children to express how they are feeling. Even if you don’t agree. This shows respect and that you care about how she or he feels.
4. Try not to get upset, getting distressed will show your child that they have reason to be upset.
5. Reassure your children that you love them but that they have different needs. Stating those differences and what it would be like if they were treated equally at all times.
6. Practice delaying gratification. Allow your children to learn to wait, their needs do not have to be instantly met.
7. Allow your children to feel disappointment, this is an important life lesson.