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“It’s Not FAIR!”

scale-justiceDefinitions of “fair” vary.  To be “fair” can mean being free of bias, injustice, or deceit.  “Fair” can mean moderate conditions or quantities (e.g., fair weather, fair health, a fair income). Most children, though, use the word “fair” in two ways.

First, children use “Fair” to mean “I didn’t get my way.”  For example, when told that it is time to go to school, a child may protest and say, “It’s not fair! I want to go to grandma’s house instead!”  Of course, it is easy for a parent to point out the absence of logic with the “I didn’t get my way” juvenile definition of “fair.”  Could you imagine the absurdity if your 12-year-old said, “Why does my 19-year-old brother get to vote, drive, and go to college?  It’s not fair!” Obviously, a child will often protest simply for the sake of protesting and refuse to acknowledge the parental point of view.  A “Maximum Strength Parent”, though, will stay firm and not “give in” to this illogical interpretation of the word “fair.”

The second way that many children use the word “fair” is to mean “equal.”  For example, my brother got a bigger piece of pizza than me, that’s not fair!” Parents often get entangled in this obtuse, illogical definition of “fair.” Nowhere is it written that all children should have “equal” or “the same” amount/type of “stuff.” And to actively teach (or inadvertently reinforce) that unrealistic concept to your child simply sets your child up for disappointment when reality sets in.

It is more realistic and productive for you to teach your child (over the years and over the tears) a subtle definition of “fair” involving two main points:

  1. “Fair” refers to equal “opportunity” (not equal “stuff”)
  2. “Fair” means that everybody gets what they “need” (and, of course, everybody has different needs)

These definitions match reality and are therefore much more practical and useful. For example, when one of my children began wearing glasses, the others, at first, wanted glasses too, but I told them that they would not get glasses simply because they did not need glasses.  A well-meaning family member suggested that I buy my other children non-prescription sunglasses, “to be fair.”  I rejected that suggestion because that was not going to give the message I wanted to convey, namely, that I work to get everybody what they need, not to give everybody the same thing.  Although my children (the ones with 20/20 vision) were at first disappointed, they “got it,” clearly saw why there needed to be a “discrepancy” regarding glasses, and they did not at all view the situation as “unfair” (puns intended).

Consider another subtle flowery example (with which you may have a disagreement). I sometimes bring home flowers for my wife and two daughters.  At first, my older son was disappointed and asked, “What do I get?”  I explained (from my “traditional” or perhaps “archaic” perspective) that boys give flowers to girls, and I allowed him to give the flowers that I purchased to his sisters while I gave other flowers to his mother.  His disappointment was short-lived, and now, when I bring flowers home he gets very happy because he very much enjoys giving flowers to his sisters.  He understands this to be “fair,” because even though he “gets nothing” (in terms of stuff) he “gets everything” (in the form of an opportunity to give).