“It’s not fair!!!!” has become a regular complaint in my house in the last year or so. My 6 year old has become relentless about anything and everything that doesn’t create parity between him and his younger sisters. My husband feels the need to fix any situation where one of our kids waves the unfair flag but when my 2 year old recently started chanting it too, I knew I had to make some changes in our house.
Creating fairness for children all the time is a recipe for disaster. Life isn’t fair. As adults we know this without question. Yet if we allow our children to experience only fairness when they’re little, they will never be able to handle it when things are ‘unfair’ as they get older. We complain about how entitled children have become which is the result of the cultural shift to protect children from experiencing negative emotions. But how can we expect them to become resilient, emotionally mature adults if we don’t give them the tools to handle the reality of what’s to come?
Talking to kids about the concept of fairness can be challenging. Their little brains are still developing the ability to see outside of themselves and they’re perception of events is often black and white. When my daughter’s school has a PD day, my son believes that he shouldn’t have to go to school either. As parents we need to help children understand that some things are within our control and some things are not. It reminds me of the Serenity Prayer: Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. I can control if they each get an equal sized piece of birthday cake. I can’t control if they have different PD days. Helping them embrace this concept will save them a lifetime of frustration and set them on the path of choosing to focus on what they can control and improve within their lives.
There are lots of situations where fairness should be both demanded and expected. I’m not suggesting that concepts which violate a person’s fundamental rights should ever be lumped into the “Life’s not fair, deal with it” category. Without question, every person should be willing to stand up for those ideals. And when my kids are older, we’ll have conversations that delineate when a situation is truly unjust and needs a voice versus one that simply didn’t go their way.
So what do you do when they’re little and waiving the unfair flag? Today I bought a pair of shoes for my middle daughter. I didn’t get the other two anything because…well…they didn’t need new shoes. My son’s first reaction was an outraged “It’s not fair!” to which I responded, “You’re right, it’s not. And that’s OK. You didn’t need new shoes and you are not going to get the same things all the time. Sometimes she will get something and other times it will be your turn.” In this situation I’ll follow-up with a discussion of times when he got or did something that his sisters didn’t to help him develop perspective. Sometimes I feel like I get through and other times I don’t. But I’m going to keep having those conversations calmly and without compromise: Yes it’s unfair and that’s OK. I think it’s starting to work because tonight’s meltdown didn’t last long compared to previous ones.
Helping my children develop a healthy and well developed EQ is really important to me. I’ve met too many people who have a victim mentality and believe that life happens to them, not that it’s a result of what they put into it. People like this view success as lucky, not the result of persistent effort. Then there are other people who focus on the things they can’t change and end up frustrated, discouraged or depressed because it was never within their power in the first place. I want my kids to be able to roll with life’s punches and never be felled by them. That can’t happen unless they have a solid understanding that fairness isn’t guaranteed. It’s not automatic and you’re not entitled to it. But you can change what you can control and that’s a powerful mindset.