November 9, 2012

Should You Treat Your Children Fairly or Equally?

As a parent have you fallen into the pattern of what you do for one child you do for the other? Do you try to ensure your children are treated equally when it comes to attention, time and things?

Perhaps it's time to look at treating your children fairly instead of equally. Fair and equal are not the same thing. Treating children equally means you treat them exactly the same. Treating children fairly means you take into account the individual needs of each child.

For example, your youngest child needs a new pair of shoes. The sibling says, "I didn't get a new pair of shoes. That's not fair!" It's important for you as the parent to point out that their sibling outgrew their shoes and needed a new pair so that was fair. Getting a new pair of shoes, when they're not needed, simply because a sibling received a new pair would be equal treatment not fair treatment and in our family we believe in being fair.

Using a fair approach instead of an equal approach might be something you are not currently doing or perhaps you are challenged with doing it as consistently as you would like. Take a close look at why you treat your children equally instead of fairly. Ask yourself some questions. Do I not want to hurt my child's feelings? Does it bother me to see my child disappointed? Am I afraid my children will think I love one of them more than the other? What message am I sending to my children when I treat them equally all of the time?

Are your children learning from you that they should expect equal treatment regardless of the situation? Does that reflect how society treats us? Life isn't always fair and it certainly doesn't always treat us equally. That's an important lesson for parents to teach their children.

I encourage you to take small steps in changing the way you treat your children. Strive to treat them fairly and not equally. If you're unable to make this change on your own it might be time to enlist the help of a parenting coach or a counselor.


Heather said...

I have 3 kids that are 6, 7, and 9. When I hear, "that's not fair!" I tell them that everyone gets what they need. To help them understand I tell that it wouldn't make sense to get each of them glasses just because one of them needs glasses.

I also make a point to let them know what they can do to get the desired item (chores, mow lawns, Christmas, etc).

You have to work for what you want in life and too many parents do a disservice by giving their kids everything. Creating a sense of entitlement and instant gratification fuels the "It's not fair!" mentality.

Life is filled with let-downs and if we cushion the blows we rob our kids of teachable moments and opportunity to develop their coping skills.

Pam Dyson, MA, LPC, RPT said...

Thanks for taking the time to comment Heather. Children learn best by experience. It sounds like you are doing a good job of letting your children experience disappointments and using them as teachable moments.

Anonymous said...

Here's a good way to teach kids that fair doesn't always mean everyone gets the same thing. You get all of your kids (and maybe even some of their friends or cousins) together, and you have them each pretend they have a different need. It can be special needs, or it can be basic needs. Maybe you can have some of the kids pretend they're hungry, some pretend they're thirsty, and some pretend they're cold. But then you give them each pretend Apple slices (or glass of juice, or jacket, or anything that will help at least one of their pretend needs, but not all).

If you only have teens and preteens, though you can also use things you need to earn, like grades in school or privileges. Because people around this age can usually understand the difference between what you want and what you earn better than a 6 year old can. Maybe you get the kids together, and have them pretend they all want to be allowed to stay out later on weekend nights (if you're not their parent or guardian, pretend like you are). Maybe have some of them pretend like they're very responsible, some of them pretend like they're only responsible some of the time, and some pretend like they're not very responsible at all. But then you let them all stay out later on weekends. Ask them if they think it was fair, why they think it was or wasn't fair, and then explain why they are or aren't correct.

If one of your kids complains that you let his/her younger sibling(s) get away with everything, or that you give his/her older sibling(s) more freedoms than you give him/her, what you say should depend on the age of the child who is complaining. If it's an 8 year old, you can probably just say something like, "because he's younger than you and he doesn't know any better," or, "because she's older than you and she has more experience."

For a middle school/Jr. High or high school age kid, simple explanations like the ones I mentioned might not work as well, even if you also say something like, "fair doesn't always mean the same. It means everybody gets what they need or what they deserve." Kids this age might think (or even say), "well, it still wasn't fair because I didnt get what I needed. Nor did I get what I deserved." So for them, you might also want to ask them about the first time they did something (first time riding the school bus, first day of baseball or dance class, first time going to summer camp, etc.). Ask them if they knew what to expect or what was expected of them. Ask them if they knew the rules or moves right away. Then say something like, "but as you did it more and more, and you got more and more used to it, you learned what to expect and what was expected of you." And then say something like, "and just like that, you are my first child, so when you were his age I didn't know what to expect from kids that age, or how to deal with it. But now I know more about what to expect from kids that age and how to handle it.". That way, the kids might be more likely to understand that you' don't really love the other kid(s) more, they will just see it as you learning from mistakes, and fixing them.