01 Oct Tips for Fostering Fairness in Children
By Marie Marchand
“That’s not fair!” is a phrase that we all hear as parents on a regular basis. Every time we hear it, we are thinking: “What’s going on again?” Children seem to understand injustice at a very early age, particularly when it has to do with something that they want. What does it mean to be “fair?” The classic work in moral development by psychologist Laurence Kohlberg showed that children through age seven tend to define fairness as “everyone getting the same.” But in reality, fairness is not about all things being equal. Fairness, rather, is about actions and consequences that are right, honorable and equitable.
Here are some tips that you can use at home to help develop a sense of fairness in your home.
1- Have family meetings, make up house rules together and be consistent:
Children, particularly school-aged kids, thrive when they have rules, structure and boundaries. As teachers, we know this, which is why you’ll often see rules clearly displayed in the classroom. Talking about the house rules and/or writing them down helps children know what is expected of them. Examples of rules might include “use gentle hands,” “use indoor voices,” or “use kind words.” Once you’ve developed your rules together, follow them consistently to avoid confusion and help each other out if they forget.
2- Be a role model:
Children pay close attention to how adults follow the rules and treat people. Children will notice inconsistencies and will point them out to you. Be sure to demonstrate the types of behavior you’d like to see in your kids.
3- Listen to their side of things:
Listen to your children. Validate their feelings. Find out what happened and become the mediator when there is a conflict. Don’t simply blame and give out a consequence in a reactive way. If a child breaks a rule, the consequence has to be clear and logical and the children need to know what will happen in advance. That’s fair! Listen to what our child has to say before deciding what to do.
4- Empower them:
Talk to your children about what is fair and not fair. Teach them what is right and wrong, read books with morale in it. Discuss main points of interests. Talk about how they would feel if unfairness would happen. Ask them if it was fair, and ask them to give reasons why. As children get older and their brains develop, share more sophisticated examples of injustice from articles, newspapers, books and websites. Ask them about their opinions.
5- Fair, but not equal:
“She got more than I did!” “You just bought him shoes, I want some too!” While it’s easier to simply equalize things to keep the peace, this is not the best strategy. Treating siblings “fairly” really means that everyone gets what he or she needs, not what she or he wants because he throws a tantrum! A good way to think of it is, “fair, but not equal.” A good book on the subject is “Siblings Without Rivalry” by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlich.