“Billy got to sleep at
his friend’s house and I didn’t.”
“You let Courtney stay up and watch TV. It’s not fair!”
Kids these ages have a heightened awareness of what is or what isn’t
fair, but they often make judgments based on how they feel at the
moment, not on what makes sense or seems reasonable. A child who got
two new shirts last week may yell “unfair” when her sister gets one
new one this week.
One child was invited by a friend’s family to a baseball game that
wouldn’t end until late in the evening. The child’s mother, knowing
her family had to get up early the next morning, declined the
invitation. The child was devastated. “You’re unfair! I never get to
do anything!” Nothing her parents said made any difference.
Parents face a dilemma in such situations. They want to explain
their actions and they want their child to know that life often is
unfair. Yet, in emotional moments, kids don’t listen. All they know
is what they feel.
Parents also want to please their child. But when she’s very upset
about alleged unfairness, nothing will make her happy except getting
her way. This is difficult for parents to understand. They may feel
hurt and wonder if their child is the only one who acts this way.
Actually, such outbursts are so common that parents of early
elementary-aged children should simply expect them to happen.
When a child is very angry about unfairness, parents can try to
soothe her feelings; offer distractions, or leave her to calm down
on her own. In some cases, she may need to spend time alone in her
room until she can control herself. Some kids recover quickly while
others remain angry and unhappy for an afternoon or evening.
Eventually, time heals these temporary wounds.
What parents should avoid doing is lecturing their child when she’s
caught up in her feelings of unfairness. At such times, no one,
child or adults, wants to hear about the unfairness of the world.
It’s especially difficult for a six- to nine-year-old to pay
attention to other people’s misfortunes when she’s feeling
Talk to your child about her feelings at a calm time: “I know you
were disappointed about not seeing the movie. Sometimes we have to
accept when things don’t go our way.” Gradually introduce the larger
issues of unfairness. Tell her about others who are less fortunate
than she is, about people who learn to live with difficult problems.
You can also talk about your own experiences. When she is angry,
she’ll roll her eyes and complain if you say, “When I was your
age...” At a calmer time, however, she may enjoy hearing about your
early years and may understand that she has much to be thankful for.
If your child is saying, “You’re not fair!” over and over, you
should pay close attention. You may find truth in her complaints.
Perhaps she does have more chores than her brother; perhaps she
doesn’t get to do as much as her sister does; perhaps you’ve been
working long hours and are unavailable when she needs you. If you’re
willing to look at her situation and make some modifications, she
may start feeling better.
Often, small changes make a big difference. If you can’t change your
work schedule, you can still plan a special weekend with your
children. Arid you can alter the way you treat them so that one
sibling doesn’t always feel short-changed.
Unfortunately, it’s true that life is unfair, and you’ll hear
occasional complaints about this from your child. She may be unhappy
about incidents at home, school, or with friends. One child worked
for a week on his science project, only to lose the class prize to a
child who put together a display at the last minute: “It’s not fair.
Kira’s wasn’t even good!” Disappointment is inevitable. Encourage
her to find worth in doing her best, regardless of the judgment of
others. Help her to change unfair situations that can be remedied,
and trust that, with your love, support, and positive example,
she’ll learn to accept some unfairness that can’t be changed.