Fairness: What Do Kids Mean When They Compare What They Get to Others?

“It’s Not Fair”

Down Time

“Are we treated fairly?”
“Do you love me as much?”

Do you often hear your child say, “It isn’t fair!” “What about me?” Preschoolers and children often try to figure out how they fit into families. They seem to want to know that whatever is being given out from food to toys that they get their fair share. But what are they actually so worried about when there seems to be enough to go around?

The Meaning of Fairness: Reading Between the Lines.

Although kids complain about “things” that need to be shared, underlying the complaints are wishes for LOVE and APPROVAL to be shared. Children today live in two-parent, single parent, and blended families. They are looking to fit in and not feel left out.


Things are a way kids measure where they belong.
Here are some ways to decode complaints about fairness:
1. Statement: “Lia has more dolls than me! I want the one with the flowery dress. She already has one.”
Translation: “ Lia has more love than me! I want proof that I am loved as much as that beautiful doll. Don’t you think I’m as beautiful as Lia?”
2. Statement: “ Todd has more Lego guys that I do. His have helmets and everything. I have four guys and he has five.”
Translation: “You think Todd is more important than me because he is better at building Legos than I am. You love him more because he’s a better builder.”
3. Statement: “You gave Leslie a bigger piece of cake than you gave me. And hers has icing with it, too. I like icing and especially that chocolate cake.”
Translation: “You think that Leslie is more important than me. That’s why you give her more. You don’t give me approval when I do good things. You give her special treatment.”
4. Statement: “ Just cause Cole got an A on his spelling paper, you spent more time watching his favorite movie. I like movies too. Just cause I’m not as smart you don’t watch shows with me.”
Translation: “I have trouble with reading. I’m not very smart. In this family, if you are smart, daddy likes you more. He spends more time with you. Why can’t I be smart?”


How To Separate Feelings about Love and Approval from Fairness

Sometimes everything isn’t fair. Sometimes you inadvertently spend more time with one child rather than another on any single day. Sometimes you do cut a cake in different sizes or read longer to one child than another. Children are different and they need different things. Everything isn’t equal because kids aren’t like cookie cutters that have all the same sizes and shapes.

So how do we separate the ideas about fairness from ideas about love and approval?
The answer isn’t simple but it does mean we need to pay careful attention to underlying messages.

Kids need to hear out loud and frequently that we love them and approve of them as individuals. They need to hear specific, concrete, examples of what we admire, enjoy, and take pleasure in when we are with them. They need these specific statements to replay in their minds whenever they need them the most.

Our words become their inner voices that affirm their self-worth and their self-love.

When children know we love and approve of them, they love and approve of themselves.