All people must be treated equally—including children. But when you’re dealing with kids of different ages, interests, and personalities; it can be difficult to make decisions without having one (or all) of them storm off yelling, “But it’s not fair!”

Let’s take the example of “The Chocolate Bar.”

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Suppose two kids are given a chocolate bar. As a parent/caregiver wanting to teach fairness, the smart thing is to split the chocolate in half. Right? But wait—what if only one child likes chocolate? Is it still fair? Or would it be better to give the whole bar to the child who enjoys it?

Fairness is about getting everybody’s needs met. If each person’s needs were identical, then splitting the chocolate bar in half would work perfectly 100% of the time. But we know all too well that our children are more nuanced than that.

This principle doesn’t just apply between siblings either. There’s also the question of what’s fair between parent and child. While a fancy steak dinner might feel like a treat for you, it might feel like a punishment to your kid. They may respond with one of the three R’s (rebellion, resistance, or retaliation), and you may respond by calling them spoiled or ungrateful. Things spin out of control quickly, all because you expected your child to have a certain reaction to a steak dinner they never wanted to begin with!

So, how do you make decisions regarding vacations, leisure time, food, and more that are truly fair for your children?

  • Get to know your kid. What does your child truly enjoy? Would they rather eat yogurt than chocolate? Would one prefer reading over watching a movie during leisure time? Finding out what each child likes will help inform the decisions you make for the entire family.
  • Practice consideration. We can’t always get what we want when we want it. To teach children to give and take, Marshall Rosenberg suggests an interesting form of educational play. Designate one sibling as captain for the day, and give them authority to make all decisions for the group. The curveball: they have to give their “powers” over to another sibling the next day. This activity helps children learn to be considerate of each other’s needs by treating each other the way they want to be treated.
  • Loop them into decision-making. One of the fathers I work with told me a story of how he once planned a big holiday trip to France for his family. He ended up being sorely disappointed because when he finally revealed his plan, his children told him they wanted to visit their friends in California instead. Make your life easier by involving your kids in family decisions every step of the way. Getting your children’s opinion not only sharpens your kid’s collaborative skills, but it also makes the entire family more harmonious.

Fairness is not about “one for you, one for me.” Being truly fair is everyone’s needs are met (which isn’t everyone’s wants are met) it’s about being able to take everyone’s needs into consideration and as you show what it looks and feels like your kids know how and reciprocate with the same consideration back to you.  This way everyone’s unique preferences are recognized and everyone feels so seen, known, and loved just the way they are.  From this point family problem solving that is bringing everyone one’s voice into the space will bring about outcomes that are preventing future disappointments.

P.S. Want to continue the conversation about what’s fair? Join our Facebook group to ask a question or share a challenge.

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