Two of the most common transitions during the day that result in sibling rivalry and a battle between what is perceived as fair vs. unfair are getting ready for the day to begin and when it is time for bed. Children’s concepts of fairness tend to evolve over time. Around three to four years old children think in a way that is similar to I want and if I don’t get then it is unfair. Around seven to eleven years old children tend to think that equality always is what is fair. They have similar thoughts of if my friend Lacey got a new toy then I deserve to get one too and if I don’t then it is unfair. Around middle school age is when children start to develop a “big picture” approach to fairness, knowing that sometimes a person may get something that they want, but life has a way of working itself out and at some point they will get something that someone else wants. Waiting for your child to come to a place of understanding of how life works in regards to fair vs. unfair can be exhausting and defeating for parents, but the good news is that there are ways to make this easier on you. Follow these simple tips to help you during the fair vs. unfair battle with your child:
- Explain yourself – Walk them through your logic. This may not immediately calm your child, but it is important for them to hear that there are different perspectives of the situation at hand. Rather than saying the tempting response of “Because I said so” or “This is how it is going to be”, respond to them with empathy showing that you understand their feelings while still explaining why you are doing what you are doing.
- Point out what is really important – As adults we understand that fair does not always mean identical. Look at the big picture to find your child’s need behind the battle of fair vs. unfair and try addressing this need instead. For example, if the battle is over your attention it may be helpful to acknowledge that they will both get “mommy time”.
- Listen to their feelings and express understanding – Very few things feel better than feeling validated for our experiences, no matter how old we are. Adjust yourself to get on your child’s eye level and give them your full attention. Instead of immediately jumping to solve the problem at hand try reflecting emotions that they are experiencing. For example, “I can see that you are sad because you wanted the toy first.” Pause. The key is the pause. This type of response portrays to your child that you empathize with them, understand where they are coming from, and are willing to sit with them in that emotion.
- Bounce it back to them – Encourage siblings to come up with a solution themselves. Not only does this give the parents an opportunity to be the observer rather than the conductor, which can be refreshing at times, siblings also tend to stick to this solution more because it is an idea that they came up with themselves. Allowing your children to come up with their own personalized solution to the issue at hand also increases their ability to compromise and empathize with another person, which are important social skills.
- End the conversation if necessary – If the conversation is unhealthy, but continuing you have the right to walk away from it and take a “time out”. It is important to objectively look at the conversation and gauge if the conversation is beneficial for all parties that are participating. If a “time out” is necessary, it is important to return to talking about the issue after the “time out” when it would foster a healthy conversation and closure about the topic being discussed.