“It’s not fair!” is one of the most common outcries of children in every age bracket.
Children will invoke the perceived power of the ‘fairness doctrine’ at any opportunity that does not turn out to their liking. Oftentimes they will succeed in intimidating their parents to change their minds by demonstrating the lack of fairness that was inadvertently displayed.
“Why is it always my job to do this?” or “How come you always punish me and he gets away with it?” And, “She got the better/bigger one!” are oft-heard proclamations of children self-interpreting the ‘fairness doctrine’.
The question arises; shouldn’t parents treat all their children equally? Is it not appropriate to dole out equal amounts of love, attention, and gifts to every sibling in the family?
Naturally, parents should do their best to treat their children in a fair manner. However, here is the key: Fairness does not necessarily mean equality. Being fair is not synonymous with treating every child in an identical way. Children and parents alike will do well to internalize this lesson.
In a school setting, fairness is defined by equality, where each student receives equal privileges and opportunities.
In a family setting, however, it is neither realistic nor advisable to treat all children identically. One child has certain needs or abilities that the other lacks. One sibling is older and the other is younger.
Parents want to focus on giving equal consideration to each child; however that does not translate into equal treatment. Whenever measurably possible, goodies should be doled out with equality, to avoid the ‘His piece of cake is bigger than mine!’ syndrome.
Some children must go to bed earlier than others, due to their schedule or personal sleeping needs. One sibling may require tutoring, extra-curricular activities, or more motivation than his sister or brother.
Whenever equal treatment is not possible or sensible, the children’s appeal of the ‘fairness doctrine’ should not prevent parents from doing whatever must be done. Explanations that expound upon why the unequal treatment is truthfully impartial will go a long way to ease children’s minds.
The fact that each sibling has unique needs that may require different treatment can be a challenging concept for children to grasp. Therefore, it is wise to repeat and reinforce the message that while differences may appear unfair, they are necessary and unbiased.
Remember that the constitutionality of the ‘fairness doctrine’ must be interpreted by parents, not by children!