Teaching Fairness

My kids are 4 1/2 years apart.  They truly love each other and it amazes me sometimes how close they are despite the large age difference.  Before Ava was born, I tried to prep my then 4 1/2 year-old about the time and energy that babies need.  We read books about it and for the most part he understood that this tiny helpless thing needed Mommy more than he did most of the time.

Fast forward to today, when a 7 1/2 year-old has a hard time grasping why this 3 year-old is allowed to “get away” with things just because she “doesn’t really understand,” or why she gets to pick the show when she is sick, or why I can’t get them both dressed in the morning simultaneously, and would you JUST. PUT. THE. SOCKS. ON!

Recently, I’ve seen this photo pop up a lot in my Facebook feed:

equality vs justice
Photo Credit

It is usually meant to have political overtones, but that is not what I am talking about here.

What I am talking about is redefining fairness with my kids to not mean that everyone gets the same thing, but that everyone gets what they need (I think Sarah Berhardson touched upon this a while back).

I printed this picture out without the words and cut it in half.  I showed the first one to Miles and asked him if he thought this picture showed fairness.  The conversation was as follows:

Miles:  No, it’s not fair.

Me: Well, how come?  Doesn’t each of the people here have the same size box to stand on?

Miles: Yes, but that little guy can’t see over the fence.  That’s not fair…

Showing him the second picture

Me: Well, does this one look more fair to you?

Miles: Yes, everyone can see over the fence.

Me: But one guy doesn’t get a box, and the little guy on the end has TWO boxes!

Miles: Yeah, but he just needed more help.


It was the beginning of the conversation about how his sister is that little guy and sometimes she needed more, or needed more help doing and learning things.  Yet he, being the big kid that he is, has already had lots more years of learning and help, that he might not need us to do things for him so much now.  I also stressed that I will always think of him as my baby, even when he is an old man, and that Mommy and Daddy would always be there to help if he truly needed us.  There are just certain things that he is completely capable of figuring out, and doing, on his own.

And you know what?  He has been utilizing this new way of thinking since our talk.  He has been problem solving better, at home and at school, and has even taken to getting himself up and ready (breakfast and dog feeding included!) in the mornings before school WITHOUT prompting!  A few times he has even said, “It’s ok, she needs you more,” when both he and his sister were asking for something from me at the same time.

I’ve confessed in the past that I often feel like I have no clue what I am doing in this parenting thing, but maybe, just maybe, these kids will be ok after all!

13 thoughts on “Teaching Fairness

  1. I work in an organization that has justice as its goal (easy to say, waaay harder to do). I think about what it means all the time and whether I am living up to the mission or not. That illustration is so simple & so perfect that it takes my breath away. I will share it with my colleagues and even use it in advocacy (especially in light of the Gov’s new budget).

    Do you know how lucky you are that your son GOT IT right away? That tells me he’s actually been learning about this all of his life. Kudos to you and thanks for a lovely post.


  2. This is great. My kids are 8 years apart so I dealt with a little less “not fair” as Kevin was old enough to understand that Julie needed more attention. In fact the problem that we’ve run into is “extra parent syndrome” as he feels he has the same rights to parent her as we do. You’ll find that Miles will grow to become quite the independent person. Since his sister was born, Kevin has just done what he needed to do in the morning and trucked out to the bus stop with no help from me. However, watch out that he doesn’t do a complete 180 and dote on her too much or you’ll be in my shoes! Independent Older and used-to-being-catered-to Younger.


  3. I LOVE this and am going to use it in my house, too. My girls are closer in age, but my older daughter (8) should be capable of doing more on her own than my younger daughter (5 1/2) and I always hear about how “unfair” it is. I’ve tries to point out that each child gets what she needs but I think this picture says it so much better. Thanks for sharing!


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