“It’s not fair!” my daughter whined for what seemed like the twentieth time that week. “Tristan got to go to Great Wolf Lodge with his friends two times and I’ve never even been once!” I automatically responded, “Well, life isn’t fair!” And to this, she responded by whining even louder. (Cue my eye roll and deep sigh.) Clearly, my response meant nothing to her eight-year-old mind.
When your child thinks something is unfair, there are some keys to helping him or her gain a deeper understanding of an issue that plagues us even as adults. So instead of responding as I did, with “life isn’t fair,” here are 5 more impactful things you can say.
1. “I know that’s tough.”
Try sympathizing before diving in to correct your kid. Many times, when your child thinks something is unfair, it sounds like entitlement. Right off the bat, my reaction is anger, not sympathy. My quick reply communicates this: “Get over it and don’t act spoiled.” But the truth is that wanting things to be equal is a natural desire.
We’ve all been there when someone else got the thing we wanted. Take a moment to remember what that felt like as a kid. Then, let your child know that his or her feelings are valid.
2. “We’re uniquely made.”
When your child thinks something is unfair among siblings, this response is especially helpful. Show your kids something that has been uniquely made, like a piece of artwork or a knitted blanket. These were carefully crafted and have a beauty all their own. We are the same way; each person is unique!
There is a passage in scripture that I love that talks about how God carefully and lovingly crafted us in our mothers’ wombs. And because we are unique, our needs are too. Therefore, what’s “fair” is not getting the same thing all the time, but getting what we need at that moment in our lives.
3. “We’re all on a different path.”
Why was my friend accepted into the college of her dreams and I wasn’t? Why did my coworker get the promotion after I worked so hard for it? These are the kinds of questions that pester us at any age. And while there are no easy answers, we can explain to our kids that each of us is on a one-of-a-kind journey. Another person’s path is going to look different from our own.
Take your kids on a hike and point out all the variations in the path: rough parts, smooth parts, branches we trip over, or serene overlooks. We may not like the rough parts, but they help us get to a beautiful waterfall down the road and appreciate it even more once we’re there.
4. “Sometimes life gives you an opportunity to ask.”
There are times we need a nudge to ask for what we want or need, rather than assuming the world knows we want it. Sometimes we don’t even know what we want until a situation comes up and brings it to our attention. And while that may hurt at first, it can be a really good thing.
For example, maybe your child says, “It’s not fair that you spend all your time at baseball games with my brother!” You can gently ask, “What would you like to see happen?” Teach your child to ask for what he or she wants. Making our needs known, rather than simply whining about our circumstances, is a huge step toward maturity.
5. “Sometimes life gives you an opportunity to help others in the same situation.”
Sometimes we suffer in a specific way and it seems the suffering is pointless. But suffering is never a waste. It produces character and compassion.
Here’s a kid-friendly example: Ask your kids if they remember ever being the “new kid” in a group. That feeling of not knowing anyone and being left out stinks. It’s not fair when no one asks you to play at recess. But a year later, when you are comfortable in your place and another new kid joins the group, you have special compassion for what that kid is feeling. You can reach out to a new kid in a way that no one else can.
How do you talk to your kids about fairness?