“It’s not fair!” an important lesson from my 4 year-old

We’ve been in “It’s not fair!” territory with my four year-old recently. When he first started declaring that certain things fell short of his equity standards, I found myself trying to justify situations. I’d say, “No, it is fair that your sister has a new toy, as you had something last week.”

But my husband and I realised this was doing him a disservice – focusing on what is ‘fair’ isn’t always helpful. On many occasions I have found myself declaring that it isn’t fair that I  have these illnesses. Surely God or nature ought to cut me some slack and share it round! But that kind of thinking has led me into bitterness, and making pointless comparisons with other people’s lives. It’s not a nice way to live, and it doesn’t lead to peace or joy.

The idea of something being ‘fair’ seems to come down to us getting what we want. I’m not talking about wider societal equality issues here, or cases of injustice that need dealing with. I’m talking about those personal moments when our internal voice questions why we are in this situation while our friends seem to be in a better one. For me, that voice needs redirecting, and that’s what we are trying to instil in our children.

Instead of focusing on what’s fair, we have tried to help our son figure out how he really feels about the situation, and move beyond the disappointment. So when he says, “That’s not fair, she got to go to grandma’s house,” I have to hold back the temptation to snap, “It’s totally fair.” Instead, I’ll remind him that it being ‘fair’ is not the point. I’ll recognise his disappointment, point out that different people get different things and encourage him to be happy for his sister. We have found that he has virtually stopped using the ‘f’ word now.

If this all sounds a bit peachy, rest assured I still sometimes respond in a snappy, unhelpful way! But I think our conscious decision to reframe the question of ‘fair’ has been really helpful for all of us. I’m certainly a lot less worried about comparing my life to those of my friends.

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