Fair Parenting? A response to “That’s not fair!”

Should “Fair Parenting” be the goal?

That’s not fair! Parents of multiple kids hear that comment pretty frequently and it’s enough to drive anyone a little mad. One mistake parents often make is attempting to bend over backwards to make things fair for their kids.

As parents it is not your job, nor is it realistic, to make the world fair for your children. However, it can be a great lesson to teach your kids how to cope with things when they’re unequal.

Light bulb moment…when it comes to parenting fair doesn’t have to mean equal! Fair is giving each child what they need (not want). Understanding a child’s individual needs can help guide parents to respond uniquely to each child.

Although it is common for children to express their need for fairness the underlying motivator is often not simply the desire for the same as everyone else. Fairness is more about children’s comparisons of themselves in relation to others and their desire for reassurance that they are worthy. Worthy of attention, worthy of affection, and worthy of tokens of your love. (Tokens can be in the form of the last yogurt, the first to press the elevator button or that one smiley face sticker they both want).

If we focus on the underlying need for fairness, the desire for feeling worthy, a parents typical response to “That’s not fair” can be improved. I’d encourage you to validate the need they’d like you to meet. For instance, when a younger brother gets frustrated that their older brother can stay up later than them. A parent may give in and let the younger child stay up in order to avoid a meltdown or say something along the lines of “Too bad, you know it’s bedtime”. Instead, I would encourage a parent to say “You’re upset your bed time is earlier than your brothers. His bed time was earlier too when he was your age. Would you like to read a book together to relax before bed?” With the last response the parent has successfully validated their child’s feeling of frustration, expressed that they’re consistent with each of their children’s bedtimes and offered to provide attention in a positive way by reading together.

As a parent you love all of your kids uniquely you should also treat them uniquely. Don’t let striving for fairness stress you out. Strive for meeting their needs.


Angela Steranko, Psy.D. 1/12/17


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