Developing a sense of fairness

How do children learn right from wrong?

By example! They may not always do what we say, but eventually they will always do what we do. How can we model for our children appropriate ways of responding to difficult situations?

  • WE can cheerfully help children clean up a mess, helping them to realize that a mess is just a problem that needs to be solved. It doesn’t call for panic, for crying, or for blaming others.
  • WE can offer understanding by saying no to certain child requests. This teaches children that while they can’t always get what they want, they have managed to receive something even better: their parent or guardian who is there to understand them.
  • When WE are there to listen to them, they learn not only that life can be tough but also that they can always recover.
  • When WE show our appreciation and gratitude for them, they learn how much they are valued.
  • When WE forgive mistakes, they learn that no one is perfect and that they are good enough the way they are.
  • When WE apologize, they learn to repair the damage they cause.
  • When WE see their sides of things, they try to see ours — often because they don’t want to disappoint us.
  • When WE are compassionate during their outbursts, they learn that emotions are temporary and manageable.

How can you help your child?

Try daily to instill in the children a sense of fairness. Practice how to take turns during play throughout the day. Try to make clear and predictable expectations as children follow the rules of play fairly. They can role-play, imitating real-life people and recalling real-life experiences. Listen to each child’s explanations of a situation, and always validate his or her feelings.

Other strategies you could employ include:

  • Extending Private Space - Children are provided with quiet areas where they can discuss difficult emotions and brainstorm creative solutions.
  • Empowering Children Emotionally - Children learn to handle their feelings calmly through relaxation strategies, such as taking deep breaths before reacting.
  • Emphasizing Empathy - Children are taught empathy through discussions about how another person may be feeling, and ways of acting fairly toward others are strongly suggested.
  • Employing Resources - Children enjoy books, posters, puppets and socio-dramatic play, so we use these tools to extend important discussions.

Since a child’s brain is taking shape and observing new things in the environment, it’s important to teach values such as patience, honesty, and empathy at a young age. As your child’s first teacher, you set the example for your child at home — because he or she watches everything you do. Be sure to give children lots of opportunities to practice being “fair,” such as:

  • Inviting them to divide up a snack between siblings and letting the others choose their portions first.
  • Pointing out “fair” and “unfair” behavior in movies, in children’s books, and in life.
  • Discussing what could have been done instead, asking questions, and brainstorming solutions together.
  • Playing board and card games that create a fun and entertaining experience as children grasp the huge difference between behavior that is encouraged and praised and behavior that is discouraged and inappropriate.
  • Modeling good sportsmanship, especially as it concerns winning and losing.
  • Exploring books that include the “big idea” on fairness include:
  1. That’s not fair, Hare! by Julie Sykes
  2. Playing the Game by Kate Petty and Charlotte Firmin
  3. It’s Mine by Leo Lionni.    

Teaching children fundamental moral values will enable them to become strong, caring, and fair adults. Never forget that you are helping to build character that counts!

By Sandy Siegman, M.S. Ed.

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