Teaching Children Character: Fairness

Posted on Jun 20, 2012 by 4 Comments
Teaching Children Character: Fairness

Here’s my problem with fairness: it’s a load of crap. No where are we guaranteed fairness. It’s not like we’re given the right to fairness along with life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Fairness is a mirage that we conjure for our kids. Lovely to look at from a distance, but it’s not the way the world works.

Also, my own belief is that there is no great measuring stick out there that each person, the world over, accepts as true. Therefore, what’s fair to one person isn’t fair to the next.

So how to go about teaching something I don’t actually believe in…

A preschool near me (not my daughter’s) has an elaborate “fairness” vocabulary. I get why the do it. Children actually do have a very strong sense of justice and fostering that is a noble cause. But the execution seems to come out all wrong. Yes, children learn what is fair, but what really sticks is what is NOT fair. As in “That’s not fair!”

What can I say? It bugs me. It falsely sets children up to believe that people have an overriding sense of fairness and that we play by the rules. Rules that they must learn. Rules that are somehow imposed if broken.

But c’mon. That’s not true. There is too much to prove otherwise in the world and leading these little minds astray like that, well, that’s just not fair, is it?!?

I’d much rather approach this whole concept through teaching what is the right way to act/react to bring about inner compassion, because that’s the root of fairness, true fairness, when you have the compassion for another person and genuinely want to treat them with kindness, honesty, respect and fairness. When the feeling comes from within, not from outside rules.

It’s so easy to go spinning off into la-la land here! I mean, teaching character to young children is like holding onto a jellyfish. It’s wobbly, kinda icky, and much easier to just put down already. And yet we can’t as parents. It’s one of our many responsibilities to our families and the future.

I’m sure there are a slew of TV programs with fairness as a theme. Books, too. Way more than I can list here. Maybe you know of some and want to add it in the comments.

For me, when I’m faced with a situation that isn’t fair in my house, I stop, get down low and look my children in the eyes. I’ve been known to say, “Nope. That’s not fair is it? But it happened.”

Like on the playground, when my girl is going for that Fred Flintstone car and another kid comes and takes it when she gets distracted. I tell her it happens. I teach her how to ask for what she wants. I teach her about taking turns, about thinking about why another child acted in a certain way.

In essence, I try to give her coping skills to deal with un-fairness rather than being the fairness police. Because that’s the ultimate takeaway lesson for me: coping skills.

Crap will happen that is most decidedly unfair! And I want my children to know how to deal with it, how to make good decisions.

So that’s how I teach fairness in a way that doesn’t feel hypocritical. Because, really, if I don’t believe it, I can’t teach it. My girls – anyone’s children – can see through that.

But I do believe in compassion. I do believe in equality and justice. I do believe in teaching honesty and respect and by not sugar coating the fairness issue, I think I’m tackling all of those.

Or maybe I’m just kidding myself and my girls will go bumping around the world thinking that all people are unfair. Well, maybe. At least, with low expectations like that, they won’t be too disappointed. (joking!)

What do you believe in that helps you teach fairness? Maybe you are on the other side of this fence and have some words of wisdom on fairness?

Previous Character Lessons: Integrity, Kindness, Wisdom, Love of Learning, Bravery, Open Mindedness, Curiosity, Creativity, Patience, Humor, Hope, Love, Gratitude, Zest, Social Intelligence, Self Control, Grit

photo credit: rachaelvoorhees

Posted in: Parenting

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  • http://twitter.com/DNS107 Debbie

    I am on your side of the fence. Thank you for this article, it’s justifying how we are raising our children, and not the only ones doing so. I think if coping skills are taught with a combination of compassion, it would behoove a child much more than raising them to think everyone is nice, fair, understanding and patient. It’s a tough balance, because you want them to find that out on their own without them being hurt (physically or mentally) with a bit of guidance from us, I’d like to think we can use the correct vocabulary without name calling or bullying any other child would be very helpful.

  • http://32in32.com/ Pauline Hawkins

    I agree. Life isn’t fair. We have to teach our children how to cope with that truth, but we can also teach them to be as fair as possible to others. I ask my son how he feels when something unfair happens to him. He doesn’t like it, so I ask him not to treat other people that way. I like your straight-forward approach on this. I appreciate your honesty. I also agree with the necessity of teaching the other things: equality, respect, honesty, justice, and compassion. These are things they should have and expect from friends–that’s how they can choose a solid friend base. I want my son to know he deserves to be treated well, as well as to treat others well. Thank you for showing that this is not a simple fix.

  • http://twitter.com/modhomemodbaby kate nicholson

    You know, I was a little afraid of sounding to negative Nancy on this. Thanks for having my back!

  • http://twitter.com/modhomemodbaby kate nicholson

    I hear you. I love the idea of using the correct vocabulary, too. Our language is so very important, isn’t it?