Teaching your kids about Fairness and Wise Choices
“That’s not fair!”
With 5 kids – we definitely have to deal with fairness quite often around here!
My first response when my kids say “that’s not fair!” has frequently been – “Wow! You are so smart! You’ve already learned that and you’re only 6! (or 3 or 4 or whatever age they were) You are right – that’s not fair.” That response usually surprised them as they were not expecting it. 🙂
In the beginning of our parenting years, we were always trying to tell our kids what to do – “Be nice. Share. Don’t do that. Take turns.” etc. There is a time and a place for that – especially when your kids are really young. But as they start getting older (actually – even when they are toddlers and preschoolers) they can start learning how to make wise decisions.
Along with many other decisions in life – learning how to make a wise decision about what will be fair (or how to be fair) in a given situation is something that many kids are not taught “how” to do. They are just taught “what” to do.
Here’s the problem with that.
Ownership and Wise Choices
When kids (or anyone) do not see that they have a problem (in this case – being unfair) – then they will not feel responsible to fix that problem.
So, as parents (or educators, childcare workers, etc), we rush in to take ownership of their problem for them and tell them what to do with “their” problem (that they don’t think they have!).
Not very many people like to be told what to do when they don’t feel they have a problem. It will breed rebellion, resentment, frustration, anger, etc. And it won’t solve the problem.
Many kids are also not being taught “how” to make a wise choice. We see the results of that when they head off to college – and in many other areas of adult life as well as our wonderful “teen years”.
So – what to do?
The first step is to . . . . NOT take ownership of the children’s problem! 🙂
Hard to do? At first. But after awhile it gets easier! Show empathy that they have a problem (because you know there are always consequences – even if they are not aware of them). “Oh man – bummer. That doesn’t sound like a fair situation at all. What are you going to do about it?”
2nd – Ask more questions and listen more than you talk (ie – don’t lecture).
We all believe more in what we say than in what others say (there’s research out there somewhere that proves that). So – you have to get the kids to start thinking, talking and working out just what is going on and how THEY can fix THEIR problem.
3rd – If necessary – Offer to give a suggestion (don’t just give a suggestion/solution)
If the child is having trouble with really figuring out how to solve their problem – you can offer to give a suggestion – but don’t just offer the suggestion right off.
“So – you can’t think of how to fix your problem you have here with Danny? I do have some suggestions if you want to hear them.”
If they don’t – then don’t offer them. Just keep encouraging them that you know they can find a solution – or asking them more questions to help them think through some of it, etc. If they do want to hear them – offer them one and then ask “What do you think about that? Do you think that would work? Is that something you can do?” etc. This keeps the ownership in their hands.
They have to decide – to make a decision (hopefully a wise one) – about what to do with their problem.
4th – Allow them to make a decision (within healthy boundaries/choices)
Sometimes – if they are really having trouble solving their problem (or continuing to be fair, etc) – then we do have to help a little more. But again – we strive to empower our kids to make wise decisions – and to honestly, calmly and lovingly let them know that, with all decisions we make – there are consequences – good or bad (depending on the decision we made).
So – if they are not able to continue to play fair – then we have to present them with the consequences (or choices). “Johnny – I know you want to keep playing with Danny – so, if you think you can continue to play fair – great! If you are having trouble with it still, then we’ll just get together with him again another day. Ok? The choice is yours. What do you want to do? Do you think you can play fairly today?”
Stages of owning their problem
There are more ways to make this all work – and yes – the kids will fight you tooth and nail through it all.
They will often go through these stages:
1. Disrespect (whining, that’s not fair, etc)
2. Playing the victim (I can’t, It’s not my fault, I’m not good at that, etc)
3. And finally – Rejection (I hate you! You are the meanest mom I know! I’m never going to talk to you again!).
Just remember . . . this is normal. 🙂 Especially if kids have always been told what to do – they will not like or know what to with all the questions you are throwing at them. They don’t want to have to think – because that would mean they have a problem and they have to fix it (plus it’s hard work!).
If the parent (teacher, childcare worker) can fix the problem – then it must not really be their problem – it’s the parent’s problem, etc.
Allow your kids to go through these stages (trust me . . . it really does work!) and don’t get sucked into their emotions through it all.
KISS – Keep it Simple Sister!
Kids are quick to find loop-holes and inconsistencies . . . so the best advice is to “play dumb”. 🙂
Hunh? What does that mean?
It means . . . you stick with simple 1 or 2 word responses (along with lots of empathy and love) when they are going through their stages of fighting with you (above)
Good responses are:
- I know.
- That’s too bad.
- That stinks.
- I don’t know.
- Could be.
- Oh man.
When my kids get to the last stage (rejection) – I get kind of excited 🙂 . . . because the wise-choice/responsibility stage is next . . . where they have to choose to make a decision and own their action. 🙂 YAY!
The key & foundation = LOVE
The basis through all of this is – to love your kids (or the kids you are working with)! Let them know that you love them, care about them, think they are awesome, and that you are here to truly help them with “their” problem if they want your help (but it is not your problem to solve for them).
CAN do – not CAN’T do
Also (and this is huge!) – always focus on what the child can do instead of what they can’t.
For example – when my son doesn’t want to go clean his room, but he is supposed to before dinner – instead of saying – “Go clean your room. You are not getting any dinner till it’s done!” I will say “Hey bud – Come on down for dinner as soon as your room is done!”
This puts the ownership on them
– that they will get to experience the end result (dinner) when they have taken care of their problem.
It also gets their focus on the right thing.
If I told you “don’t think about a pink elephant” – what did you just think about? 🙂 Yep – a pink elephant! (But I told you not to! :))
So – if I’m telling Johnny – “Don’t be mean to that boy.” – what is he going to be thinking about? 🙂 Get the picture? So instead – you can say “Johnny – go have fun playing with your friend. I love seeing you guys playing so nicely!”
My son’s 2nd grade teacher was AWESOME at this! She would get her classes attention before entering a museum (or park, or wherever we were going) on a field trip – and instead of saying “Now – don’t touch anything in here because it could break. And if you do – you will be sitting with me in a time out.” Instead, she would say “Now – we are going into a FANTASTIC place – with all sorts of cool things to look at. Do any of you know what the rules are in this kind of place?” Someone will always say – “we can’t touch the stuff.” To which she would reply “Yes – That’s right. Great job. You are going to be so excited by what you SEE! So let’s go in and LOOK at all the wonderful things . . . and see if you can find [some cool, interesting item]. . . ”
You have smart, wise kids who want to be in control and make their own decisions . . . so teach them how! You can do it!
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