Fairness vs. Equality: Teaching Kids the Difference


Does this sound familiar in your household?

“Dad!”  How come she got a flowered sun hat and I didn’t?”

“Mom!  He always gets to stay up later than me.  It’s not fair!”

If cries of “UNFAIR!” are the most frequently heard accusation in your family, you are not alone. One of the most common sources of sibling conflict has to do with issues of fairness and equality. The possibilities for jealousy seem endless:

  • A newborn baby is awake at midnight, inspiring her toddler sister to wonder why her parents let the baby stay up late.
  • A toddler sees all the baby gifts for the newborn and wants to know why she doesn't get any.
  • A tween is furious when his pre-school aged sister gets a stern lecture for hitting, but he gets grounded for the same misbehavior
  • A sister feels slighted when her mom misses her swim meet.  She knows that her brother has special needs, but is sick of their mom “always putting his doctor visits first.”
  • A sister is given extra money to buy a formal dress for her prom.
  • A college-age son has a later curfew than his younger teen siblings.

It goes without saying that no two family members are exactly alike.  Even in the case of identical twins, all siblings develop their own unique personalities, preferences, needs, interests, strengths, and abilities.  Likewise, sibling age, temperament, physical abilities, learning styles, and developmental needs all necessitate individualized attention from parents.

One of the most important lessons siblings ever learn is that in family life, equality does not mean fairness and fairness does not require equality.  When brothers and sisters realize that many aspects of their family relationships will be entirely unequal, yet also completely fair, they are better able to accept differences, move beyond jealousies, and overcome destructive sibling conflict.

The advice in this article is from Signe Whitson, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and an advocate for the mental health of children and adolescents.  This and more can be found on her blog on passive aggressive behavior in all parts of your life.  She contributes her advice to My Baby Clothes Boutique to share with the parenting community.

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An active part of the Mom It Forward team, Jyl primarily writes about parenting, social good, and all things travel related. In a past life, Jyl was an award-winning copywriter and designer of corporate training programs for Fortune 100 companies. Offline, Jyl is married to @TroyPattee; a mom to two teen boys and a beagle named #Hashtag; loves large amounts of cheese, dancing, and traveling; and lives in the beautiful Rocky Mountains. Topping her bucket list is the goal to visit 50 countries by the time she's 50.


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