It’s Not Fair!

It’s not fair!

How often have we heard this from the mouths of our children? It’s the whine, the angry outburst, the complaint, the sense of being wronged.

She has more than me – it’s not fair…….

I was given more punishment than the other kid – it’s not fair……

The teacher doesn’t understand – it wasn’t my fault and it’s not fair………

In our busy days it’s very tempting to respond and say ….”Well, the world’s not fair- that’s just how it is! “  

Instead if we pause and listen for a few seconds we may help our children understand what is fair and what is unfair rather than leaving them feeling resentful.  

What is fair? 

Fair may be defined as the treatment of someone or something that is just, deserving, reasonable and right. It is subjective and therefore different in every situation. For something or someone to be seen as fair our children need to be aware not only of what’s right and wrong but to see everyone to get what they need.    

What does the concept of fairness mean? In social and emotional terms fairness is a quality of justice and impartiality, rationality and suitability.

Is fairness the same as equality? Fair doesn’t mean equal and equal isn’t always fair. 

Let’s look at the two examples below 

Fair doesn’t mean equal …….

In this scenario you may give your two children aged 5 and 8 years a weekly allowance or pocket money for completing tasks or jobs around the house to encourage a sense of family cooperation and shared responsibility.

e.g. 1 

Let’s say you give the 5 year old $5 and the 8 year old $8 weekly. The younger child may see this as unfair because it is not equitable. The reality is that the older child is capable of better understanding and responsibility and your expectations of them are higher, therefore the older child is given more.

How do you explain to the younger child that this is fair?

Research has shown that younger children have a more collective sense of fairness as equality. The 5 year old may still be very egocentric and unable to think outside their own needs. They don’t like the result and therefore it seems unfair to them. First we need to acknowledge and accept their feelings. It is good to explain that the difference in amount may be related to age and the ability to remember and complete the household tasks. As they are older they are more deserving of more allowance as you expect them to do more at home. 

Equal isn’t always fair……..


Let’s say you give both the children the same $5 allowance /pocket money each week. The older child may feel that this is unfair because more is expected of him/her and that the younger child is not doing enough to earn their $5. 

How do you explain to the younger child that this is not fair?

Fairness is an abstract concept. As children develop their sense of right and wrong they learn to judge situations and apply this knowledge. The 8 year old is expected to do more household tasks yet is being given the same amount as the 5 year old who may do less. Again, acknowledge their feelings before gently explaining that the 8 year old child is more deserving of more allowance because they are older and you expect them to do more at home. 

At School 

At school children see instances of fairness and unfairness being demonstrated every day. This may be in the classroom, in the playground, on the bus or train, on the street, by teachers and fellow students. It may be seen in the allocation of resources, the application of rules, development of friendships and relationships.

We want to keep our children and young people engaged in school and all the extra opportunities it offers. When our children perceive that something or someone is unfair they may lose trust. If this continues they may become disengaged and at worst demonstrate negative behaviour. Incidents of perceived or real unfairness stir up emotional responses. The answers we as parents give are not always what our children want to hear or believe they should hear. The first thing to do is to be available for your child. The answers start with listening, acknowledging and talking to our children about their feelings. It may help to discuss the event from different perspectives (How do you feel about this? How does the teacher feel about this? How do your classmates feel about this? Did your actions affect others? What were the consequences?) before offering your response. Here are real opportunities for social and emotional growth, wellbeing and the development of responsibility and resilience.

Your response may or may not be what your child wants to hear. What is important is that you listened. You acknowledged their feelings and responded. As always if this is a continuing issue for your child then make an appointment to meet the teachers. 


Oh the joys of parenting – it’s really not fair!



This is a really interesting article worth reading from The Conversation (Australian content) 


From NZ


This US based website has some practical tips:




Mary Digges *

MDR Education

Early Childhood Consultant for Angsana Education.  

* Mary Digges is an early childhood teacher, lecturer, trainer, assessor and consultant in education and has long promoted bilingual and multilingual education. Mary has worked in Australia, Singapore and China. 


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