Trusting Children to be Capable

As a parent of an almost 7-year-old, I find myself in a myriad of conversations with said child about what’s fair. Scratch that. What’s unfair. There are moments when I run scenarios through my head trying to figure out how “fairness” even came into play. It’s easy for me to forget my child’s understanding of fairness is still a work in progress. Although a sense of fairness develops around the age of 7, his concept of fairness is still developing along with other social skills. Social skills don’t just “come” one day. They develop over time, and, spoiler alert, we’re still fine tuning them well into adulthood.

Back to this concept of “fairness”, though. I struggle with this one on a regular basis. I get frustrated at my child’s interpretation of it sometimes, and other times I get frustrated for him. I’ll see a situation play out and he’ll come to me. Sometimes there’s tears or anger while he talks to me. I tell him, “You’re right, buddy. That isn’t fair. I can understand why you feel that way.”. The Mama Bear in me wants to come out and go talk to the child, the parent, or the teacher. He’ll even ask me if I’m going to. There have been times I have and then there are times when I feel like I make the wiser decision to not do that. By allowing and teaching my child to solve his own problems, I am helping him gain independence and get along later in life. Usually, we talk it over together at a neutral point, and when we do talk, I have found some helpful tips to keep in mind (Silverman, Powerful Words Character Development, 2014):

  1. Fairness is based on need. Needs vary, and fairness doesn’t always mean “the same”.

  2. Fairness is based on desire. Everyone’s interests vary. For example, imagine you like to build forts, but your friend doesn’t, or maybe she doesn’t feel like it today. To make everything fair, should each of you be required to contribute to fort building the same amount of time or be given the same opportunity to build a fort?

  3. Fairness is based on merit. Everyone puts in various amounts of effort to a project due to desire or capability. Fairness doesn’t always mean “the same”.

  4. Fairness is based on appropriateness. Based on age, experience, and ability, what’s fair may change. You may say, “If you like to roller skate and your little brother is too young to roller skate, should you both be given roller skates for your birthday?”. Fairness doesn’t always mean “the same”. (Do you notice a pattern?)

Having these ideas in mind can lead to a deeper discussion about situations. Some helpful conversation starters are (Silverman, Powerful Words Character Development, 2014):

  1. What do you think someone means when they say, “That’s not fair!”?

  2. What makes things feel unfair or fair in (x) environment?

  3. Is it fair to ignore the rules of a game? or Is it fair to ignore other people’s ideas about what to play?

  4. What happens when someone breaks the rules?, or What happens when someone ignores everyone’s ideas?

  5. What is it like to be in a group or on a team with someone who refuses to do their fair share?

  6. While disagreeing with others is normal and healthy, gossiping, name-calling, screaming at, or back-stabbing shows a lack of character.

When we give our children t