Tackling “It’s Not Fair!”

Tackling “It’s Not Fair!”

We’ve all been there: Cue the tears, the stomping feet and the oh-so-mournful cry: “It’s not fair!”

Maybe your little one is upset because a sibling got a slightly larger slice of pie for dessert, or his bedtime is earlier than he’d like. As many parents of young children know well, fairness is something children tend to feel strongly about. 

What’s the best way to talk about fairness?

We reached out to  Lynn Louise Wonders, MA, LPC, RPT-S, an early childhood development and parenting expert, with some questions our children have asked us. Here are her helpful tips on navigating the fairness question:

Offer an explanation.

How come my older brother Pablo earns more for allowance than I do?

You might say, “Ah! You’re wondering why your older brother gets more allowance than you, huh? That’s actually a really good question! Pablo is older and has bigger responsibilities, so he gets a bigger allowance. As you get older and your responsibilities grow bigger, you also will earn more allowance.”

Fatima gets to stay up later than I do! 

Try responding with, “Yeah, you noticed Fatima does get to stay up later than you do, and I can see that bothers you. I wonder if you might be feeling left out? The thing is, Fatima is older than you are. When you’re Fatima’s age, you’ll be able to stay up later, too.”

Acknowledge their feelings.

Why can’t we get a dog? Everyone else has one. I love dogs.

You might say, “Oh, you do love dogs, don’t you? It would be so fun to have a dog, I know. It does seem like most other families we know do have dogs, yes. I can see you feel disappointed that we don’t have a dog.” Then offer a simple explanation, whether it’s that we don’t have the right kind of yard, or your dad is allergic to dogs, or we travel a lot and it would be unfair to leave the dog home so much.

How come Aunt Jasmine gave Dion a nicer gift than she gave me?

Try something like this: “Hmm, you seem to have thought Dion’s gift was nicer than the one you received, huh? I’m sure that might feel confusing for you. You’re wondering why. [Pause.] Well, what I do know is that Aunt Jasmine loves you AND she loves Dion, and I’m sure the gifts she gives are always from the love she has in her heart.”


Why can’t I have these shoes? Shelby in my classroom has them.

Try something like, “Oh, that would be so fun to have these shoes just like Shelby’s, wouldn’t it? Yeah, I can understand how much you would like to have them. [Pause.] Sometimes we just can’t have the things we want when we want them, and it can feel disappointing, I know. Hey! Look at those fun decorations they put out for the holidays. Want to go have a closer look?”

Why can’t I play outside in the rain? It’s not cold!

You might say, “Oh, that would be so much fun to play in the rain. You might splash in the puddles and slide on the wet grass. What fun it would be! I’ll tell you what you CAN do, though. You and I could build a rainy day fort and turn off the lights, take flashlights in and read books together! What do ya think?”

It’s natural for a young child to question when they see a sibling receive a “nicer” holiday present or to notice that their friend has something that they want, too. This can shake their sense of justice. 

Use these tips to teach your little one about fairness and help them build resilience.

To learn more about nurturing character development, check out these related blogs:

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