by Elaine Stone
"This one is going to be a lawyer," the fourth grade teacher said. "He stands up and argues fairness for everyone. He is polite and mannerly about it, but he definitely sees life in this classroom from a distinct point of view. If I render a judgment he deems unfair, his little hand is the first to pop up and ask to be heard," she muses. "At his young age, he has already developed a fight for the underdog and for fairness to be rendered to all. His motives are not selfish or self serving so I find it fascinating to engage his disputes," she finished with a chuckle in her voice.
Most families have a "lawyer" in the ranks. The one who is intent on fairness prevailing and who is the first to proclaim, "That is not fair!" They faithfully administer the "fairness doctrine" (deciding what is fair and what isn't) to any and all situations they are privy to. Truth be told, everyone in every family has come up with their own definition of fairness. Some are more verbal than others to profess it. But, by the time children have reached their seventh or eighth birthday, they have intuitive "fairness barometers" that function to monitor the "fairness" in their surroundings. Problem becomes what is fair to one is measured unfair by the other. The "barometers" measure and compute on different definitions leaving parents bewildered about administering and upholding the "fairness doctrine".
Dictionary. Com defines "fair" as impartial, disinterested, unprejudiced refer to lack of bias in opinions, judgments, etc. Fair implies the treating of all sides alike, justly and equitably. So, "fair" by definition has legal/judicial implications to it and thus the emphasis on equality. This leaves a lot to be explained in the family setting and in the practical application. How can something be fair if it is not equal? How can things be right if everyone does not receive the "same" thing/treatment? For example, if Hannah needs a pair of shoes and Hunter needs a coat, it would be fair and equitable for them to receive the same thing. But if each gets a pair of shoes then Hunter is without a coat; if both are given coats, than Hannah is without shoes. So, "fair" treatment would prevail if each received the same article, but one's needs would not be met. So, relational "fairness" has to be taught and practiced by meeting needs and not focusing on equal parts. If Julie needs help with reading, than Mom or Dad spends time reading with her. If Dillon needs help with an art project, than Mom or Dad spends time helping Dillon create. The time and effort may be different but the child's need determines the parent's "fairness." "Fairness" is exhibited by meeting needs not by parceling out sameness.
What does relational fairness look like? Treat people the way you want to be treated, Take Turns, Tell the truth, Play by the rules, Think about how your actions will affect others, Listen to people with an open mind, Don't blame others for your mistakes, Don't take advantage of other people, Don't play favorites. Fairness means: Everyone has the same chance, People aren't picked on because of how they look, and People aren't liked because of what they have or what they can do for you. (http://www.goodcharacter.com/pp/fairness.html, Jan. 2011) Concentrate teaching efforts on instilling "fairness" based on these definitions in children as they mature. Incorporate these standards into the "family fairness barometer." Children will learn to focus more on others than themselves which is a fabulous beginning.
A Study conducted at the Universities of Zurich, Switzerland, and Erfurt, Germany led by Prof Ernst Fehr, found that children as young as seven are just as likely as adults to do the right thing by their friends, in contrast to kids between three and four, who are almost universally selfish. The study also concluded that children do not simply become more generous but develop a clear sense of what is fair and what is not by age seven or eight. Almost half of the children at this age share with others and a clear majority shows a preference for the others' well-being even if they are strangers: unlike their younger counterparts. (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/science-news/3350390/Children-have-sense-of-fairness-by-age-of-seven.html, accessed Jan. 2011)
Even though young children, in their egocentric concepts, do not fully grasp the concept of "fairness", parents should by no means wait to start introducing the notion. Many believe that the character trait of fairness develops more like an evolutionary process rather than a maturity milestone. So, parents should start at young ages developing sharing, simple rules, treating each other fairly, etc. knowing it will only be fully understood with maturity. Mark their efforts along the way and acknowledge their struggles. Encourage them to learn from mistakes and try again.
"Whatever the age of the children, there are things to do to help one's beloved offspring see that life does not come equipped with fairness or kindness. Children need to be taught from the onset that these ingredients are put in by people who care, and that they are not entitled to it. For example, if the events surrounding a child's life are too well orchestrated, how are they to know the fairness in their lives came from human effort and choice? Children need to know that life doesn't automatically entitle one to fairness." (http://www.suite101.com/content/teaching-children-that-life-isnt-fair-a142567, accessed Jan. 2011)
Possessing the character trait of fairness gives children a powerful opportunity to make a difference in their world. By learning, as Ms. Tague recommends, that life is not fair by definition, children learn their actions, reactions and behavior have the real possibility of changing their world. By treating others fairly, they are saying that everyone matters. That each individual they have contact with has value and meaning: they are important. They are also learning relationships are more important than things and that making someone else happy brings its own intrinsic rewards.
Instilling the "fairness trait" in the egocentric preschool years can baffle and befuddle the most well intention parents. The "sharing" concept alone has melted many parents into a puddle of tears. Don't give up or give in to individual "fairness barometers." Set the standards and use teachable moments to change and alter the "fairness" definitions of toddlerhood. Take the "legal experts" in the household and turn them into "relational experts" teaching them to focus beyond themselves onto the needs of others. The Golden Rule is the perfect place to start: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
Fairness at Home: Ideas for building and reinforcing positive character in your child.
• Establish your own "Family Court." Invite family members to fill out a "complaint" form when they experience a situation they feel is unfair and place it in a designated box or envelope. Once a week, read and discuss all of the concerns together. Talk about ways to make things fairer for everyone.
• Play a game together and comment on your child's reaction when he/she either wins or loses. Use this opportunity to talk about playing fair and being a good sport.
• Stack ten pennies on top of one another. Next, stack two nickels next to the pennies and then place one dime beside the nickels. Begin by discussing the act that although each set of coins looks different, they all have the same value. This is the same with people, we may look different on the outside – sort, tall, brunette, etc., but we are all of equal value and deserve to be treated fairly. When you share, take turns, and treat others equally and with respect, you are showing fairness.
• Have family members sit in a circle, remove their shoes and pass them to the person on their right. Next, have each person attempt to put on the shoes that were passed to them, then stand up and try to walk around the room. After a few minutes, gather back together and ask: Was it easy or hard to walk in someone else's shoes? What might happen if you had to wear shoes that were either too big or small?
If you had to walk a mile in them, what do you think would happen to your feet?
Discuss with your children that whenever they are tempted to criticize someone or treat someone unfairly, they should STOP and put themselves in the other person's shoes. Have them consider how it would feel to be treated that way.
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