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TARA GREEN: Being fair does not mean treating children equally

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IN EVERY house, classroom and playground across the land, children can be heard exclaiming that some aspect of their life is not fair. Children have an in-built fairness chip and if they feel that it has been violated, they become upset, resentful and angry.

Of course not all children are the same; so how do we manage the issue of fairness in our homes? Stand back and take a moment to notice just how different the children in your family or in your child's social group are.

This is the key point: being fair does not necessarily mean treating each child equally. The definition of equality means equal rights for people regardless of individual differences or differentiating factors. If we take just age as a factor, we can see the sense in deciding that just because we let one child do something doesn't mean that we will automatically let another.

Older children are gradually given greater independence and autonomy. By degrees, they are allowed to engage in riskier behaviours: they are allowed to hold sharp implements like cutlery and scissors; they are given small foods that would have been a choking hazard when they were a baby; they will be allowed to cross the road alone.

We adjust the world around them to fit their age, skills and talents, and make judgements based on how responsible or trustworthy we deem them to be.

The fairness aspect comes in because we judge each child on their own merits and adjust our rules and guidelines accordingly.

If one child is to be allowed a privilege or right, we need to explain to the children who aren't why this is so. For example if one child complains that a friend doesn't have to use a car seat anymore, we would explain that the rule is based upon age and height. If one child is old enough to use a knife to cut a cake in half to share with a sibling, let the younger sibling choose the half they want.

This is also a guaranteed way to ensure absolute equality in the size of cake portions received! If your older child lords their privilege over their younger brother or sister, remind them that you expect them to treat each other well, and that a sneering, patronising or contemptuous manner could well mean that they themselves are not worthy of the privilege either.

Judge each situation based on each child. Though one child isn't allowed to take their stabilisers off their bike until they're six, if the next child is clearly a competent, cyclist, let their stabilisers come off at age five.

Judge each child on their own merits, skills and abilities. You may think that one child is just like you and or just like your partner and then treat them as if they were. Just check the accuracy of any such assumptions.

Beware of your own biases about how girls and boys 'should' be and note if they are actually true for your child.

TARA GREEN: Being fair does not mean treating children equally


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