Wednesday, April 23, 2008

To Treat Fair…is to Treat Different

I watched with amusement as my friend broke a chocolate-chip cookie in half, and counted how many delicious milk-chocolate chunks were on one side versus the other.

“What are you doing?” I asked, as she nibbled a jagged edge off one half. “Walking a tightrope,” she said. “No matter how equal I try to make things, somehow the kids tell me I’m not being fair.”

I had to laugh. I’d been there, and had learned that the cookie crumbles differently every time. It’s never perfectly fair, or perfectly equal. Nor is life, for that matter.

A parent’s attempt to judiciously allocate, divide, and share everything equally does not offer balance – it does the exact opposite. Kids are given the false impression that “fair” is synonymous with “exactly the same,” and instead of discouraging sibling rivalry, we accelerate it.

“How often do your kids NEED exactly the same amount of any one thing at the same moment?” I ask my friend. I squint, as though this will somehow bring my pointed question into focus for her, and I punctuate it with the shake of my head. “Almost never,” I answer my own query.

The point is, children benefit from their parent’s ethical act of keeping the needs of the individual child balanced against the kid's (and the sibling’s) perception of what is fair. Alas, so many perceptions are in the eye of the beholder.

"It's not fair" is all too common an outburst of school age children. So ingrained is that sentiment, that it was reported the average teenager will say "it's not fair" 8.6 times a day! (see source).

There's a way to dimish, if not eliminate that statement all together.

Treat your children differently – based on who they are and what they need. In doing so, you will treat them fairly.

Like it or not, your kids are different – from each other, and from you. Based on who they're becoming, and the stage of life they’re in, their levels of patience, stamina, independence, need for approval, desire to be alone, sense of humor, and perception of self… are different. This is what sets them apart as individuals.

As you make decisions about who gets what when and for what reason. Don't forget that beyond our individual drivers, that tricky little quirk known as "human nature,” can occasionally cause actions and reactions which contradict individual values. In certain situations – such as being presented with two halves from which to choose – the instinct to compare and measure what’s offered is inevitable. (And this becomes magnified when the other recipient is a sibling or rival, regardless of want or need!)

Most everyone I know is eager to get the biggest slice of life -- not to mention the bigger half of a chocolate chip cookie!

1 comment:

Lee Fox said...

One of my readers suggested that when actually dealing with the division of a chocolate chip cookie, one kid should break it, and the other kid should pick their half first. That's perfect... unless of course you have three kids, and one cookie. ;-)