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All's Fair

Teaching Your Kids that All’s Fair in Love – and Family

May 16, 2018     By Father Steven Boes, President and National Executive Director, Boys Town

Father Boes, Parenting Skills, Social Skills, Today's Family

"It's not fair!"

If your kids are using (or perhaps screaming) this phrase a lot around your house lately, I just have one thing to say to you:


The fact that your kids know when something isn't fair is a testament to your success in teaching them the concept of fairness. In other words, you've done an excellent job of helping them understand fairness, and they prove it every time they utter that familiar phrase, "It's not fair!"

It's not always easy for kids to grasp the meaning of fairness. Usually, kids tend to see things in literal, concrete ways. For example, if everyone got the same number of Tootsie Rolls, that's fair. But if one child got more Tootsie Rolls than his brother or sister, that's not fair.

Where things get complicated is when one child gets the idea that Mom or Dad favors or loves another sibling "more." Then "It's not fair!" rises to a whole new level.

What kids don't understand is that the love parents have for their children is not something that be measured in terms of "more" or "less." There are no "units of love" you can stack up side by side, like cookies or pennies, to determine if someone is getting "more" or "less" love than someone else.

Love is about relationships and the dynamics that make each relationship unique. So, it's impossible for parents to love one child more or less than another. But they can love each child "differently" (and equally) based on the relationship they have with him or her. Each parent-child relationship has its own characteristics of emotional bonding, closeness, respect and a dozen other dynamics making that relationship one of a kind.

As a parent, you have the task of explaining this reasoning to your kids. The first step is to tell your kids, every day, that you love them. Then teach them how to be grateful for the love that surrounds them in your family, and how they should return that love. (It's one of the most important lessons we teach our boys and girls at Boys Town.)

Here are the steps to the skill of "Showing Gratitude" (which is a good skill for kids to have in a lot of situations):

  1. Look at the person.
  2. Use a pleasant, sincere voice tone.
  3. Say "Thank you for…" and specifically describe what the other person did.
  4. Give a reason why what the other person did was so meaningful.

As easy and as natural as using this skill seems to be, it may take a while before your children fully understand why it's so important for them to be thankful for being loved by family members (especially if your kids are young). But it's never too soon to start teaching this valuable lesson and this critical skill.

So, to be fair, you have your work cut out for you. Eventually, though, through teaching, talking and reminding your kids every day how much you love them, they will see that all's fair in love – and family.

If it helps any, I think that's how God feels every day, loving us!

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