Beliefnet
birth to 2

Infants see the world as an extension of themselves. One-year-olds arenaturally egocentric, but by age two children recognize that they areseparate from others-and that others may stand in the way of what theywant. Their initial concern is with getting fair treatmentthemselves-getting a toy or doing something an older sibling is doing.

In childhood, fairness is developed primarily through sharing. It's rarefor toddlers to willingly share a favorite toy, but they can begin totake turns and offer things that are easily divided (like cookies). Thisis not due to an inner ethic of sharing, but because they like toimitate others or because an adult urges them to share.

Parenting Tips

· Introduce the language of sharing: "Mommy's sharing her cookie.""Please share your crayons."

· Play peekaboo and other turn-taking games with your child.

· Give your toddler an empathic reason for sharing: "Annie will be sadif you don't give her some."

What's the Goal?

To practice sharing and to introduce awareness of another's feelings asa basis for fairness.

3 to 4

"It's not fair!" is the favorite phrase of this age group. Preschoolerswant what other kids have, but they don't much like having to sharetheir own possessions. Typically they'll offer creative excuses - suchas "I give turns only to kids who live on my block" or "Only girls canplay." When dividing up things, they often favor themselves.Nevertheless, they begin to see the social benefits of sharing-thatplaying is more fun when you can do things together.

By age four, children are aware they should share, but theydon't do it consistently. In games, most kids insist on going first,hate to lose, and frequently cheat or demand another game until theywin.

Parenting Tips:

 Point out when your child is acting unfairly and ask, "Would you likeit if someone did that to you?"

 Play age-appropriate games, like Candyland. Model the words of agracious winner or loser-"Maybe you'll win next time," "Congratulations-I hope we can play again."

 Use Grandma's rule-one child cuts the candy bar or cookie, the otherchooses which half to take.

What's the Goal?

To help children recognize that other people have the same rights andfeelings as they do, and to foster empathy as a basis for fairness.Through game-playing, kids begin to "play with" the idea that playingfair is important; but they need language to give shape to theirthoughts.

5 to 7

Children in early elementary school regard unfair behavior as selfishand wrong. Mostly they are concerned with equality. A child who ishanding out cookies will aim to ensure that each person receives thesame number. They don't yet see that sometimes unequal distribution-say,giving an extra cookie to a child who hasn't brought lunch--may actuallybe more just.

At home, siblings can dispute the fairness of anything, from watchingcertain TV shows to getting to sit next to Dad at dinner. Around age 7,kids are capable of understanding rules of board games and teamssports, and are able to accept that it can be fair if someone else wins.

Parenting Tips

 Give age-graded chores, and explain your reasoning--that younger kidsget fewer chores because they can't handle as much, while older kids areable to handle more responsibility.

 Listen when your child complains that something is unfair, and talk tohim or her about what would balance the scales.

 In a dispute between close-in-age siblings, have the kids sit on thecouch together until they come up with a solution they can both livewith.

What's the Goal?

To show kids that other reasons besides equality can be the basis formaking fair decisions, and to demonstrate that you take their concernsabout fairness seriously.

8 to 10

Around this age, children are negotiating increasingly complex problemsof fairness. Should the two best ballplayers get to play together on thesame team, or should they be split up to create more equal teams? Forinstance: "Should Grandma use her one extra ticket to take me to thecircus because it's my birthday? Or should she take my brother, since helikes animals more?"

As they work through these situations, kids begin to realize thatfairness involves balancing competing claims and devising compromises.For instance, they recognize that it would be unfair for the two bestplayers to be on one team, but maybe they could be teammates for adifferent sport. They might accept that it's fair if Grandma takes thebrother to the circus, as long as she also takes her granddaughter outfor something special.

Parenting Tips:

 If your child objects that a punishment is unfair, ask whatconsequence he or she would give for breaking that rule.

 Watch professional sports with your child and notice how playershandle wins, losses, and referee calls they consider unfair. Expressyour approval of players who keep control and your disappointment inthose who are sore losers.

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