birth to 2

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

In childhood, fairness is developed primarily through sharing. It's rare for toddlers to willingly share a favorite toy, but they can begin to take turns and offer things that are easily divided (like cookies). This is not due to an inner ethic of sharing, but because they like to imitate 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 sad if you don't give her some."

What's the Goal?

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

3 to 4

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

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

Parenting Tips:

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

 Play age-appropriate games, like Candyland. Model the words of a gracious 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 other chooses which half to take.

What's the Goal?

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

5 to 7

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

At home, siblings can dispute the fairness of anything, from watching certain TV shows to getting to sit next to Dad at dinner. Around age 7, kids are capable of understanding rules of board games and teams sports, 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 kids get fewer chores because they can't handle as much, while older kids are able to handle more responsibility.

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

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

What's the Goal?

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

8 to 10

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

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

Parenting Tips:

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

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

What's the Goal?

To encourage kids to think about why we have rules and what consequences are fair; and to see that even grown-up sports figures need to control their feelings and abide by rules.

11 to 13

beyond their community. At school they study other cultures, and they begin to apply the ethic of fairness to people they don't know. They learn about civil rights and are frequently moved by the struggles of children just like them. Preteens start to be faced with real-world ethical dilemmas about fairness-such as whether to tell on a child who did something for which the whole class is being punished; or whether to invite certain kids to a party because it would be unfair to leave them out. Be alert to these issues and help your child determine what to do.

Parenting Tips:

 Have your child join a coat drive or food drive for homeless. Talk about whether it's fair for some children to go without food or warm clothes.

 If your child complains that a coach or teacher is unfair or shows favoritism, get your child to role-play the issue from the other person's point of view. If it seems that unfairness is a real problem, talk to the adult involved.

 Read books and tell stories about individuals like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Nelson Mandela, who fought nonviolently for justice.

What's the Goal?

To strengthen the conviction that all human beings have innate equality and inherent rights; to show your child how to deal with an unfair situation peacefully.

14 to 18

Teens are much more capable of abstract thought and understand fairness and justice on a more complex level. Through activities like student council, moot court, and debates, they became aware in a more adult way of how judgments are determined and justice meted out. As they study political and economic systems at school, they think more deeply about questions of poverty and the fair distribution of wealth and resources. A growing sense of compassion and idealism, together with a natural tendency to blame their elders for the ills of the world, prompts teens to want to right the wrongs of injustice. As they wrestle with these issues, teens start to create a personal ideology that will help them decide whom to vote for and what public policies to support in adulthood.

Parenting Tips:

 If your teenager believes a particular rule is unfair, revisit whether the rule has outgrown its usefulness and be open to your teen's suggestions.

 Support your children's efforts when they get involved in social causes.

What's the Goal?

To get your teen to gradually take the reins and be responsible for his or her own just behavior. To teach teens that they can make a difference in the world and increase justice by working for honorable causes.

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