When the kids were small it was a challenge for me to be absolutely fair. The hugs had to be the same, the time spent playing with them had to be the same, even the lowly fried egg was a topic for hot debate, “My yolk is bigger!” and “My dosa is crisper!” For me it was easier to teach fairness as my two were just two years apart.
The basic principles of fairness, according to Psychology Today, have three parts to it.
Equality: All members of the family follow the same rules. The consequences for every action are to be known by all and enforced without exception. Mummy cleans up before she leaves, papa folds the paper after reading and kids put back toys
Deservedness: You get what you deserve or earn. Chores around the house had to be done. Eg: When my kids were small, the hated chore was picking up the toys and putting them in the tub. At the sound of kids playing outside they ran out without putting their toys back. I stuck to my guns and no clean up no play was the rule. The consequence of not doing this was they had to do it as soon as they got home. The two-year-old had to put away the toys as did the four-year-old, and I turned a blind eye to them helping each other out.
Need: You get what you need. This is the most difficult as sometimes someone gets what they need but not what they want. Like you need to eat your vegetables with chapatis and not just sugar as you need it to grow strong. Children have a short attention span so long discussions, saying why something is not fair may not work. We have to use a combination of techniques.
Have a discussion: Ask them to say what is fair by overt examples – give a small piece of chocolate to your child and a big piece for yourself. Is that fair? Ask them to serve the food at meal times and make sure to ask ‘Is that a fair share?’, ‘Papa is bigger shouldn’t he get more?’, ‘Is it fair that he and you get the same amount?’ Mutually decide on a fair amount of playing time.
Lead by example: They observe how you talk and behave, and mirror that. This is the scariest part for me, trying to set an example is tough. This is needed to make the world a better place so treat everyone with respect and be fair in all your dealings.
Watch a cartoon or a film: Pause, rewind, discuss…was it fair? Why not? Explore possibilities to make it fair. In the Ugly Duckling, was it fair for the brothers not to let the ugly one play?
In the story from the Panchatantra story of the Ant and the Dove, it tells of how an ant returns the favour when a dove saves her from drowning by biting the heel of the hunter. Talk about how what the ant did was fair, one good turn deserves another.
Role play: When something has happened, maybe your child had a tantrum because he/she had to share his/her bat, play it out when your child is receptive by taking on the role of the child who had a tantrum and ask your child to say what to do.
Practice positive reinforcement: Encourage moments of fairness. Tell grandma about it, tell papa about it, ‘__________ was so patient, played only when it was his/her turn!’ The golden rule is always this – praise publicly and correct in private.
Help children appreciate one another: ‘Atish shared his sweets fairly. All were given two each and the extra was kept away. How happy all were.’ Saying sorry is easy for a child, they often say it just to make you happy. To make it more genuine have your child think and ask himself or herself whether what was done was right or fair. Then find ways to compensate for not sharing or any other undesirable behaviour. It could be as simple as giving the friend or sibling the first chance at the game or maybe sharing a chocolate or by drawing a picture.
Kids are quick learners. You will see how fair they are when they have to share things between two people but not so when they have to share
I see this in my children today, for instance they treat the domestic staff with care and concern, and appreciate how they have made their lives easier and also call them by name only if they are their age; otherwise a respectful ‘tai’ or ‘didi’ is added on.
Truly the world will be a better place.
(Writer is a volunteer in local schools and a trustee with Sethu)