On page 101 of the Parenting Thesaurus (which doesn't actually exist, but should!), you'd find a listing for the phrase, "It's not fair" with several synonyms that could help you properly interpret the thoughts and feelings underlying your child's generic complaint. Sometimes, a demand for fairness has everything to do with a wrong that needs to be righted, but just as often, "It's not fair" is kid-language for "I'm soooooo jealous!" These three common scenarios and suggested solutions can help your child work through his jealousy:
Fair Does Not Equal Equal
Your Kindergartener thinks it's unfair that his 4th grade brother has a later bedtime.
OK. This might not be my best solution (so why start off with it?). On the one hand, it's a bad idea to engage your child in a rational argument about the meaning of the word "fair" when they are stirred up emotionally over perceived unfairness. No matter how sound your rationale, your child will not be able to truly hear your words while he is full of emotion. On the other hand, after you have listened to your child and let him share his side of a story, it can be helpful to have a brief conversation about the fact that fair does not always mean equal. In other words, a nine year old may be permitted to stay up until 9:30pm, which is fair, but is clearly not equal to the 8:00pm bedtime of his jealous five year-old sibling. It's a sophisticated concept for young kids, but can be quite effective for the upper elementary ones.
Make New Friends and Keep the Old
Your daughter accuses her best friend of being unfair when she picks another friend as her partner in gym.
Friendships can be complicated. Girl friendships in the elementary and middle school years can get brutal. Too often, girls use social exclusion as a way to bully each other under the radar of adults. It's critical that when your daughter talks to you about feeling left out of key friendships, you listen and offer support. At the same time, it's also perfectly normal and natural for girls to have multiple friendships. Teaching your daughter to accept that fact is an important step in helping her cope with jealousy and showing her how to handle feelings of being left out of the occasional day-to-day pairing.
His Tooth Fairy Brings How Much?
Your child thinks his dollar from the Tooth Fairy is great -- until his best friend gets a crisp $20 bill from said Fairy. Now, he thinks the Tooth Fairy has joined the ranks of the Unfair.
Jealousy can be especially hard to manage when it comes to keeping up with the Jones. "Better" brands, newer technology, cooler gadgets, and richer tooth fairies will likely always be a factor, so teaching your child to focus on what he has over what he wants is a great way to help him cope with jealousy over a lifetime. In the short-term, you can also allow your child to work for what he wants by doing chores. In this way, kids gain a sense of control over fulfilling their desires and learn the value of a dollar in the process.