Fairness is a tough concept to understand for many children. It’s easy to see why. Fairness does not necessarily mean equal or “the same” and yet studies tell us that young children believe that inequality is unfair (i.e. Science, May 2010). As adults, we know that fairness is reached when everyone gets what is needed, deserved and appropriate given age and circumstance.
For example, picture the family that sits down to dinner. If fairness meant “the same” then everyone should be given the same amount of food regardless of need, hunger, weight, or size. Most would agree, that wouldn’t be fair at all!
A recent study out of Yale University found that children can be unfailingly fair when dividing up candy bars between two other children (Journal of Experimental Psychology, 2014). In fact, when considering whether to give the extra candy bar to one child or throw that extra bar away, they typically chose to throw any extras away. They even keep up this fairness streak when they are involved as a recipient.
The only time this paradigm is disrupted is when the children believe that no one will know if they receive the extra candy bar. Some will choose to accept the extra prize in that circumstance!
One of the areas that we will be discussing this month, aside from defining fairness, is how to play by the rules. On the surface, we equate “playing by the rules” to when we play games, do sports or enter contests with others. Children need to learn about cheating, stealing and showing respect while competing with others.
But “playing by the rules” also relates to “fighting fairly” when in debate with others. This takes empathy, self control and listening skills. On the one hand, children need to learn how to listen with an open mind, identify the problem and take responsibility for their actions. On the other hand, children need to restrain themselves from yelling, blaming and intimidating.
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