One of the things heard most frequently from the mouths of children is “it’s not fair.” Regardless of whether they are talking about rewards or consequences, chores and responsibilities, or someone else entirely, the “not fair” argument is a clear favorite for attempting to change a circumstance to their favor. And a constant amazement is how the definition of the word fair seems to change at every moment to favor the person making the argument—even if they recently argued the opposite position!
It’s baffling sometimes how often children and adolescents change their stance on how something should be enforced, and it often causes a great deal of frustration on the part of parents and caregivers. These caregivers are frustrated by the way in which children seemingly demand special treatment for the same behaviors they want to see reprimanded from others. And, the thing is, that’s exactly what’s going on.
Children and adolescents have a capacity to simultaneously believe that everyone should have the same set of rules and expectations but that they should not be held to those rules and expectations. The basis being a combination of self-centered thinking and an inability to find extenuating circumstances for others. If you ask a child why they shouldn’t be in trouble or why they should receive some reward, you will be provided with a long list of reasons that may include who started what, where so and so was, and what they said that makes that child’s response, to their thinking, perfectly legitimate. However, if you ask that same child whether another person should receive the same consideration they may well argue the opposite position with the very same reasons.
But the saddest and most aggravating thing about this particular behavior is that, if not addressed during childhood and adolescence, it can persist into adulthood. We all know those adults who believe that they should be exempt from the rules or that certain things should not apply to them because of who they are, where they work, or who they know. Those are the people that tend to make situations more difficult for everyone around them simply because they do not appear to have any empathy for others. That possibility alone makes the need to confront and challenge that behavior during youth that much more important.
While it is extremely difficult to temper grace and mercy with the necessary discipline, these moments offer a unique opportunity to promote empathy for others. Encouraging children to examine how they would respond to a specific situation if they were in a different role helps them understand the feelings and reactions of another party. That understanding, hopefully, can lend itself to the development of an objective thought process in that child—they may begin to see the value in another person’s feelings and opinions and not solely rely on the personal impact of that circumstance.