Children seem to have an uncanny sense of “fairness.” In preschool, fairness is centered around rules and schedules, in elementary school, around everyone being treated equal, and in middle school and high school, around justice. But how do we navigate fairness, when we know that life is not always fair.
First we must understand what a child means when they say something “isn’t fair.” Most of the time when a child wrestles with whether or not something is fair, they are really struggling with how they feel about the situation at hand—fairness is just the way they express this inner struggle. What a child really means when they say, “it’s not fair,” is “I don’t like this.”
Parents have different methods with helping their children cope with these feelings. Some try and level the playing field, and give their child the fairness they seek. Others try and rationalize the situation. In Montessori school we take another approach. We believe that what is essential in these situations is to help the child recognize what they are feeling and put a name to it. To do this, it is important for the adult to personally let the child know that they understand why they feel the way they do.
Life may not be fair, but we can help a child navigate fairness and their emotions by creating a safe place for a child to experience their struggles in.