Helping Young Children Understand Fairness
A teacher invited the children to sit down for circle time. Holding up a box of band-aids, she asked the children to pretend with her as they began a discussion on fairness. Turning to the closest child in the circle, she asked him to show her where he had a pretend boo-boo. He pointed to his hand.
The teacher placed a band-aid on the child’s hand and continued to the next child. “And where is your boo-boo?” the teacher asked.
“On my elbow,” the next child said.
The teacher placed a band-aid on the child’s hand and went to the next child asking the same question. This child pointed to her foot. But the teacher still placed a band-aid in the same spot on the child’s hand as she had the others.
This exchange continued around the circle. After everyone received their band-aid, she said, “Now does everyone feel better? You each have a band-aid on your hand. We all got the same, isn’t that fair?”
One child called out, “but my boo-boo was on my foot and you put the band-aid on my hand. That’s not fair.”
The teacher smiled, “Fairness is about giving others what they need, not giving everyone the same thing.”
This month, the children at Stepping Stone School will learn about fairness through stories and activities in their classrooms. Some may even participate in similar activities as the one described above. To continue teaching fairness at home,
- Practice Turn-taking. This is a good starting point, especially for young children. By playing games like peek-a-boo and building with blocks (you lay one, I lay one), parents are able to provide a basic understanding of turn-taking which is an element of fairness. For older children, board games can provide an opportunity to model and explain why we play by a given set of rules, how we take turns, and how we encourage one another even when we are unhappy with an outcome.
- Notice Fair and Unfair. Draw attention to behaviors in books, movies, and in life when others are acting in a fair or unfair manner. Ask your child questions like “What is another way he could have acted to make things fair?” or “How did she show fairness to the other person?” Children’s books, like the following, teach about fairness through stories:
- Praise Fairness. Take a moment to recognize and verbalize when your child is acting out of fairness. Helping him to notice fairness in his own behaviors will help him to grow in his understanding of the concept. (Kuchinskas, 2011)
Through their play and participation in discussions about fairness, they will begin to see fair and unfair situations in their day to day encounters. As children grow, so will their understanding of fairness.
Innis, G. (2012, May 16). “Teaching “Fairness” To Preschoolers Is One More Way To Build Character.” Michigan State University Extension. Retrieved from http://msue.anr.msu.edu/news/teaching_fairness_to_preschoolers_is_one_more_way_to_build_character
Kuchinskas, S. (2011). “Teaching Children to Be Fair.” Retrieved from http://www.webmd.com/parenting/features/teaching-children-to-be-fair
Philpott, S. (n.d). Games for Taking Turns for Toddlers. Retrieved from http://mom.me/toddler/6283-games-taking-turns-toddlers/
Tricomi, E., Rangel, A., Camerer, C.F., O’Doherty, J.P. (2010, Feb. 25). Neural Evidence for Inequality-Averse Social Preferences. Nature: International Journal of Science, 463, 1089-1091. Retrieved from https://www.nature.com/articles/nature08785