6 Ways to Stop Sibling Fighting
I could go on, but you likely have a version of this fairness drama unfolding in your own home. The bones of contention can be just about anything -- material ("Her lollipop is bigger!"), experiential ("He always gets to stay up later than I do!"), even metaphysical ("You laugh at her jokes but never mine!"). And, sorry, but parents of only children aren't exempt, because having to share toys on playdates can seem unfair to some singletons, as can not getting to do or have what their friends have when they reach school age.
Clearly, kids' concept of fairness differs greatly from ours, and it changes over time. "For very young children, like three or four, fairness is just desire: I want what I want, and if I don't get it, that's not fair," says Judi Smetana, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at the University of Rochester in New York. For a period after that, until they're anywhere from 7 to 11, fairness means equality -- the same thing as someone else at the same time, or pretty darn close. Most children, when they get to school, will start to recognize some nuance, like it's fair if two kids have different things of similar value (a chocolate and a strawberry ice cream, for instance), but the intensity of the issue is just as great. "Depending on how diverse their school is, they're probably going to have major comparisons along socioeconomic lines," says Robert Myers, Ph.D., an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry and human behavior at the University of California at Irvine School of Medicine and webmaster of Childdevelopment info.com. This complicates things even more, as a 7-year-old generally does not yet have the perspective to understand why one family may be able to afford things that another cannot.