I see a lot of articles written about how to help kids deal with strong emotions.
I also see a lot of articles written about how to shield children from having to experience these negative emotions.
While I understand the natural desire to protect children from unpleasant situations, the fact of the matter is that the better prepared they are to face these situations, the better their outcome will be.
No, I’m not necessarily advocating that we expose children to bad things just for the sake of giving them life experience. But it is important that when negative emotions occur, we allow them to process these emotions and be better equipped to handle similar situations in the future.
In the past, I’ve written about talking honestly and openly with children regarding the death of a relative or pet. I’ve also written about some myths parents tend to believe regarding children’s safety and why our cultural ideas about keeping children safe are not always right. These are just a few situations in which being protective is detrimental to children’s development.
Today, I want to talk about why equality is not the best policy for raising children.
First of all, it is important to distinguish between equality and fairness. Fairness is ensuring that both children receive a Christmas present. Equality is ensuring that both children receive the same Christmas present.
Now, realistically speaking, your children will have to learn to cope with both unfairness and inequality during their lives. But since we do strive for fairness in this world, to the best of our ability, I won’t go so far as to say that fairness is a bad policy in parenting. I think fairness is a noble policy. But it must always be distinguished from equality, which is where people often go wrong.
I believe that equality can actually get in the way of fairness.
Here are some examples that demonstrate the difference.
We could take a basic example. A 5-year-old and a 10-year-old are given different bedtimes. Why? Biologically speaking, the 10-year-old needs less sleep that the 5-year-old. Sure, it won’t seem fair to the younger child, but it is. You are meeting both of their needs. It’s fair, but it isn’t equal.
What about two children who are of a similar age? One throws tantrums and refuses to do their chores, the other diligently gets their work done. The child who behaved well gets to go to a party that day, while the other who behaved poorly has to stay home and finish her work. Is it fair? Yes. Is it equal? No.
Let’s go back to the example of the Christmas presents. What if two children of a similar age receive different presents? One may find that they wish they had the present of the other. Does that mean that parents should always strive to give both children exactly the same present? Of course not.
There will always be a situation in which a child wants what someone else has. But catering to those whims does not help them develop self control.
Both children have been treated fairly. They have both received a present given to them from loving parents who hoped they would enjoy it. It is now up to the child to control their emotions and choose to enjoy the present they were given.
So how does it help children emotionally to be treated unequally?
Being content with what you have is a life skill.
Children will experience disappointment, jealousy, frustration, and a huge range of other emotions throughout their life. Learning to deal with those emotions begins in the home, and is best guided by a wise parent from a young age.
Parents should strive to treat children fairly, with love and kindness. But equality is not always the best policy. It doesn’t prepare children well for life outside of the home. It doesn’t allow them to experience and develop their emotions.
Being a good parent means looking at the big picture and taking every opportunity, good or bad, to teach your child. Prepare them for adulthood. For college. For a job. For having a family of their own.
Loving your child well doesn’t always mean treating them equally.