Monday, November 6, 2017

That's Not Fair!

Young children seem to be hyper-vigilant about getting their fair share, especially of things like treats.  If we offer them jelly beans, for example, we must count out each one so that everyone gets the exact same amount.  Otherwise we are sure to hear, "No fair!  He got 6 and I only got 5!."  Each slice of cake must be as close to the same size as possible.  That goes for drinks, too.  Kids will line their cups up next to each other to make sure that one doesn't have more than another. They even covet the color of things given out, like balloons, or cereal bowls, or whatever.  Anything we plan to give to more than one child has to be counted and calculated to make sure that there are enough for everyone to have the same.  There seems to be an unwritten rule that another kid's treat is always better.

With very young children, this unwritten rule also applies to toys.  A toddler often wants to play with the same toy as the child next to her.  This problem can often be resolved by having doubles of toys, although I've seen plenty of children carry on tearfully even when given an identical toy because it is not that one.  In these instances, we have an opportunity to teach our children about sharing.  Perhaps the one with the prized toy is willing to trade with the one who feels short-changed.  If so, he deserves praise for being kind and rising above those petty and false feelings of injustice.  If he won't give it up, we can teach both children about turn taking and waiting for what they want.

As adults,we know that these demands are unreasonable.  Does it really matter if someone else has an a half ounce more lemonade than me?  Will that diminish my enjoyment?  I don't understand the origins of these innate feelings that young children have, but I do understand the need to prove, in these small ways, that each one is loved and precious.  No one is better or more deserving than anyone else. 

 There are times however, when it is very important to treat our children differently, especially when it comes to their individual needs.  In this arena, treating them differently is a testament to our deep love and concern for them.  Accommodating children's individual needs is just as important at school as at home.  At home for example, I would not buy sneakers for all of my children if only one had outgrown them or worn them out. If one child needed sneakers, he would get them.  The other children knew that when the time came, they would also get new sneakers, or a backpack, or a jacket, or whatever they needed.  Fulfilling a child's need at the right time is a reassuring sign that he is well cared for.  Buying him new sneakers when his sister needs new sneakers does nothing to respect his individuality.  

Every child enters the world with her own unique temperament and personality.  Even with the same parents, home, and upbringing, children will differ in their behaviors, interests, and talents.  Part of the work of parenting is to understand who our children are and to provide an environment and experiences in which they can thrive.  A very active child might enjoy sports or gymnastics.  A quieter child might prefer art, cooking, or music.  A very sociable child can visit and invite friends frequently.  We don't necessarily sign all of our children up for the same activities.  We look for ways to nurture their individual inclinations.

 There is a famous Jewish proverb that states, "Teach a child according to his way and he will not depart from it."  This is a hallmark of high quality education, known as differentiation.  All children can learn, but not all children learn in the same way.   Teachers look at each individual student to find his/her way.  How does this child learn best?  Does he need more visuals?  More movement?  Materials to manipulate?  Just like at home, the best way to nurture a child and help him learn and grow is to appeal to his own, unique way of navigating the world.  

Life is not always fair.  Some of us have more than others, whether it's money, health, beauty, or anything else .  To be happy, we must appreciate the value of what we do have.  Figuring out our child's individual needs and spirit, and taking steps to nurture her  accordingly, will help her to recognize her own value.  In that way,  she will have what she needs to be happy.

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