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Sibling Rivalry: Why Equal Is Not Fair

Who doesn’t recognise that unsure feeling when we only buy ONE of our children something they need in the store: a new pair of socks, toothbrush, or even a toy?
That guilty feeling we get because we didn’t get our other child (children) anything that time. Or maybe we DID end up getting them something, just so they wouldn’t feel left out or upset — just to avoid the, “That’s not fair!” episode.

How can we navigate these accusations of favouritism that are bound to come up?

Well, the short answer is to rethink what fair really is.

"I wan’t some!"

I was at the mall yesterday with my husband and two children. I needed to get my 20-month-old new t-shirts since he’s grown out of most of the ones he has.

I told both of my children what we were doing when we entered a store that sells kids clothing, and then I proceeded to pick up a few t-shirts for my little boy.

It wasn’t surprising that when I was looking at shirts for the 20-month-old, my 4.5-year-old daughter started asking if she could get some new clothes as well.
“I wan’t some!”
I mean, I get it, who doesn’t like getting new clothes (I know I do!), but the reality is that my daughter doesn’t need anything new at the moment.

And that’s what I told her:

“I know, honey, it’s not very fun when your little brother is getting something at the store and you’re not.”

“Right now your brother needs some shirts since the ones he owns are getting too small. Your dresses at home still fit you, so I’m not going to buy anything for you today.”

I continued to genuinely acknowledge her feelings and show her understanding and empathy.

Each Child as an Individual With Unique Needs

Of course, it’s not the most fun situation to be in as a parent, but I was confident in my answers and did not allow the fairness-guilt to creep in.

How come?

Because I’ve come to understand that equal does not always mean fair.

I believe that in order to treat our children truly fairly, we have to look at each of them as an individual with unique needs. That way we can meet their needs and give them the specific time, focus, limits, and rules they each need in order to flourish.

I believe it’s important for my daughter to know that what works for her brother, may not work for her. What her brother needs sometimes is not what she needs, and vice versa!

When we are being intentional about meeting the individual needs of each child, our children internalise that we are tuned into them on a deep level, and accusations of favouritism won’t be a problem—at least not long term.

The fact is that constantly balancing and equalising everything will lead to a mindset of comparison and only act as fuel on the sibling rivalry fire.

It’s also important not to forget we are sending our children messages with every interaction we have with them. I want to send my children the message that I don’t just buy “whatever” at the store. That we try to only buy what we really need, and that we use what we have until we can’t use it anymore.

The fact is that constantly balancing and equalising everything will lead to a mindset of comparison and only act as fuel on the sibling rivalry fire.

Instead of counting five pancakes each so everyone gets an equal amount of food, ask your children to let you know if they are hungry for more and tell them you have enough batter to fulfil everyone’s needs, no problem.

And tell them that, if you need new shoes, I will get them for you—when you need them, not because your sister got a pair at the mall.

Focusing on the individual need instead of exact equality will create a much healthier environment in your home and will usually help eliminate the constant comparing and competition that can damage the sibling relationship.

And the most beautiful lesson of all: When our children realise equality does not mean fairness and fairness does not require equality, they are better able to move beyond jealousies and accept differences.

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