“That’s not fair” is a frequently heard complaint from kids. In fact, it is often the pinnacle of their anger.
At this point, kids want to be able to explain the problem and their feelings. They want to feel heard. They want their feelings to be accepted. Unfortunately, when parents hear this cry, they automatically respond by reassuring the child that things are indeed fair.
This creates even greater frustration and anger, because the child does not feel heard or understood. And, it misses the point. Our goal as parents is to understand why something feels amiss to a child.
- Reasons for “that’s not fair”:
- It’s not fair = I don’t like this
Genuine imbalance in their lives and/or relationships
It can be difficult to tell the difference between the two, but I encourage every parent to take careful stock of the situation before brushing this statement off.
It’s not fair = I don’t like this
Unlike “I’m telling on you!”, “that’s not fair” is a phrase parents will hear for many years to come. It means different things at different ages.
A preschool child will consider differences in bedtime or seat assignments a fairness issue. School age children might consider strict rules around TV to be a fairness issue, while teenagers consider an early curfew an unfair act. These complaints reflect disappointment that something has not gone their way.
Rather than trying to reason with your child about why it is, in fact, fair, it’s important to acknowledge their disappointment or frustration. If the complaint is a reaction to an important rule (safety, health, etc), then stick with it. If there is a reasonable way to show a little give-and-take without compromising an important rule or value, then model this process for your child.
Genuine imbalances can happen without us recognizing it as such and/or knowing how to change it. When a child behaves poorly, it often represents an imbalance. Maybe your child is stressed about demands at school or a challenging friendship dynamic or what he perceives to be an imbalance of time, attention, or love toward another sibling.
Children crave harmonious relationships and family life in the same way that parents do. When a child’s efforts to do well at school, or on an athletic field, or at home with a sibling receives our praise, support, and encouragement, that is a sign of the relationship being in balance. When these efforts are met with indifference, immediate correction, or disapproval, then the relationship quickly becomes imbalanced.
These imbalances take time to understand. With an older child, we can have a discussion, which entails being available and ready to listen. A young child is less able to reflect and pinpoint his own discord, so we have to imagine his perspective, through observation and honest, thoughtful reflection.
Curb your Child’s Anger
To effectively curb big behavior problems, such as anger, you need to put in some time and work. It’s important to take stock of the situation and try to see the world through your child’s eyes. Think like your child! This is the work.
- Acknowledge feelings. Whether you understand or agree with your child’s distress does not matter. Instead of dismissing her feelings as overly sensitive or irrational, say something like: “you look so mad!”
- Work to “catch” your child being good. Find every opportunity to say something positive especially when a child is particularly sensitive and relations might be tumultuous.
- Write down a free-flowing list of the problems as you see them (include both parents, if applicable). Write down everything that frustrates you either in the moment or at the end of the day. This will lead to #5.
- Talk with other people in your child’s life.Understanding what they experience and the pervasiveness of your child’s anger will give you insight into the depth of the issue and maybe even the cause.
- Try to identify a common theme and/or trigger (reflect on #3 & 4).Understanding this will shed light on the root of the problem, which will enable you to make permanent changes, rather than temporary bandages.
- Turn to resources, such as books or websites based on the specific theme or situation (sibling rivalry, school trouble, friendship challenges, perceived inadequacies or imbalances, etc). Yes, this takes time, but some aspects of parenting are not intuitive. Rely on experts to ease these struggles.
- Prioritize the list of problems to address, and focus on one at a time. Action lists help to keep everyone focused and on-task. Place sticky notes around to remind you of the one focus for the week.
- Present the plan to the child. In many situations, involving the children sends the message that helping them is very important to you. It also inspires and empowers them to be an active part of the game plan.
- Be intentional. Intentional parenting is in part about making the minute changes necessary to keep up with your ever-changing and evolving child.
- Tell your child again and again how much you love them. Don’t assume your child knows how you are feeling. This may be a shock, but your child does not know how much you love them, how proud you are of them, or how often you think of them.
Be aware of children’s constant development and understand that what works today might not work tomorrow. For the same reason, what was a problem yesterday might not be as dramatic tomorrow or next week. With the appropriate intervention, these phases are often quick to pass, although it’s easy to question this in the heat of the moment.
Parenting Your Out-of-Control Teenager: 7 Steps to Reestablish Authority and Reclaim Love
Price: $10.87 & eligible for FREE Super Saver Shipping on orders over $25.
You Save: $5.12 (32%)