How many times a day do you hear one of your children complain that you, “Just aren’t fair”? While it is simple to explain away your behavior with a generic, “Life isn’t fair” remark, here are the 5 reasons why parents shouldn’t play fair.

Different Kids, Different Rules – We’re not talking about playing favorites here. You shouldn’t allow one kid to eat ice cream in front of the other simply because you fancy that child more. This is the rule of treating each child according to what’s best for their individual development.

A 9-year-old may have to go to bed earlier than her 4-year-old brother if she seems especially tired or is recovering from illness. A child allergic to shellfish wouldn’t be allowed to sample the same shrimp from a buffet table that the rest of the family was enjoying. While provisions should be made to try to accommodate every child, it sometimes isn’t possible. Children don’t only come in black and white, so the rules won't, either.

Circumstances May Decide – Maybe your plans to allow everyone fifteen minutes on the swing were interrupted by a surprise rain shower, and two children didn’t get their turn. A favorite exhibit at the zoo may have been closed due to maintenance, and another child’s favorite was viewed instead. These are all real-life examples of how circumstance and unforeseen developments may alter how fairly children are treated. Your best intentions are not always enough.

You Learn as You Go – I would never allow my youngest son to eat some of the foods I regularly cooked for my oldest daughter at the same age. I have grown wiser about my food choices, and so it would be absurd to follow the same diet rules with both children out of fairness alone. I have also found that some rules have become more relaxed with age. Allowing my daughter to play in mud would have horrified me at a time in my life when image was everything; Mud cakes and dirt pies are a favorite pastime of my toddlers now that I have learned to relax a bit! It is easy to see that our standards for behavior can improve over time, and it is only natural that we pass these on to each child individually.

We Make Mistakes – While it would be ideal to consistently parent all of our children to the best of our ability, sometimes we just mess up! While I am quick to change a practice of unnecessarily unfair treatment among children, it happens, nonetheless. Admitting that I made an error, and allowing my children to learn about human nature is an opportunity for them to learn and grow.

Life Lessons Start Little – Teaching an infant that “life isn’t fair” seems rather harsh, and I wouldn’t recommend it. As children grow older, however, they will need to learn that things can’t always go as planned, and unintentional favoritism can happen. Taking moments to explain the differences between fair and just can prepare children for life as adults, and will cut back on the disappointment and whining later on.

We live in a world where fairness is spelled out in rules, doctrines, and social standards. Ideally, it would benefit us all if things could always be fair. Since this isn’t possible, take a moment to examine your attitude towards fair parenting. See if there isn’t an opportunity to teach your children about the life they were born into in a realistic, yet loving way!