What do you tell your five-year-old when she complains that her seven-year-old brother got a bigger piece of cake than she did? Circle one of the options below:

A. It’s because I misplaced the ruler but I’ll go look for it now.

B. If you’re going to complain, I’ll take away your cake and you won’t have anything.

C. Yes, I can see his cake is a little bit bigger. That doesn’t feel fair, right? Here — let me give you some more so yours will be the same size.

D. Yes, now that you mention it, I can see his cake is a little bit bigger. That’s doesn’t feel fair, right? Well, honey, sometimes that’s what happens. Sometimes your piece is bigger and sometimes his is. Mommy can’t cut it exactly even.

E. None of the above.

What do you tell your six-year-old who wants new shoes because her four-year-old sister just got a pair?

A. Okay. Put your coat on; we’ll go get them right now.

B. Your shoes still fit — you don’t need a new pair. When you need new shoes, you’ll get them. Everybody gets what they need when they need it.

C. I understand, sweetheart: You’d like some shiny new shoes too! But remember that Mommy just bought you a new coat yesterday.

D. I understand, sweetheart: You’d like some shiny new shoes too! It isn’t time for that yet.

E. None of the above.

What do you tell your 15-year-old who wants you to buy her a guitar and a series of lessons because you spend so much money on the 17-year-old’s tutors and therapists?

A. You don’t need guitar lessons whereas she needs the extra help.

B. I wish I could afford to spend so much on every child in this family, but I can’t. C. This is not a competition. I don’t have to prove I love you by spending as much money on you as I spend on your sister. I show you love in plenty of other ways. D. I know it doesn’t seem fair. We have to spend so much on your sister and then we can’t buy you the things you really want. It probably seems like we somehow love her more than we love you! E. None of the above.What do you tell your 35-year-old whose husband is a very successful businessman, but she resents the $5,000 you sent to her impoverished sister for desperately needed house repairs?A. You don’t need the money and she does. B. If I have to give all ten of you $5,000 in order to be fair, then the house repairs will cost me $50,000. I simply don’t have that kind of money. C. It’s not about being fair. I love all ten of you. But I only have $5,000. I can give each of you $500, but then she won’t have a normal-looking house. Is that what you want? D. It sounds like you feel that I am favoring her because I’m helping her out and I’m not helping you. Maybe you feel I love her more than I love you or maybe it bothers you because it just doesn’t seem right. E. None of the above.



Hopefully, you chose “D” as the answer for each question — it’s the answer that acknowledges the child’s pain but does not offer reassurance or a quick fix. Unfortunately, offering reassurance by saying something like, “But don’t worry, we love you all equally,” stops the child from finding the truth inside her own brain.

On the other hand, naming and accepting the child’s hurt or sense of being wronged, allows her to hear and process what she herself is saying. It leaves the raw pain hanging out in full view, ready to be assessed. Hearing it played back to her almost always enables the child to draw the correct conclusion: That she is equally loved and that things aren’t always “fair.”

Moral of the story: Meet the pain head- on. Name it (“You feel like we love her more”) and accept it (“I understand”). Now let the child fix it herself (“No, I know you love all of us. It just isn’t fair.”) And leave it right there. (Originally featured in Family First, Issue 579)