At what age do you or can you teach a kid about fairness? I helped my cousin watch after her 17 yr old and 11 yr old. I had to pick up the 17 yr old from softball practice. She hinted she wanted to get a tapioca drink so I took her to get one. I didn't think about getting the 11 yr old a drink (stupid me) and he started having a fit when I went to pick him up from the library and he saw his sister had one but he didn't.

I apologized but he was still crying, stomping, kicking, etc. I was going to tell him about about life and fairness but since it's not my kid, I didn't think it was appropriate.

This brings me to the next question. If I have kids one day, when should I teach MY kids about fairness and that it's ok that someone can get something but they might not? What age would they understand the concept and lesson and not miss the learning moment b/c they were so caught up over what was "unfair"

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    Start from day 1, though it won't sink in until much later. May 8, 2014 at 9:43
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    It seems like you're really asking "What's an appropriate age to teach kids that the world is not always fair?" which may well be a very different answer than "What age is appropriate to teach the value of fairness in our interactions with others." Didn't want to edit your title in case I'm misrepresenting, tho...
    – Jaydles
    May 14, 2014 at 18:57

4 Answers 4


Siblings usually are very jealous of each other. In my opinion it would be only fit to negotiate an action that would recompense the younger kid but only after it settles down (screaming and whining is not the way to gain anything).

  1. You were in a car and a whining child can seriously impair your attention. Stop of you have the time and give the kid some time to settle down. Also asking the 17y old to go out of reach of hearing would make things easier as she constantly reminded the younger one about the unfairness.

  2. Settle a firm requirement the kid has to follow before you even start listening.

  3. After she settles down negotiate if she followed your requirements to the letter. If not drop the subject and carry on going back home.

You can teach kids about fairness early on and it goes very well with establishing a position of control. If you bend once to a kids fit you are in trouble because the next time it's possible the kid will try to leverage your weakness for screaming to his/hers advantage.

Stories about life and fairness are hard to relate to for kids. Give simple examples. But first make sure the kid is not trashing about because it will not listen.

Talking about feelings can be useful in a rage fit. If you make her tell what she feels (e.g. you being unfair makes her furious) and what you feel (bad because you forgot about her) it should make her understand you more and vice-versa.

If after 3 min. you are unable to gain any control the cause is lost. Ignore until she calms down and then you can again try the feeling approach. Once that is settled dissect the situation and point the overreaction on her part. If this turns out ok promise her that next time you will remember about her but do not give gratification immediately as it will still boil down to her rage giving her profit.

When it comes to your kids you will have the subject pop up probably even before the kid will be able to speak and once he/she goes to school it will pop up daily.

Always be firm in your stance and clear about positive and negative consequences. This should in itself make you a great example of fairness :).


Babies as young as 5 months can recognize prosocial behaviour. By 8 months, they will even sympathize with characters who punish evildoers. From those results, it's safe to say that babies have a sense of morality.

To answer your question, then: start from birth, because babies already know about fairness. Set good examples, and they are likely to retain that instinct.


The 11 year old wants a drink because the 17 year old got one. Not because he wants a drink, or because of a wish for fairness, but because she got one.

Fairness is all nice. But "if she gets something, he gets the same thing automatically" is not fairness. "She got something that she wanted, and one day you will get something you want" is fairness. Let's say you didn't have enough money for two drinks, would it be fair to deny the older one a drink just because the younger one will complain?

That drink was a present. It is absolutely fine and not at all stupid to get a present for one only, as long as you treat them fairly in the long term. And treating them fairly doesn't mean you treat them equally. Often you will treat them differently because they have different needs. In this case, I don't think a tantrum does deserve a reward or an apology. What about saying "I really forgot to buy a drink for you as well, and I would probably have driven back to get one for you, but after that performance I don't feel like it". Would you have bought a drink for the 17 year old if she had stomped her feet to get one? Hopefully not.

When you say "I was going to tell him about about life and fairness but since it's not my kid, I didn't think it was appropriate." You react to how people behave, and it's appropriate to show him that you react to his behaviour. He will respect you more for it than he will respect you for giving in to tantrums, and in the long term it is to his benefit.


In Teaching Children Fairness: Decreasing Gender Prejudice Among Children, Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy, Volume 11, Issue 1, pages 61–81, December 2011, Britney G. Brinkman, Allison Jedinak, Lee A. Rosen, and Toni S. Zimmerman, focused on studying the feasibility of teaching fifth graders (11-13 year old) about social justice issues—addressing gender, race, and class issues specifically, at home and at school, and their study is optimistic: it can be done.

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