"It's not fair, why can't I do/have it as well?"

This must be the recurring question that annoys me the most. Why can't the youngest do or have the same things as the eldest. Why does the eldest have to do chores the youngest doesn't have to do? etc...

How do I best respond to this line of argument, from both the younger and older child? Would listing all of the benefits and disadvantages of each perspective help? What are the strongest arguments for showing that the benefits of being the oldest make it not worth complaining about the things the youngest can "get away with"? What are the strongest arguments for showing the youngest that the benefits of being the youngest make it not worth complaining about all the things the older child can do that the younger isn't permitted yet?

  • Johann, I've put in two edits to your question. The first edit removes references to a "list" of answers, as requests for lists are strongly discouraged from SE sites. The second edit changes the focus of your question, but I think it is more likely to garner constructive answers. If you don't agree with the second edit, please feel free to roll back to the first edit I made.
    – user420
    May 11, 2012 at 14:33
  • Looks good to me! Your English is indeed much better than mine (I'm French). Thanks!
    – Johann
    May 11, 2012 at 14:41
  • There was no problem with your mastery of English :) It was really more of change to the focus of the question, rather than correcting anything wrong. I honestly would not have guessed that English wasn't your first language!
    – user420
    May 11, 2012 at 14:59

6 Answers 6


I handle this simply. When the older child complains about work that the younger child doesn't have to do, I tell her that her younger sister does the same work that she did when she was her younger sisters age. If complaints continue after that, I remind her that she also has privileges that her younger sister doesn't, and if she would like to be "fair", she can not do the work, since her younger sister doesn't have to, but that she also loses the privilege, since her younger sister doesn't get that either.


I would add to Kevin's answer about the younger child complaining about the older child's privileges. We have 'rules' in our house, for example when you are 8 you get an email, after 4 you may not ride in a stroller, when you are in first grade you get... They are happy to know that the rules are the same for all of them, and are age based, so everyone is equal in the end.

  • And it shows that they can grow into those privileges, too, and that they are not awarded by whim.
    – Will E.
    May 11, 2012 at 15:12
  • Off-topic comment: 8 to get an email? I thought the minimum legal age was 13 ;-)
    – Johann
    May 11, 2012 at 15:26
  • @Johann: it depends on the laws of the country where you create the email and the laws of the country where the email servers are in. May 11, 2012 at 15:47
  • 1
    @AndreasBonini I think Johann was jesting a bit. As well, along with the law you have to consider the social implications of the time. May 11, 2012 at 15:51
  • @johann I wonder if there is a limit for giving my child an email on a personal mail server. Though this question is probably more for legal.
    – DRF
    Dec 5, 2016 at 11:04

I have a five year old and a three year old, and the five year old is starting with the "That's not fair" routine.

This is unorthodox, but I don't actually respond to this with a privilege/responsibility thing. I'm pretty clear with my 5 year old that life is almost never fair or just. What I tend to say is "It still needs to be done."

As in "She made the mess, why do I have to clean it up?" "It doesn't matter whose toys they are, it matters that they get picked up." Or "It doesn't have to be fair, it just has to be clean."

This doesn't get me cheerful cooperation, but it does end the conversation and he does do the chore.

My reasoning is basically that I don't want to get into arguments over the rules with a playroom lawyer. I don't care what the rules say, I care whether the dishes are done.

The youngest child might be right. Maybe it isn't fair that they can't do something that the older child can do, and maybe the benefits of being the younger don't outweigh that unjust situation. It doesn't have to be fair or just, and I suspect that once you agree with their premise that your rules should be fair and just than you are opening yourself up to major whining.

  • Does your 5yo counter-argument that you can clear the mess instead?
    – svavil
    Feb 25, 2019 at 12:27
  • They did. To which my response varied between, "Only if you can do the thing that I'm doing." to "I don't think you understand what I just said about life not being fair. I'll try again. Life isn't fair, that needs to be done, you're the person best suited to do it right now, so do it. I love you."
    – philosodad
    Feb 26, 2019 at 14:26

When we were young we were told that "fair" doesn't mean everyone gets the same amount, it means everyone gets what they deserve (one of the synonyms of "fair" is "Just" as in Justice)

e.g. You've just finished dinner and 3 friends call.
Q: You have a cake to share between your friends, what's fair?
A: Each gets one quarter of the cake.

Q: You have a cake to share between you and your friends, one of your friends hasn't eaten for two days. What's fair?
A: That unfortunate friend gets the entire cake.

The older child can do more, is stronger and is more responsible. It's unfair to ask the younger kid to try to do the same & take the same responsibilities as as the older kid.


Granted, I did not have to do this with siblings that were my own children, but, in a variety of situations including those where I have charges that are siblings and in the classroom, I have the attitude that "fair" is not a reasonable thing to expect. The world is not essentially a "fair place." Some people have more freedom than others, some people have to deal with more illness than others etc.

The way this applies to children is that everyone is capable of certain things when they are capable. Of course with new freedoms come new responsibilities as well. When child X can't steer her bike reliably, she can't drive it to the park even though child Y can because she CAN steer as well as follow a number of other safety rules. Before she proved she could handle the responsibliities she wasn't allowed to drive her bike to the park either. When child Y gains the ability to use some new skill, she also has the responsibility to apply that skill in helping with family chores too.

I'm sure you get the idea, but in essence, what is "fair" is that everyone gets the best opportunity mommy and daddy (or I as caretaker/teacher) can give under the circumstances and considering the abilities AND associated responsibilities of the child in question.

YES, this will result in whining, but when they learn that the "its not fair" argument does not elicit either a bunch of attention from you OR a negotiation period, it will stop being the "go to" complaint. I will listen if a person offers up an alternative solution that is a win-win, but only if it is not done disrespectfully, on the basis of "fair" or with a whiny voice.


It was a really big problem with my sister and me when we were younger. My parents handled it poorly and as a result I don't really have a strong connection with my sister, who's 5 years younger than me, so it's a really serious issue a parent needs to handle.

I think the best you can do is to be consistent. If you tell the younger she can't do something the older can, you shouldn't allow her to do what her sibling can do the next time either. Or the other way around.

  • For example: The younger wants a phone because the older has one. You say no. Next time the younger wants to stay out as late as the older. You should say no, because if you say yes, the younger would think she can have what she wants, and the older would think it's not fair, the younger can have everything she couldn't have when she was at that age.

This way it will be easier later, because they will know how it works. Everything is based on rules and rote.

The younger has less freedom but also less responsibilities that the older one. It's kind of fair.

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