Equality vs. Fairness

Health Writer

The difference between treating children equal and treating them fairly.

When you have more than one child, often one child will feel he or she is not being treated fairly, but more often children are not treated equal. While our children may believe these terms mean the same, there are some really big differences between treating your children equally and treating them fairly.

It is almost impossible to treat your children equally. Each child is different, most of the time, each child is a different age and each child has unique needs and wants. Treating children equally would deprive each of them of some of their unique needs. For example, the two children left at home with me are my daughter, age 14, and my son, age 11. Each one has different interests. My daughter takes several music lessons each week. My son is a black belt in Tae Kwon Do. Both are good students. Both are treated fairly, but not always equally.

Each night, I review my son's homework, although I no longer feel the need to do this with my daughter, she has shown me through the years it is not necessary. She always completes it and always hands it in. My son also completes his work, but I still take the time to review because he sometimes has difficulties in math and reading. Although this treatment is certainly not equal, it is fair. My approach works not on the basis of equality, but on the basis of individual needs.

The differences between treating children equal and treating children fairly comes into play even more when there is a child or children with ADHD in the house. When, on a consistent basis, one child needs more attention and more time from one parent, other siblings can end up feeling neglected, frustrated or angry.

Sometimes, siblings will mimic the behavior of the child with special needs, in order to receive attention from the parents. They may begin to do poorly in school or act out at home, seeing these behaviors as a way to get the parent's attention. Other children may instinctively become self-sufficient, in an effort to please the parent. Whether children act out or learn independence early, children need attention from their parents. However, when a child with ADHD requires long stretches of time to complete homework and must be monitored consistently throughout the day, there is not always enough time and energy to devote equal time to each child.

Parents can, however, work to provide fairness in how all their children are treated. In a previous article, I provided a number of suggestions for parents to help siblings not feel as if they are unloved or loved less. Some of the ideas include:

  • Find activities your children are interested in.
  • Limit the amount of time spent on homework by the child with ADHD
  • Spend at least 10 minutes daily with each child, privately
  • Find time to spend special "alone" time with each child throughout the month

Frequently, when parents spend more time assisting one child, they feel guilty about it. Rather than allowing guilt to harm your relationship with all of your children, understand the difference between equal and fairness and strive to be fair.