Q: My kids whine that it's not fair when one of them gets something the others don't, like a goody bag at a birthday party. What do I say to them when they tell me that I should buy them a treat, too, to make it fair?
A: Ah, yes. This one is a classic! Although we parents know that life isn't always fair, a whining child is not exactly receptive to that lesson in that moment.
So first, give empathy -- perhaps by saying, "You really wish you could have a goody bag, too."
That may be enough. They may simply work through their disappointment by crying a bit, then let it go.
Or not. If they continue to beg you to buy them a treat too so they can feel better, then neutrally refuse to make things "fair", perhaps by saying simply, "No honey, I'm not going to do that."
That will probably bring tears to the surface. Stay present and listen compassionately while they release their upset feelings about it, with no attempt to convince them to feel differently.
Realize that their feelings are probably not just about this incident, so the outburst may seem to be blown out of proportion. What they are actually doing is adjusting themselves to the reality that life is NOT fair, and that can take some time and effort to accomplish.
In a way, the child is grieving the death of the dream that they will always have everything they want the moment they want it. That's a big one. Let them have their process while you stay nearby. Feel free to physically hold or comfort them if they want you to and you can stay calm. Stay engaged, loving them, and trusting that when they release those feelings, they will feel much better inside.
When the feeling storm passes, and it will, your child will be much more accepting and affectionate again. It's okay for a child to cry in the loving presence of a warm and caring adult. Tears can wash the heart and mind clean of painful expectations and disappointments, and bring us back to the present moment.
You might even say to your children, "I'll keep you company while you cry, honey." That teaches them not to be afraid of expressing their emotions so they don't keep them bottled up inside. They will also learn from experience that no emotion lasts forever, and develop trust that a feeling that is expressed will run its course and they will feel better with it out of their system.
So don't rush too fast to fix everything for your child so they don't feel pain. Crying can serve a healthy purpose when it happens in the loving presence of a caring adult.
If you resonate with this approach, you might also enjoy the articles at http://www.handinhandparenting.com/.
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