Member Question: Dear Rachel and the hive mind 

Starting to see struggles between big and little brother and keeping things “fair”. For example, little brother is 2.75yo and potty training. Big brother is 5.5yo and devolves if little brother earns an M&M for successful pottying and he doesn’t get one (I worked around this one by saying big bro gets an M&M too for cheering his little brother to success). Or little brother gets to pick out new undies for potty training but big brother doesn’t. Or little brother getting a birthday cupcake at school because a friend brought them to share.

We’ve discussed ad nauseam that “fair” is making sure people have what they need, but he’s 5 and it isn’t registering. Big brother isn’t lacking in special things (he gets/got all of this) – he’s feeling jipped in the moment, however. Not sure where to draw the line (obviously the birthday cupcake is a ‘deal with it, kid’ situation, but should big brother get new undies too since one can never have too much lol?). Tips on navigating this new (for us) frontier? It seems silly but it is very important to him!

Another Member’s Response:

We are in a similar boat- only oldest is 13 and youngest is 5.5.
Our aba therapist told us that they have to get used to having different boundaries. That’s life. Does this make sense yes- is it easy no. So we were told to have rules for each. To help with the disappointment of one getting something compare to the other.

Another Member’s Response:

I have a 10.5 yo and an 8 yo (both boys) and this has come up…a lot. Potty training resulted in both boys getting an M&M, but for different things. When the younger one would pee in the potty and get an M&M, we had different challenges the older one could complete (like stacking his books, or sort toys, etc) in order to earn one. The cupcake thing at our house wasn’t an issue as they will normally save something for their brother (adorbs!). Birthday parties are a different ballgame as one of my children is invited more frequently than the other. So, my husband takes one to the party, and the other has a “date” with Mom. The date does not involve buying any toys, but may involve a meal or snack.

Another Member’s Response:

My girls are 3.5 and 6. While potty training the younger one we gave both girls an M&M to start with. Youngest got hers for going in the potty, oldest got hers for reading a story to the youngest while sitting on the potty. We eventually had to move youngest to a sticker system, and at that point oldest stopped getting anything “potty training” related. She didn’t like it, but it’s important for them to learn that fair doesn’t always mean equal ? Hard lessons now, but so important….

It was perfect. Youngest needed time for bathroom “magic” to happen, and oldest needed some motivation to read more.

Another Member’s Response:

A motto I use with my kids is “Life isn’t about being fair, it’s about being kind”. We have conversations in calm times about what this means but in the moment I just repeat this phrase and then redirect her energy towards “what can we do to be kind to little sister right now?”, “What can we do to be kind to ourself right now?” Instead of focusing on how to make a situation “fair” which is pretty much always a losing battle. I’m a little torn on it because I don’t necessarily want to extinguish their desire for fairness in the world but with my particular 7 year old it’s kindness we need more of :p

Another Member’s Response:

I think (as a mom who hasn’t reached this 5yr age yet) this sounds like a great time for the “wish list.” When he gets a time to say I want this too and you reply that is a great idea, let’s add that to your wish list and have him help write it down. Then when he get something special say let’s put that on little brother’s list too.

Btw this idea came from a book recommendation from Rachel, “How to talk so little kids will listen”

Rachel’s Response: 

Ah, so many great ideas! I will just add that the reason kids are so stuck on “fair” is that for little people, the world is big and can be really unpredictable…. “fair” makes them feel more in control. It’s a rule that makes things seem more predictable, and it makes sense to them. That’s why they’re so stubborn about it.

BUT that doesn’t mean we make everything fair. In fact, trying to make things fair actually promotes competition, believe it or not. I’m including a video about that below.

I’m glad you received so many great ideas from the “hive mind” (!) about this…we’d love to hear what you tried and how it goes!