Illustration for article titled Teach Kids the Difference Between Photo: Anatoli Styf (Shutterstock)

It is the childhood whining heard around the world: “This is not fair.” It is used in protest of a sibling being allowed to stay out with friends or have extra screen time, or in response to a classmate having extra time to do a job. They might be tempted to snap back that “life is not fair,” and while this is true, teaching them the difference between fairness and justice is more helpful in the long run. Because what is the same is not always fair, and what is fair is not always the same.

Adults can understand why, at times, a person’s needs or circumstances can outweigh the importance of ensuring that everyone is receiving exactly the same amount of help or following exactly the same rules. A teenager should be allowed to stay up later as a kindergarten teacher; it may not be the same, but it is fair. However, fairness and justice are abstract concepts for children. Hence, parents need to train a little (maybe even a lot) before they can fully understand it.

Here are some exercises you can try at home to better understand the difference.

No glasses for anyone

Some people get more support because they need it – and just because they need it doesn’t mean everyone should get it. Barbara Gruener offers this exercise for teachers Free Spirit Publishing Blog, and parents can have a similar conversation at home to illustrate the point:

Start with the eye-opening example of wearing prescription glasses. After asking students if fair equals (their typical answer is a resounding “Yes!”), Respectfully request that everyone with glasses remove them because it is not “fair” for some to have glasses while the rest of the class doesn’t. This will challenge their thinking about fair meaning, we are all the same.

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A patch for everyone

Another classic tactic is that Pavement lesson This prompts everyone in the family to come up with a fake illness or injury. When everyone has chosen one, distribute a patch to each person to treat the injury – whether it’s a paper cut, a broken leg, or a bad cold.

Huh, that’s not fair.

Illustration for article titled Teach Kids the Difference Between

Who can reach

Teacher Samantha Song writes for Better kids that she has her own favorite exercise that she uses in her classroom every year to bring home the difference between fairness and justice. She puts a few items on a tall shelf and then calls a larger and a smaller student to get the items. If the shorter student cannot reach out, ask the class to think about how to help them (dragging over a chair, getting help from a larger classmate, etc.). Song writes:

This leads to a discussion between fair and equal. The two volunteers cannot be treated equally because that is really not fair or even necessary. The older child already has one leg up! * Ba dum pum * It is obvious to the class that they don’t need a chair or someone to help them reach. However, the other child needs shelter in order to have the same chance of success.

Equality has to do with equality, just like in mathematics. An equal sign tells us that both sides of the equation are exactly the same (3 + 2 = 5). Fair is different. Fair means everyone gets what they need based on visible gaps in opportunity. And sometimes people have different needs because we are unique individuals.

You can do this at home by instructing a teenage or adult family member, as well as a younger, smaller child, to try to reach the bowls on the top shelf of the kitchen cabinet. You give them the same job, but you wrongly expect the child to reach the same heights as an adult.

Illustration for article titled Teach Kids the Difference Between

Talk about justice versus equality

After doing some basic exercises, you can talk about the difference between justice and equality. Although they feel like the same basic concept on the surface, it’s crucial to understand the difference. Social Change UK explains it well::

Although both promote fairness, equality does it by treating all people equally regardless of their needs, while justice does it by treating people differently according to their needs. However, this difference in treatment can be the key to achieving equality.

Referring to the student’s example, fairness through equality would mean that all students receive the same level of support. Those who need more support beyond this initial level to be successful would therefore not have the same opportunities as those who do not.

Equality would not be anyone who wears glasses; Justice gives glasses to those who need them so that they can see as clearly as anyone else. Equality is the pavement for everyone and objects on high shelves; Justice addresses the individual’s specific injuries and step stools used as needed. Even in early bedtime for small children, justice is at stake – their bodies need more rest. And once children begin to understand the difference between fairness and justice, they can develop their empathy for others.