Every day begins the same. As the children arrive they agree on an activity to play together and begin the process of making sure everything is ‘fair’. This is a very, very, long process. In fact, often the actual game never even begins because they can’t agree on what is ‘fair’ so they switch to another activity instead – another activity with another set of toys and another lengthy period of deliberation over what will be ‘fair’.
The problem is that each has a different definition of ‘fair’.
The ‘quantity’ child believes that it is fair if everyone involved has the exact same number of toys. ‘Quantity’ maintains that everyone must have the same number of characters, blocks etc. before play can begin. Even if the other children involved only want one or two toys this child delays the game until everyone has an equal number of the toys to use. “That’s not fair!” is often heard.
‘Ruler’ insists that all the biggest, most powerful toys belong to their personal group of toys. ‘Ruler’ often tries to use ‘Quantity’ as an ally by pointing out that each of them has the same number of toys so it is fair. In essence it is not fair because although the number of items is equal, the quality is not. ‘Ruler’ is a very competitive child for whom ‘fair’ means they are in charge and their team always wins.
‘Cluster’ doesn’t really care how many toys are on their team as long as they all match. ‘Cluster’ wants all the members of a family group and doesn’t worry if someone else has more toys or better toys. ‘Cluster’ believes it is fair when everything matches and gets frustrated when ‘Quantity’ insists on assigning additional dissimilar members to ‘Cluster’s’ families. Another conflict occurs because all the ‘fathers’ of the family groups tend to also be the power toys that ‘Ruler’ has already claimed thereby leaving ‘Cluster’s’ families incomplete.
‘CoOp’ will happily accept any toys the others don’t want to use. CoOp has favourite toys but they don’t mind if others use them and will wait patiently while the others choose and set up the activity. ‘CoOp’ will never complain nor be assertive. ‘CoOp’ believes it is fair when everyone is able to participate harmoniously – conflict is their greatest fear. ‘CoOp’ often ends up playing alone either because they felt overwhelmed by the negotiations or the others failed to invite them to play.
‘Tyrant’ is impulsive – recklessly stumbling through block structures and grabbing any toys that appear interesting at the moment. It doesn’t matter if the toy is in a bin, on the floor or in someone else’s hand, the moment ‘Tyrant’ wants it ‘Tyrant’ takes it. Thankfully ‘Tyrant’ tends to have a short attention span so the toy is usually soon returned to its original user. Sometimes ‘Tyrant’s’ behaviour is fuelled by the reaction so it is important not to overreact to because it will intensify the conflict. “Tyrant’ is usually a toddler so the behaviour is a ‘normal’.
Actually, all these children are ‘normal’. They represent the children of various ages, temperaments and developmental levels who co-exist in a family childcare setting. The conflicts don’t mean the children need to be separated or that an adult needs to intervene. The conflicts mean that the children are learning to get along with others who have a different point of view.
Fair is not always equal. Fair is not always the same. Fair is not always without conflict. Accepting the conflict is difficult but it is part of the process – the process of learning to be fair.