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'It's not fair!' -- How to respond

Trying to find a good rejoinder to "It's not fair!''-- your kid's favorite complaint of late?

That's a toughie, especially if you want your answer to be rooted in patience and maybe even offer a little perspective (as opposed to the ever-popular, but really pretty cruel "Well, life's not fair''). We turned to Brett Berk, author of The Gay Uncle's Guide to Parenting (Random House, $13.95). Berk holds a master's degree in education and worked as a preschool director for more than a decade, so we figured he was pretty familiar with the phrase.

"Kids usually use this line not when they're confronting the issue of injustice, but when they're simply not getting their way,'' Berk says.

"They generally don't understand abstract concepts like 'fairness,' which requires the weighing of multiple variables. So it's a mistake to try to have a discussion about what constitutes bias.''

That's why lines like, "Fairness is a relative term, based on a subjective understanding of a situation ...'' or, "It actually is fair if you think about it. And here's why ...'' aren't going to work.

Berk also points out that kids live very much in the present. "So you'll probably lose them if you try to explain your decision from a rational or historical perspective.''

So this line -- "Actually, I gave you a chance to listen to me earlier when we were discussing this in the car and you didn't pay attention to me then, so that's why you're losing your privilege now'' -- is not gonna get you anywhere.

"The best response is to bring things back to the situation at hand,'' Berk says, offering the following example: "Child: 'It's not fair. I want a cookie.' Parent: 'You can't have a cookie now, because we only have dessert on Saturdays. You can have a cookie on Saturday. Right now you can finish your carrots, or you can have some broccoli or cheesy bunnies.' "Then you simply end the debate.

Remember: It takes two people to have an argument. If your child attempts to bait or lure you back in, simply explain that you've already given your answer, and offer your suggested solution. If they whine or cry, tell them that they can do so as much as they want, but you told them what you think and you're not going to change your mind.

"This will take patience and endurance the first few times, but after your child realizes that you mean what you say, they'll be much less likely to try and use these sleazy 'not fair' tactics.''