“Not fair!” Could Your Child Be Right?

“Not fair!” Could Your Child Be Right?

It happened in less than five minutes. 10 YO David went from screaming, “Not fair!” when he thought he was losing, to accepting loss graciously. How?

I was helping a mom with a group of 3rd-5th graders. They had just finished a craft and were bouncing off the walls with pent-up energy but had to stay inside.

The mom suggested they play “Hot Potato” with a little stuffed bear. I sat with them in their wiggly, noisy circle on the floor as she explained the rules:

“When the music starts, toss the bear to the person on your left, and when the music stops, the person with the bear is out. The last person still in is the winner.”

We played a couple of rounds with no trouble, but when David was told he was out, he wouldn’t leave the circle. He exploded with: “It’s not fair! I didn’t have the bear when the music stopped. I already threw it!”

Since several children had gone out the same way and accepted losing without a fuss, the mom tried to get him to accept it, too. She was interrupted when the child on the receiving end of the toss volunteered to go out instead.

To the mom and the kids, David was showing up as a bad loser, crying “not fair” just to stay in the game. To me, he was showing up as not heard.

Kids crying “not fair” usually mean it. That tells you that playing by the rules is important to them, which is a great STRENGTH to point out.

By taking David at his word, I recognized that he wanted to play fair, so I used our simple coaching tools to help him do that. I leaned over to him, validated his thinking with SAY WHAT YOU SEE®, and clarified the rule:

“Playing by the rules is important to you, and you thought when the music stopped you had to be holding the bear to be out.” He nodded, and I went on: “It’s actually the last person who touches the bear before the music stops.”

That game ended, and the next time we played and got down to the last two players, it was just him and me. He tossed me the bear, and once again while it was still in the air the music stopped. This was the test.

The kids started calling me the winner, but David hesitated, so I said, "Let's see what David thinks," and let him make the call. Almost instantly he jumped up, grinned, and declared me the winner!

A shift from “not fair” to accepting loss graciously is not so surprising when you take children at their word. David was never a bad loser; he was always a champion for fairness. Now even he could see that, and he was proud.


  1. Sandra Busta |

    So empowering!

    Thank you for another great example of how “Say what you see” works!

  2. Sandra,

    Thank you for the acknowledgment!–Sandy

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