As parents, we strive to equip our children with the tools they need to navigate life's challenges and uncertainties. One such challenge that inevitably arises is the experience of unfairness or injustice. Whether it's being overlooked for a promotion, excluded by peers, or facing discrimination, unfairness is a universal aspect of the human experience. Thus, how we respond to unfairness shapes our character and resilience. In this article, we'll explore the importance of teaching children how to navigate unfairness and develop resilience in the face of adversity.

Understanding Unfairness

Unfairness can manifest in various forms, from minor disappointments to systemic injustices. Children may encounter unfairness in their interactions with peers, teachers, or siblings, as well as in societal structures and institutions. It's essential for parents to validate their children's feelings of frustration, anger, or sadness when they perceive unfair treatment. By acknowledging their emotions and experiences, parents create a safe space for children to express themselves and seek support. However, it is cautionary to keep in mind validating emotions and understanding thoughts is not equivalent to endorsing behaviour, although these can easily be mixed up.

While it can be tempting to problem solve for our children and intervene such as, correcting perceived or actual injustice, by doing so we are hindering our child’s psychosocial development. During our child’s early years we will be required to assist them in noticing, managing and responding to unfairness, and it is important in these early years to scaffold skills with the aim of gradually relinquishing this role as our child grows. By teaching and encouraging our children to problem solve and through our own modelling we can help our navigate injustices and respond integrally. By allowing our children to become familiar with undesirable (but functional) negative emotions will allow them to foster cognitive, emotional and behavioural skills in adapting to injustice and adversity. Thus, aside from validating and guiding our children, it is critical we provide patience and space for our children to experience distress and natural consequences, in order to promote the trial of self-regulation, conflict resolution, and problem-solving strategies.

Dr Judith Locke, clinical psychologist and child wellbeing specialist, coined the term “sherpa’ing” when referring to parents who take on the labouring work practically (for example, carrying school bags, emptying lunch boxes, getting school uniform ready), and academically (for example, organising assignments, over-editing work, and conducting the research). These acts are out of love and care, and largely effective in the short term (mitigating distress, failure, missed opportunities, or overcoming resistance and avoiding conflict). Yet, research and anecdotal evidence tells us, when we over-assist we are short-changing our children. A better, yet harder, lesson is one that teaches our children accountability, perspective taking and the skills to resolve conflict. This approach takes parental courage and a dose of humility, because naturally our children may fail during the early stages of implementation.

Supporting a coherent and authentic identify

During adolescence, individuals begin to explore and form their own sense of identity, including their values, beliefs, goals, and aspirations. They may experiment with different roles, interests, and relationships as they seek to understand who they are and where they fit in society. This exploration often involves questioning societal norms and expectations and seeking autonomy and independence from parents and other authority figures.

Our intrinsic need to justify our actions when they are incongruent with our values distracts us from taking accountability. Teaching accountability and consequences is then crucial for several reasons. First, our children learn they are responsible for their actions and their consequences. While behaviours do not occur in isolation, playing referee to conflicts whether between siblings or peers, can exacerbate blame-shifting and helplessness that weakens their self-concept. Instead, teaching our children to be accountable for their actions, fosters a sense of ownership and empowers them to make informed choices. Second, our children learn the impact of their behaviour on themselves and others, fostering self-awareness, perspective taking and empathy, ethical behaviour, trust, and integrity.

As parents, we have the opportunity and responsibility to teach our children how to navigate unfairness, and build resilience in the face of adversity. By validating their experiences, encouraging accountability of actions through self-reflection and empathy, and modelling positive coping strategies, we can empower our children to overcome obstacles, advocate for justice, and thrive in an imperfect world. Together, we can equip our children with the tools they need to navigate life's challenges with courage, compassion, and resilience.

Try this:

  1. Encourage Positive Coping Strategies: Teach children healthy ways to cope with adversity such as problem-solving, negotiating compromises, effective communication, seeking support from trusted adults, practicing mindfulness, empathy and compassion, or engaging in activities they enjoy. Letting our children navigate and problem solve supports the development of critical skills to overcome future disappointments and manage their negative emotions.
  2. Foster a Growth Mindset: Encourage a belief in the power of effort, perseverance, and learning from failure. Emphasize that setbacks are opportunities for growth and improvement, rather than indicators of personal worth or ability.
  3. Promote Empathy and Compassion: Help children develop empathy by encouraging perspective-taking, listening to others' experiences, and recognizing the impact of their actions on others. When parents step back, children learn to express their feelings, empathize with each other's perspectives, and find constructive ways to manage conflict-related emotions such as anger, frustration, and jealousy.
  4. Model Resilience: Lead by example and demonstrate resilience in your own life. Share stories of overcoming challenges, handling adversity, and learning from mistakes. Your resilience and optimism will inspire and empower your children to navigate their own struggles with confidence.
  5. Promote Independence and Autonomy: Parental referring in child conflicts undermine children's sense of autonomy and independence. Allowing our children to take accountability for their actions, experience consequences of their actions and resolve disputes independently empowers them to take ownership of their relationships and develop a sense of agency in managing interpersonal conflicts.
  6. Cultivate a Supportive Environment: Create a supportive home environment where children feel loved, valued, and accepted for who they are. Foster open communication, trust, and mutual respect within the family. Encourage positive relationships with peers, mentors, and community members who provide encouragement and guidance.

Resolving Conflict:

  1. Set Clear Expectations: Establish clear guidelines and expectations for resolving conflicts, such as using respectful language, taking turns to speak, and finding mutually acceptable solutions. Provide guidance on effective communication skills and problem-solving strategies that children can use independently.
  2. Teach Conflict Resolution Skills: Offer guidance and support to help children develop effective conflict resolution skills, such as active listening, perspective-taking, assertive communication, and compromise. Encourage children to brainstorm solutions together and explore creative ways to address disagreements.
  3. Model Positive Conflict Resolution: Serve as a positive role model by demonstrating respectful communication, empathy, and compromise in your own interactions with family members and others. Show children how to handle conflicts calmly, assertively, and constructively, modelling healthy conflict resolution strategies they can emulate.

Further Resources

Shifting responsibility to pre-teens and teenagers

Fostering accountability in teens

How to resilience-proof your kids


Dr Judith Locke: Why parents should stop being their child’s sherpa. The Parents Website. (2022, September 6).

Kendra Cherry, Mse. (2023, December 4). How people develop an identity or cope with role confusion. Verywell Mind.

Mayer, D. M., Aquino, K., Greenbaum, R. L., & Kuenzi, M. (2012). Who displays ethical leadership, and why does it matter? An examination of antecedents and consequences of ethical leadership. Academy of Management Journal, 55(1), 151-171.

Mazerolle, L., & Ransley, J. (2005). Third-party policing and crime prevention. Police Practice and Research, 6(5), 419-434.

McGuire, J., & Priestley, P. (1995). Reviewing ‘What works’: Past, present and future. In J. McGuire (Ed.), What Works: Reducing Reoffending. John Wiley & Sons.

O'Neill, R., & Stephenson, J. (2012). Teacher-based judgments of academic achievement: A review of literature. Journal of School Psychology, 50(2), 187-212.