Menu

Almost every mom is intimately familiar with the plaintive wail, “But, that’s not fair!”  Kids seem to come into this world knowing those dreaded words.  This phrase is the go-to complaint anytime something doesn’t go their way.


Mom won’t let me eat cake for breakfast? Unfair!

Dad says I can’t roll around in the dirt? Unfair!

I have to go to bed now? Definitely unfair!

If your tot hasn’t discovered this phrase yet, pat yourself on the back for proactively planning for the inevitable tirades soon to come.

The protests of a child may seem a long way from the ivory tower ruminations of philosophers and mathematicians. It turns out, a particular area of study, known as game theory, can help shed light on how kids learn about fairness.

FEATURED VIDEO

Game theory is the science of strategic thinking and if parents stand a chance of keeping up with their wily kids, it’s exactly what they need.

Game theory started out in the 1940s as a theory of economic behavior.  But since its invention, game theory has been applied to a wide variety of human endeavors, from international intrigue to family dynamics.

And game theory has a lot to say about fairness.Although kids are likely to call almost anything “unfair,” these scholars have a more nuanced understanding of the term.

In the 1960s, a Columbia University professor, Sidney Morgenbesser, was arrested while at a protest. The police roughed up many of the protesters, including Morgenbesser.

When he was brought before a judge, the professor complained about his treatment. The judge asked Morgenbesser if he felt the physical violence was unfair. As an astute philosopher, Morgenbesser refused to call his treatment unfair because the police beat everyone; he said it was “unjust but not unfair.”

Try explaining this one to your crying two-year-old.  It’s sure to work.

Okay, maybe not.

Other game theory ideas are ready-to-use for little ones. From a young age,kids have one notion of fairness that closely relates with envy.  If young Suzie sees that Jamal got more time on the tablet than her, she’s sure to be upset. Jamal got more, that’s unfair!

Research from Peter Blake and Katherine McAuliffe found that kids as young as four were sensitive to this type of unfairness, but even younger kids can be, too!

Join Motherly

There’s another side to fairness: the unfairness of getting more than another.  So, while Suzie is unhappy that Jamal got more than her, Jamal may not view it that way. He’s content with all of his screen time. There’s nothing unfair in his eyes—until he gets a little older.

Blake and McAuliffe found that older kids became sensitive to this more nuanced type of unfairness.  These older children would be unhappy if they got a lot more than another child. They understood the receiving end of unfairness—even if they weren’t the ones receiving it.

Sensitivity to this type of unfairness seems to set in around eight years. (Although, you may know a few adults who haven’t yet reached this stage of development.) ?

An old parental standby can help parents teach their kids both sides of fairness.  Many parents know to use “I cut, you pick” to divide cookies or cakes between fighting siblings or friends.

Jamal cuts the cookie in half and then offers the choice of halves to Suzie. Game theorists have shown mathematically that this should always lead to an “envy-free” division of the cookie.

If Jamal divides the cookie into unequal pieces, then Suzie will choose the larger. To see this, Jamal has to think from both sides—what is fair to me and what is fair to Suzie.  When Jamal does, he cuts the cookie into equal pieces and neither child envies the other’s share.

But this strategy doesn’t need to be reserved for the rare sweet snack. Anything can be divided this way. Are your kids arguing about which toys they get to play with? Jamal can sort the toys into two piles and Suzie can pick the pile she prefers.

It may even solve a few tiffs between you and your partner!  Trying to decide how to divide parental duties this weekend? Have your partner divide the tasks into two batches and select the one you like the most—or dislike the least.

Armed with a few classic game theory strategies, you stand a chance at producing a kid who not only knows when she’s being treated unfairly but also sees the value in being kind to others.

For more ideas on parenting with game theory, check out The Game Theorist’s Guide to Parenting by Paul Raeburn and Kevin Zollman.

Our babies come out as beautiful, soft and natural as can be—shouldn't their clothes follow suit?

Here are nine of our favorite organic kids clothing brands that prove safe fabrics + stylish designs are a natural fit.

Estella

A brick and mortar store in Manhattan that opened in 2002, Estella is NYC's go-to shop for luxury baby gifts—from sweet-as-pie organic clothing to eco-friendly toys.

L'ovedbaby

@lovedbaby

We l'oved this collection from the moment we laid eyes on it. (See what we did there 🤣) Free of things harsh added chemicals, dangerous flame retardants, and harmful dyes, this collection is 100% organic and 100% gorgeous. We especially adore their soft, footed rompers, comfy cotton joggers, and newborn-friendly kimono bodysuits.

Looking to stock up? Don't miss Big-Find Thursday every week on their site—a 24-hour flash sale that happens Thursdays at 9 a.m. PST and features a different body style, collection, and discount every week!

Hanna Andersson

@happyhannas

One of our all-time favorite brands for durability, style, + customer service, Hanna Andersson doesn't disappoint in the organic department, either. From an aww-inducing organic baby layette collection all the way to their iconic pajamas, there are so many organic styles to swoon over from this beloved brand. And we swear their pajamas are magic—they seem to grow with your little one, fitting season after season!

Monica + Andy

@monicaandandy

The fabric you first snuggle your baby in matters. Monica + Andy's (gorgeous) collection is designed for moms and babies by moms with babies, and we love it all because it's made of super-soft GOTS-certified organic cotton that's free of chemicals, lead, and phthalates. Newborn pieces feature thoughtful details like fold-over mittens and feet.

Finn + Emma

@finnandemma

"Here boring designs and toxic chemicals are a thing of the past while modern colors, fresh prints and heirloom quality construction are abundant." We couldn't agree more. Made from 100% organic cotton, eco friendly dyes, and in fair trade settings, we love this modern collection's mix of style + sustainability.

We especially love the Basics Collection, an assortment of incredibly soft, beautiful apparel + accessories including bodysuits, zip footies, pants, hats, and bibs, all available in a gender-neutral color palette that can work together to create multiple outfit combinations. The pieces are perfect for monochrome looks or for mixing with prints for a more modern style.

SoftBaby

@littleaddigrey for @softbaby_clothes

You'll come for SoftBaby's organic fabrics, but you'll stay for their adorable assortment of prints. From woodland foxes to urban pugs, there's no limit to their assortment (meaning you'll even be able to find something for the new mama who's hard to shop for). Plus, the name says it all--these suckers are soft. Get ready for some serious cuddle time.

Gap Baby

@gapkids

Organic may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of the Gap, but this popular brand actually carries a wide variety of organic (and adorable) baby + toddler clothes. From newborn layette basics to toddler sleepwear—and more—there's something for everyone in this collection. Everything is 100% cotton, super soft + cozy, and perfect for eco-conscious mamas.

Winter Water Factory

@winterwaterfactory

Certified organic cotton with Brooklyn-based swagger? Be still our hearts. Winter Water Factory features screen-printed textiles in bold designs you'll want to show off (get ready for some major Instagram likes). And the husband-and-wife co-founders keep sustainability at the forefront of their brand, meaning you can feel good about your purchase--and what you're putting on your baby.

The company makes everything from kids' clothes to crib sheets (all made in the USA). For even more cuteness, pair their signature rompers with a hat or bonnet.

Under the Nile

@underthenile

Under the Nile has been making organic baby clothes since before it was cool. Seriously, they were the first baby clothing company in the USA to be certified by The Global Organic Textile Standard. They've kept up that legacy of high standards by growing their Egyptian cotton on a biodynamic farm without the use of pesticides or insecticides, and all of their prints are made with metal-free colors and no chemical finishes.

Motherly is your daily #momlife manual; we are here to help you easily find the best, most beautiful products for your life that actually work. We share what we love—and we may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.

You might also like:

Shop

How much time our kids spend in front of a screen is something we have almost always been “strict" about in our household.

Generally speaking, we're not big TV watchers and our kids don't own tablets or iPads, so limiting screen time for our children (usually around the American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines) has proven to be a reasonable practice for us.

It wasn't until this past summer when I started working from home full time that I found myself stretching an hour to an hour and a half or allowing just one more episode of Pokemon so I could get in a few more emails quietly. (#MomGuilt)

I also realized that I wasn't counting when we passively had the news on in the background as TV time and that we weren't always setting a stellar example for our kids as we tended to use our phones during what should have been family time.

Keep reading Show less
Learn + Play