Does Being Fair Mean Giving Siblings Identical Treatment?

By Anthony Rao
Anthony Rao
Anthony Rao
July 7, 2021 Updated: July 7, 2021

A mom of two boys recently asked: “I have one son in private school and the other isn’t.  Should I explore private schools for the other son, even though, he’s doing great in public school? I want to be fair and offer them equal opportunities for success.”

This question really gets at key issues:

When a child is doing well, thriving, has friends, grades are solid, and most importantly, seems happy, don’t change schools. Think of that old expression, “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.” In medicine and diagnosing we say it more formally, “First, do no harm.” The more we intervene with good intention, the greater the risk of messing things up.

As your children get older, approaching middle school and beyond, you should wholeheartedly adopt the following definition of fairness: What’s fair isn’t giving them all the same things, but what each of them needs when they need it.

In other words, when kids are very young, it makes sense to break every cookie in two, measure each scoop of ice cream, and buy everybody sneakers at the same time. Once they’re older, their individual differences and individual needs branch out and move on different paths of growth and that’s what should dictate your decisions for giving them what they need to assure them opportunities.

Go with your intuition more as your kids get older, treat them more as the individuals that they are.

Anthony Rao is a nationally known child psychologist. For more than 20 years, he was a psychologist at Boston’s Children’s Hospital and an instructor at Harvard Medical School. He is the co-author of “The Power of Agency: The 7 Principles to Conquer Obstacles, Make Effective Decisions & Create a Life on Your Own Terms.” This article was first published on

Anthony Rao
Anthony Rao