That's not fair!

My 7-year-old son often responds with "That's not fair!'' when he doesn't get his way. I'm tired of saying to him, "Life's not fair, dear.'' Do you have any suggestions on how I can handle his fairness fixation in a more creative way?

Yes, I've had some experience with this one. One technique is quite effective because it can nip a brewing power struggle in the bud; however, it really takes some practice.

For example, you catch your child lunging for the chocolate doughnut right before dinner (as you are both impatiently waiting for Dad to come home so you can eat together as planned ..."one big happy family!"). With the deftness of a masterful gymnast, you rescue the chocolate treat as you calmly add, "No, honey ... dessert after dinner."

Your child immediately whines one of his favorite refrains ..."Mo-o-om, that's not faa-aair!" (he's noticed this almost always gets a rise out of you). He continues, "I'm starving to death!" (which by the way, so are you!) But, you're the educated parent, you're in control, right?

So ... take a deep breath and count to 5 (the pause in itself is really puzzling to the child- he's ready for a fight). And then try uttering a neutral response like, "Ohhhhhhhhh" or "Ahhhhhhhhhh-" or turn your head slowly from side to side and say "Hm-m-m-m-m-m … if you must talk more, say softly, "I see, (pause) ... I see."

This technique goes against the grain of "automatic pilot parenting'', and can feel quite awkward at first try. Your refusal to argue takes your son by surprise, and can in itself change the tone of the situation.

Now that he actually seems to be able to hear you, you might add, "You get the first pick! Choose the biggest and best one and I'll set it aside on this plate for dessert. We'll even put your name in front of the plate so no one can touch it.'' This approach, on a good day, is actually another way to say "No!'' by saying, "Yes, later.''

- Gail Reichlin