Even in the midst of the terrible twos and threes, toddlers may have a better understanding of what’s fair than adults may give them credit for, according to a Harvard University study that found young children shared with each other after working together to earn a reward, even in circumstances where it would have been easy for one child to keep all of the prize without sharing.
In the study, published in the February 2011 issue of the journal Psychological Science, researchers placed gummy bears, stickers, and other “prizes" on a board with wheels inside a transparent box. As HealthDay reports on the research, if only one child pulled on a rope, the board would not move. Both children had to pull together to bring the prizes to a spot where they could be reached through openings in the box.
Sometimes there was only one opening to reach through and other times there were two. When there was only one opening, there was an opportunity for one child to take all the prizes. However, the children almost always shared equally, researchers found.
“We were surprised that this rule was so strict—that equality was so strongly preferred,” study coauthor Felix Warneken of Harvard University says, via a journal news release. And the children shared virtually without conflict. “It was rarely the case that one took all the resources and the other kid had to say, ‘Hey, that’s not fair.’” Sometimes, if one child didn’t take their half of the spoils immediately, the other would even point it out.
So why do toddlers and other young tykes have such a bad reputation when it comes to sharing? As study authors point out, some previous research has suggested that young children might not be good at sharing, but those studies usually depended on asking children what they would do in a hypothetical situation or giving them only one opportunity to share with each other. The take home message for parents? All that work you do to teaching your child how to share? It’s actually working.