Perhaps one of the most valuable gift from other parents, parenting books, workshops and experience is adjusting your expectations and knowing the capability of your toddlers, preschoolers, school age, tweens and teens.
One of my guidelines for toddlers was, “Sharing is a 3-year-old trait.” The study from today’s Boston Globe might refute that. I know adults who have a hard time sharing! Imagine if someone told you, upon receiving a brand new i-Phone, “Share that with your little sister.”
Having high expectations is critical in nurturing kids and teens toward independence, making good decisions and guiding them toward the people you want them to be.
AND having reasonable expectations for their age is even more critical. Talk to other parents, read books, go to workshops and discern what is “normal.” Then take a deep breath and practice one of the most precious gifts my kids gave me, which took years to develop, PATIENCE.
Study reveals that when it comes to sharing, young children are hypocrites— and they know it
It’s both a scientific mystery and a parenting conundrum: How do children learn to share?
Children as young as 3 understand the concept of fairness. Fair means one child should get the same number of stickers as another. But put a young child in charge, and fairness seems to go out the window — young children tend to hoard when they are the ones who are deciding how much of their own candy or toys to hand over.
New research is beginning to untangle the disconnect between knowledge and behavior, with a surprising finding: Young children asked to predict how they will divvy up stickers already anticipate they will tip the scale in their favor. When it comes to sharing, the 3 – to 6-year-old set is — scientifically speaking — a bunch of selfaware hypocrites.
“They were surprisingly honest and self-aware. They said, ‘I realize I would keep more formyself,’ ’’ said Peter Blake, an assistant professor of psychology at Boston University and a co-author of the work. “Anything that involves giving up resources brings us into an evolutionary context, where kids might have a bias to be more selfinterested” in order to survive to reproduce.
The study, published Wednesday in PLOS ONE by Blake and colleagues from Harvard University and the University of Michigan, recruited participants from visitors to the Museum of Science in Boston.
First, researchers gave each of the children four stickers with carefully researched qualities that would be desirable to children ranging from 3 to 8 years old: their favorite color, smileyfaced, scratch-and-sniff. These stickers belong to you now, the researchers told the kids.
Then, they asked them to divide up the stickers, to share them with another boy or girl. Next, they asked the children how many of the stickers another boy or girl should share.
Children of all ages agreed that other children should split up the stickers evenly. But when it came to their own sharing, younger children were far more likely to keep more for themselves. To test whether this was a problem of impulse control, the researchers ran a gauntlet of tests designed to probe how well the children could inhibit impulses, seeing whether they could, for example, view a picture of the sun and say the opposite word, night, in a short time frame.
The ability to inhibit their first impulses seemed to have nothing to do with their decision to keep more stickers. The biggest difference that emerged was how children explained why they or another child did or did not share. The youngest kids talked far less often about sharing being fair as the reason for a decision to share, and far more often about their own desires.
In a second experiment, researchers changed the question slightly. They asked another group of children to imagine how many stickers they would give to another child. Despite the fact that children of all ages had made it clear they understood that splitting the stickers was fair, the youngest ones predicted they would hoard them — which is precisely what their peers had done in the first experiment.
It wasn’t amatter of trying to do the right thing and failing; those kids knew what they wanted. Stickers.
Now, Blake would like to test the behavior more broadly, in children from different cultures. He wonders whether in societies that place responsibilities on children earlier in life, the younger children will start splitting resources fairly.
He’s interested in understanding the cognitive processes, the mental machinery, that underlies behavior. But he says there may be a practical application, too. Understanding the behavior could provide an opportunity to improve behavior or education, by finding ways to teach kids to share more effectively at a younger age.
After the sessions at theMuseum of Science, “the parents seem relieved, to some extent,” Blake said. “They say, ‘I’mglad that they know what the right response is, but how can I get them to be more fair?’ ”