Children are often given opportunities to learn and develop beliefs about how to fairly divide material goods. Concerns can surface and debates grow loud over what size allowance siblings of different ages should receive and who gets to play longer with their friends in the neighborhood, sit in the front seat of the car, or eat the last piece of pizza.
Four-year-olds often share simply because they view it as self-serving. “If I don’t share my blocks with him, he won’t play with me.” As children develop, their reasons for sharing connect to a more mature notion of distributive justice.
Children who are five or six years of age want everyone to get the exact same amount of a material resource. They operate from a “strictly equal” belief system.
Very soon, between the ages of six and seven, children will understand the concept of merit. They can see that extra rewards might go to someone who has worked especially hard or done something extraordinary.
By eight or nine years, children develop an understanding of equity and benevolence. They recognize that special considerations might be given to those who are at a disadvantage. As children age, they also adapt their thinking about fairness to fit a specific scenario. For example, they might rely on fairness when working with strangers, while showing more benevolence when they interact with friends.
Peer interactions and the sharing involved with them offer children an opportunity to see and become sensitive to another person’s perspective. Through the give-and-take experiences of peer interactions children learn about justice, helping, sharing, and cooperating.