We’re in a laboratory with a three-year-old child. As part of the experiment, we ask the child to share her colorful stickers with a puppet—but she doesn’t do so fairly. For the researcher, this is completely expected and developmentally appropriate. But for the parent who is watching, it’s just embarrassing.
Afterward, the parent wants to let us know we may be underestimating his child’s sophistication. “She talks about sharing all the time at home!” he says. “But I guess she doesn’t quite get it.”
This is a very common experience for development psychology researchers—and for parents, who might be awe-struck one moment by the child’s moral concern for others, only to witness her failing to display the same behavior moments later.