Parents can identify moral behavior but translating recognition into ways to teach morality to their child is far more difficult. Suggestions are provided.
Parents have always been focused on raising children who are moral and feel for others. Yet in today’s fast paced, technology-rich world, where public role models are scarce, children can access excessively violent material, easily getting around parental controls, and violence is carried out by younger and younger children (National Center for Children Exposed to Violence, 2006). Thus, the goal of imparting morality to our youth has taken on a growing importance.
Teaching Morality Should be a Priority
We hear of school shootings more and more frequently, and crime committed by children is also on the rise (Kingsbury, 2011). A new found sense of personal rights found in today’s child who might call DCF and claim their parents are beating them because they don’t like their bedtime. This belief in children’s rights, at least as far as the child is concerned, is encouraging narcissistic tendencies to be adopted even in young children (Newman, & Newman, 2009). Parents wonder, “Is my child capable of such things and if so, what can I do to prevent it?”
The biggest secret to raising a moral child is simple: parents must provide an example of what it means to live a moral life. Children must observe on a day-to-day basis moral behavior and how parents go about solving ethical dilemmas. Morality, especially empathy, is also taught not just by how the parent is observed to treat others but also by the way the parent treats their child. Developmental specialists suggest that when a parent works hard to understand and empathize with what their child is feeling beginning in infancy, that infant will learn to work hard to understand and empathize with what others are feeling (Lickona, 1983, p. 20).
Suggestions to Instill Morality in Your Child
While there are no guarantees that a child will grow up to be moral there are some things a parent can do to increase the likelihood of this outcome.
- Decide on what values are most important to you such as taking responsibility for one’s actions or acting empathically then make sure to model that behavior as often as possible.
- Make sure to liberally praise the characteristics you want the child to develop every time you see them engaging in one, and instead of castigating them for an action that you don’t want them to repeat, ignore such behaviors (providing they aren’t dangerous to anyone or destructive). Children will work as hard for negative attention as positive attention if that is all they can get (Heller, 2011).
- Notice times you can use something occurring in the child’s life to teach a value. If the child finds a $5 bill on the floor in a store discuss the value of money and that it belongs to someone who obviously dropped it and not to the child. Parables such as “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” can also be used to teach particular lessons if the direct approach isn’t having the effect you want (Springen, 2000).
- Watch what your child watches and read what they read. All media in today’s world is filled with immoral, unethical or violent behaviors that are often presented as having positive or desirable outcomes. Make sure your child is exposed to the messages you want them to be (Ledingham, 2008)
- Discuss consequences of the child’s actions so they understand why a behavior is not right (Springen, 2000). “See how sad Sally is because you took her toy away? Would you like feeling sad because someone took your toy? What do you think you should do to help Sally feel better?” Then help the child arrive at the right answer and carry out the action. Then as always praise the child for engaging in the right behavior and taking responsibility for a behavior that hurt someone by correcting it and making the other child feel better.
- Finally, always help your child see things from another’s point of view so they develop a strong empathic viewpoint, and grow up wanting to help those less fortunate than they are. (Scharf, 2009).
By focusing on these strategies and making them fit your family’s needs, the likelihood of a child learning the lessons necessary to become a moral member of society will greatly increase. And as parents are a child’s first role models, it is important for them to make sure they are not only using such strategies but they are modeling the life style they want their own child to grow up.
- Heller, D., (2011, Jan.). Effects of negative and positive attention your children receive. WestPlex Today.com.
- Kingsbury, A., (2011, June). After Columbine, School Shootings Proliferate. U.S. News and World Report. Retrieved June 4, 2011.
- Ledingham, J., (2008). Effects of media violence on young children. National Clearinghouse on Family Violence. Retrieved June 4, 2011.
- Lickona, T. (1983). Raising good children. New York: Bantam Books.
- National Center for Children Exposed to Violence, (2006, March). Community Violence, Retrieved June 4, 2011.
- Newman, B., & Newman, P., (2009). Early School Age. “Development Through Life: A Psychosocial Approach”, Cengage: Belmont, CA, 228–274.
- Newman, B., & Newman, P., (2009). Middle Childhood. “Development Through Life: A Psychosocial Approach”, Cengage: Belmont, CA, 276–311.
- Scharf, G., (2009, August). How can parents help teach children to learn from another’s perspective? Tumblon. Retrieved May 5, 2011.
- Springen, K., (2000, Fall/Winter). Raising a Moral Child. Newsweek, pp. 71–73. Retrieved May, 2005.