Good or Bad? Helping Your Child Develop a Healthy Moral Compass
Wed, April 21, 2021

Good or Bad? Helping Your Child Develop a Healthy Moral Compass

People might initially think that moral development only happens in places of worship like churches. But according to the online parenting site Canada Family, learning opportunities for moral development can happen in interactions with family, friends, and even strangers / Photo by: Purino via Shutterstock

 

People might initially think that moral development only happens in places of worship like churches. But according to the online parenting site Canada Family, learning opportunities for moral development can happen in interactions with family, friends, and even strangers. A psychologist at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver and co-author of “How Children Develop Social Understanding” Jeremy Carpendale said, “These opportunities are embedded in everyday life.”

That’s where parents come in. They can act as a support system in that whole process, meaning parents can set up situations in which children can experience and learn about morality. You want your kids to navigate through moral dilemmas they will encounter in their life such as choosing to return a lost wallet stuffed with bills or thanking grandma for the hideous sweater. 

 

The Golden Rule of Empathy

Carpendale said that compassion starts early in child development. When his son was 19 months old, Carpendale was lying on the floor when he brought a pillow for him. But this form of empathy does not take into account how the other person feels. For example, a two-year-old girl might bring a blanket to a crying boy because “that’s what comforts her.” But as kids grow older, you can talk about how people’s feelings differ from theirs. 

Ron Morrish, a parent educator and discipline trainer in Fonthill, Ontario stated that you are only trying to deviate your child from being self-centered. He noted that children tend to demonstrate empathy with dolls or animals before experimenting with “more complex human relationships.” It will pay off in time, but Morrish said compassion will be embedded in your child’s character by the time they are a teenager. If guided properly, you can see that trait show up in their teens, he added. 

Ron Morrish noted that children tend to demonstrate empathy with dolls or animals before experimenting with “more complex human relationships” / Photo by: Tsomka via Shutterstock

 

Honesty Is the Best Policy

Children grasp the concept of honesty in different ways, Carpendale explained. Younger children think you should not lie because you’ll get busted. Older kids understand that lying can break someone’s trust. You can help develop a deeper understanding of honesty by allowing them to question the rules instead of laying down the law. Morrish stated that parental example is important when it comes to honesty. However, parents don’t even practice what they preach. And kids can catch these inconsistencies quickly. 

Morrish pointed out that he knows some people who preach about the importance of honesty with their children but when they take them to the movie, they say, “Tell the man you’re 12.” He emphasized, “Parents have to understand what honesty looks like in everyday life.” 

 

A Helping Hand

It is recommended to nurture your child’s helpfulness instead of refusing it. This means you have to say “yes” to their offer even if you know they will slow you down. Carpendale said it also means getting flour all over themselves, but it’s still a good experience for them nevertheless. 

Does your child help you when they need allowance? You need to break that link, per Morrish’s recommendation. He said, “Use chores to teach your child how to contribute to the community of the family and then the community at large.” Otherwise, they will ask what’s in it for them after getting the job done. 

It is recommended to nurture your child’s helpfulness instead of refusing it. This means you have to say “yes” to their offer even if you know they will slow you down / Photo by: KieferPix via Shutterstock

 

Beyond Manners

Yes, good manners are important but respecting people “runs deeper.” Kids have to learn to say “please” and “thank you,” but that’s not the whole story. In fact, anyone could say the right words and not be respectful. Therefore, it is recommended to teach children to respect other cultural traditions such as admiring a lady’s sari or bringing your family to an ethnic food-tasting festival. But be careful. Because as your child starts to hit their teenage years, you might see their manners backslide. If that happens, try to engage in a non-confrontational discussion with them about respect. 

 

The Gift of Giving

Don’t expect younger kids to think ahead of the impact of being generous to another person. If you have a toddler, encourage them to practice generosity by sharing a toy. This way, you’ll get instant results. As your child gets older, try dividing their allowances into three portions, namely for saving, spending, and charity. For example, Morrish’s 14-year-old son brought out his charity money when the 2004 tsunami devastated parts of South Asia. 

 

An Ongoing Conversation About Morality

There is more to morality than generosity and empathy. So, try to get in the habit of talking to your child about justice and other moral issues such as violence, said FamilyEducation, the longest-standing parenting website on the internet. There are countless opportunities and sources to talk about morality with your child. You can use TV shows, books, news, and more. 

Keep conversation lines open and you will get to see your child explore their own ideas of morality and to reinforce the values that are important for the family. Encourage your child to express their own opinion and to try to put themselves in the shoes of people who are suffering from injustice. 
Morality is not just about praising or rewarding children when they do good to others. It is something that needs to be explored and reinforced for the betterment of society. If parents talk about moral issues, it could help bolster their child’s critical thinking skills.