Home is always the best school for teaching moral behaviors, but in today’s racy, raunchy world parents need to be far more intentional in their efforts to build their children’s moral intelligence. Here are 10 tips to help you raise your child to know right from wrong, internalize your values and act right without you.
1 Commit to Raising A Moral Child
Just how important is it for you to raise a moral child? It’s a crucial question to ask because research finds that parents who feel strongly that their kids turn out morally usually succeed in their quest. And all because they committed themselves to that effort. If you really want a moral child, then make a personal commitment that you raise one, and don’t stop until he/she is.
2 Be a Strong Moral Example
Parents are their children’s first and most powerful moral teachers, so make sure the behaviors your children are picking up from you are ones that you want them to copy. Try to make your life a living example of good moral behavior for your kids to see. One simple test is to ask yourself each day: “If my child had only my behavior to watch, what example would he or she catch?” The answer is often quite telling.
3 Know Your Beliefs & Share Them
Before you can raise a moral child, you must be clear about what you believe. Take time to think through your values, and then share them regularly to your child, and then explain why you feel the way you do. Your child will be hearing endless messages that counter your beliefs, so it’s essential that she hear your moral standards. Television shows, movies, newspapers, and literature are filled with moral issues, so use them as opportunities to discuss values with your child.
4 Use Teachable Moments
The best teaching moments aren’t ones that are planned: they happen unexpectedly. Look for moral issues to discuss as they come up. Take advantage of those moments, because they help your child develop solid moral beliefs that will help guide his behavior now, as well as for the rest of his life.
5 Use Discipline as a Moral Lesson
Effective discipline helps your child not only recognize why her behavior was wrong, but also understand what to do to make it right next time. Research shows that posing the right questions helps expand children’s ability to understand the consequences of their behavior. So use discipline as a teaching tool. Ask: “Was that the right thing to do? What should you do next time?” That way your child learns from his mistakes and grows morally. Remember your ultimate goal is to wean your child from your guidance so he acts right on his own because he has internalized right from wrong.
6 Expect Good Behavior
Studies are clear: Kids who act morally generally have parents who expect them to do so. Your clear moral standards set a guide for your child’s conduct, and also lets her know in no uncertain terms what you value. Review and post your moral standards, and then consistently reinforce them until your child internalizes them as his own rules.
7 Reflect on Behavior Impact
Researchers tell us one of the best moral-building practices is to point out the impact of the child’s behavior on others. Doing so enhances a child’s moral growth: “That made her cry.” Or highlight the victim’s feelings: “Now he feels sad.” The trick is to help the child imagine what it would be like to be in the victim’s place so she will be more sensitive to the impact of her behavior.
8 Reinforce Good Behavior
One of the simplest ways to help kids learn new behaviors is to reinforce them in context. So catch your child acting right and acknowledge her good behavior. Simply describe what she did and why it deserves acknowledgment so she’ll be more likely to repeat the act.
9 Prioritize Virtues Daily
Children don’t learn how to be moral in textbooks, but by doing good deeds. So look for opportunities. Encourage your child to lend a hand to make a difference in his world, and always help him recognize the positive impact the gesture had on the recipient. The goal is for kids to become less dependent on adult guidance by incorporating moral principles into their daily lives and making them their own. That can happen only if parents repeatedly emphasize the importance of virtues and have their kids practice moral behaviors again and again.
10 Incorporate the Golden Rule
Teach your child the Golden Rule that has guided civilizations for centuries, “Treat others as you want to be treated.” Remind your child to always ask himself before acting: “Would I want someone to treat me like that?” Doing so helps kids think about their behavior and possible consequences on others. Make the rule become your family’s over-arching moral principle.
(Tips from Michele's book Building Moral Intelligence: The Seven Essential Virtues That Teach Kids to Do the Right Thing)
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