Just as they develop physically and cognitively, children also mature morally as they grow older. As much as the former two are essential in their lives, children’s moral growth perhaps even surpasses this significance.

Morality is a person’s capacity to differentiate right from wrong and understand how to make moral decisions. It is the belief that affects how they treat others. Children can’t shape their morality independently, which is why they will need the guidance and influence of their family and peers around them.

Children are around situations and people that guide their moral development every day. These can affect their beliefs, whether it’s scenes from their favorite shows or another child. And parents have the responsibility for how their children develop their sense of right and wrong and make sure to instill values that are deemed necessary. However, it’s never easy determining what is age-appropriate when it comes to teaching your children values.

How do children understand moral behavior?

At ages zero to one, infants can’t grasp the concept of morality. They are only able to know what’s good or bad through the connections and interactions they receive from those around them. For instance, when adults react with warmth to their behavior, infants can associate it as safe and right.

At ages one to three, toddlers tend to act before thinking. They are beginning to develop a basic understanding of what’s right and wrong at this age. Additionally, they may start reacting with guilt or shame whenever they do anything wrong. While they might react with these, children at this age still don’t have a stable sense of what’s okay and what’s not. Instead, it’s around this age that people around them have the most significant liability in defining moral behavior. They can shape children’s behavior by reprimanding them.

At ages four to five, children begin to form their moral concepts and follow the rules better. However, most of their behavior is based on punishment and obedience orientation at this age. This means that they behave accordingly only to avoid punishment and receive praise.

When they’re this age, it’s impossible to expect that children will do the right thing. This is why their peers must guide and influence them towards the good. Psychologist Jean Piaget stated that children’s moral development occurs between their peers. These people establish guidelines for right and wrong behavior. Monitoring children’s moral development is necessary to ensure that children are developing the proper way.

How can moral development be guided?

Define clear moral guidelines

Children these ages are still heavily dependent on influence to distinguish right from wrong. Therefore, it’s essential to define morality to them clearly. Be active in telling and showing them examples of proper behavior. As children’s understanding of the right and wrong behaviors increase, actively explain what makes them right or wrong. To do this, reading books or watching movies filled with lessons are highly helpful. Books like Ladybug children’s book are good examples to guide and question children about morality.

Praise good behavior

Behaviors are better encouraged if they don’t have negative consequences associated with them. Even though punishment also reduces unwanted behaviors – something essential in children’s moral development – constant punishment can cause children to withdraw or isolate themselves. By offering praise instead of punishment, children are taught that it’s normal to commit mistakes in the process of developing.

Make them accountable

While positive reinforcement offers more benefits than punishment, it doesn’t mean that children can’t be told whenever they do something wrong. However, making children understand why their behavior is wrong is vital in this process. They shouldn’t just be reprimanded or forced to apologize without helping them understand what is wrong.

Introduce guilt. Not shame

When a child does anything wrong, it’s crucial that they have an emotional reaction to it. And while guilt and shame may seem closely related, they are very different. Shame can affect your child’s self-esteem and cause him to blame himself instead of identifying the wrong behavior. While experiencing guilt reflects a healthy conscience. When a child feels guilty, it means that they regret what they’ve done. Hence, they can learn not to do something again.

Reprimand the behavior, and not the child

By separating the deed from the child, you’re teaching and showing them how they still have the opportunity to correct their mistakes. Instead of saying that they are bad, tell them that what they did is bad. This way, they won’t blame themselves and think that they can’t do anything right.

Moral development is essential in a child’s growth. This can reflect and guide how they interact with the world when they grow. And as parents, they are responsible for making sure that this development happens correctly.

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