We’ve talked about how to raise motivated children children on the blog…
But the question of how to raise moral children is a different ball game.
Just like these other positive qualities and habits we hope to encourage in our kids, morality isn’t something we’re born with — it’s learnt.
And the fact of the matter is that sometimes, teaching our children moral lessons will get in the way of their immediate happiness.
So often we’re focussed on helping our children deal with their own challenges that we can easily forget to emphasise the importance of moral behaviour.
This doesn’t mean that parents are condoning immoral behaviour…
It’s simply that moral decision making occurs much more often than we may realise.
Child psychologist Richard Weissbourd explains:
‘In a lot of subtle ways we prioritise our kids’ happiness over their caring for others. We’re too quick to let them write off friends who they find annoying. We don’t insist that they return phone calls from friends or reach out to a friendless kid on the playground.’
And these moral decision-making processes children go through shape the way they will behave when they grow up.
‘There are some parents who are essentially telling their kids to achieve, get into a great college, earn a lot of money, and then you can think about giving to others, like you can turn on a morality switch… That is a way of thinking about the development of morality that doesn’t make sense. Morality is really something you have to cultivate in your kids day in and day out.’
So how do we cultivate morality on a daily basis?
Weissbourd has offered six helpful tips.
- Make caring for others a priority.
Children need to work on balancing their own needs with the needs of others, and parents need to encourage this.
For example — if your child wants to drop out of a team sport, help them to consider the implications this has on other people.
Will their teammates be sad or disappointed? Has somebody else missed out on being part of the team because your child was included? Will their absence hurt the team’s chances of performing?
Encouraging your children to honour their commitments is part of holding them to high ethical expectations, even when it may involve them doing something they don’t want to do.
Weissbourg suggests that instead of saying to your kids ‘the most important thing is that you’re happy’, you should be saying ‘the most important thing is that you’re kind’.
2. Provide opportunities for caring and gratitude.
We’ve shown how a sense of gratitude contributes to an individual’s happiness, potentially more than anything else.
So practice gratitude on a daily basis, and enable it to manifest itself in acts of generosity, such as helping others kids with their homework, or sharing belongings.
And don’t reward every act of generosity or helpfulness — we should expect this from our kids, rather than incentivising it.
3. Expand their circle of concern.
Teach kids that they should care for people outside of their family or group of friends.
Get them to take in the big picture, and consider the perspectives of the many other people they will interact with each day.
You can do this by encouraging them to be friendly and appreciative for everyone they encounter during the day, from their bus driver to their waitress at dinner.
4. Be a moral role model.
Parents are the single most influential people in their kids’ lives, so lead by example.
Practice honesty and fairness, and acknowledge your mistakes and flaws.
Share ethical dilemmas you face (age-appropriately) with your children, and get them to consider their own ethical dilemmas they’ve faced during the day.
This can be a great topic of conversation to add to your daily chats or family time.
5. Help children deal with destructive feelings.
This is what psychologists help kids to do for themselves, but why should they do it for others?
Because their ability to care for others can be inhibited by their own negative feelings.
If they can take control of their own emotions and destructive thoughts, they’ll have a greater capacity to help others deal with their own.
Weissbourd says that these tips won’t just benefit your child’s interaction with and contribution to the wellbeing of others… it will also help themselves.
‘If we can help our kids… tune into others, including people who are different from them, they are going to have better relationships their whole lives… That is a key foundation both for morality and happiness.’