Tag Archive for moral development

What Does This Mean for Your Family

Researchers from Northwestern University and the University of Cologne collaborated to explore what contributed the most to a person’s well-being:

  • Moral thoughts—thinking good things or things that benefit another,
  • Engaging in moral deeds—doing something that benefits another, or
  • Doing something kind for yourself—like relaxing or treating yourself to something nice.

Interestingly, all three things contributed to a person’s happiness and satisfaction with life. Beyond this, however, each thing made its own specific contribution as well.

  • Moral thoughts AND engaging in moral deeds increased feelings of being virtuous as well as social connection. They both led to an increase in feeling empathic, moral, and grateful for the day as well.
  • Only engaging in moral deeds contributed to people feeling less angry, less isolated, more in control, and as if they had a more purposeful life. It had the greatest impact on the greatest number of measures of well-being.
  • Doing something kind for yourself led people to feel less emotionally exhausted.

What does all this mean for you and your family? If we want healthy families, we need to root them in an environment that nurtures well-being. We need to teach our children to live a life that promotes well-being. We need to model a lifestyle that nurtures well-being in the home and in the community. We need to practice that lifestyle and the practice of that lifestyle consists of the three things: moral thoughts, engaging in moral behaviors, and doing something kind for ourselves. Think about each of those three components for a second.

  1. Thinking good things to benefit other people, people in your family and people outside your family. Ironically, in this study, most people reported that they engaged in prayer when told to think thoughts to benefit other people. Great idea. Pray for each of your family members on a regular basis. Think positive thoughts about them. For example, dwell on things you enjoy about them and admire in them. Think about those things about your family for which you are grateful.
  2. Do things that will benefit other people, people in your family and people outside your family. Do a kind deed for another person. Get them a drink. Help them complete a chore. Give a compliment. Encourage. Hold the door open. You get the idea. Do something nice for the people around you, including your family, every chance you get.
  3. Do something nice for yourself. Don’t get carried away. No need to get selfish. But we need to take care of ourselves. We need to make sure we are emotionally, physically, and mentally rested. So, do something nice for yourself every day.

All this reminds me of one of the commands given to the Israelites and buried in Leviticus. “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:9-18).  Our family and our world become a better place when we love one another—thinking good thoughts about them and doing things that will benefit them. We love them better as we learn to love ourselves in a healthy way. So, I guess we better do something nice for ourselves as well. Our families will be healthier places for it. Sounds like a good plan to me. How about you?

“If You Don’t Have Anything Nice to Say”…& Other Nuggets of Wisdom

Do you remember any sayings and proverbs you learned in childhood? They may have come from Aesop’s Fables or a children’s story like Pinocchio or Proverbs in the Bible. Maybe you heard them from teachers, your parents, scout leaders, coaches, or any number of other adults. They were proverbs that encouraged certain behaviors…behaviors that promoted personal character and corporate civility. Several such sayings came to my mind the other day as I listened to the daily rhetoric of the news. I felt a twinge of sadness and realized how desperately we need the wisdom of these proverbs in our world today. With that in mind, maybe we need to start by reviving them in our families. We begin by teaching them to our children and modeling them in our lives.  In case you need a reminder, here are just a few of my favorites.

  • “People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.” Ironically, this saying seems to have two meanings. One, if you live in a glass house (are vulnerable) don’t throw stones at the guy who lives in a brick house. In other words, “don’t dish it out if you can’t take it” (which is another saying). On the other hand, we all live in glass houses, don’t we?  We all have our own vulnerabilities. Before we start casting stones at another person’s faults, we need to take a good look at our own. Or, in the words of another saying, “Take the log out of your own eye before you worry about the splinter in the other guy’s eye.” We desperately need to consider all three sayings in our world today.
  • “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”  Other than hearing it from my mother, I heard it first from Thumper on Bambi. (By the way, Thumper also has a nice quote about “families that play together.” See them both in this short clip.) Wouldn’t it be nice to hear a little more of “saying nothing” today?
  • Another truth heard in a Disney movie came from the Blue Fairy. She told Pinocchio that “A lie keeps growing and growing until it’s as clear as the nose on your face.” You’ve heard the flip side of this proverb in the more popular “honesty is the best policy.” A little more truth and a few shorter noses on the faces of our local Pinocchio’s faces would definitely improve our lives around here.
  • Of course, we can’t forget “Actions speak louder than words” or “He who does a thing well does not need to boast.”  Aesop’s fable of The Boasting Traveler drives this point home. Tell it to your family over dinner or watch it in ChirpyStory. It’s a great reminder to not boast.
  • “There are two sides to every story and the truth usually lies somewhere in the middle.” I’d always heard “there are two sides to every story” to encourage me to listen to other people’s ideas.  But experience has taught me the rest of the saying, that “the truth usually lies somewhere in the middle.”  Our extremist world would definitely benefit from learning to listen to both sides of a story and then seeking the whole truth.

There are many more proverbs we need to put into practice. We need to teach our children these proverbs and sayings. We need to practice them in our own lives in the presence of our children. As we do, our families will benefit from the wisdom of the ages. Perhaps our children will carry these proverbs into their adulthood and our whole society will benefit from the wisdom of the ages. Let’s start practicing them today. Maybe you have other favorites you think our families would benefit from practicing. Share them below so we can all learn from the wisdom of the ages.

Have Fun AND Reduce Childhood Aggression

You may have heard a lot about executive functioning over the last few years. Executive functioning is the ability to manage one’s self and one’s resources to reach a goal.  Executive functioning skills include the ability to set goals for a plan and then monitor progress toward those goals as well as skills like sustained attention, memory, and impulse-control. As you can see, these skills are crucial for our children’s maturity. In fact, a recent study from researchers at the University of Potsdam found that deficits in executive functioning during elementary school predicted higher physical and relational aggression three years later (Childhood Aggression Linked to Deficits in Executive Function). Fortunately, executive functioning is a learnable skill! That’s right. You can help your children learn the skills of executive functioning and improve in those skills as they age.  In fact, tools that teach executive functioning are not even difficult to implement. They even provide an opportunity for you to have fun with your children! Let me give you a few examples.

  • Playing games that require taking turns will teach impulse control. Having to “wait for my turn” means managing my desire to go, controlling my impulse and waiting for someone else. “Waiting for one’s turn” also requires a person to keep a goal in mind while someone else takes their turn. While waiting for one’s turn, a person monitors their progress toward a goal while comparing it to the other person’s progress toward the same goal.  Impulse control, focus, planning, monitoring progress while keeping a goal in mind…all while waiting my turn in a game. “Trouble” and “Sorry” take on a whole new meaning with this information in mind.
  • Games like “Mother May I” and “Simon Says” teach impulse control, focused attention, and listening. These are great executive functioning skills.
  • Imaginary or pretend games involve storytelling, planning, managing emotions to fit the story, negotiation, and more. Encouraging children to engage in imaginative play not only nurtures executive functioning skills, it “makes them a head taller than themselves.”
  • Song games with movements teach young children executive functioning skills like focused attention (focusing on the words of the song), self-control, and memory (remembering the words to the song and the movements). As children get older, line dances, marching band, and dance routines accomplish similar goals.
  • Games (board games, card games, or team games) that require strategy teach many executive functioning skills. For instance, strategy games encourage planning, holding a plan in mind for several moves ahead, adjusting the plan as obstacles arise, and working memory to remember the plan. Whether the strategy game is chess, Battleship, Clue, or basketball, it will nurture your children’s executive functioning skills.

I hope you get the idea. There are many more activities that promote executive functioning skills (find more in this “Activities Guide” from the Center of the Developing Child at Harvard University). From participating in sports or plays…to learning to play an instrument…to imaginative play and storytelling you will have a great time enhancing your children’s executive functioning through play… and you’ll decrease the likelihood of aggressive behavior in the future. Our world could definitely thank you for that!

Raising Respectful Children (A Self-Examination)

Raising respectful children is a goal for every parent. We begin to teach them to respect by demanding they respect us or forcing them to show respect to others. But, I have to wonder. Is that really the best way to start teaching respect?  Do children learn to respect when we demand they respect us? When we force them to respect others in their speech and actions?  I do believe it important that our children respect us and respect others. But, that may not be the best place to start teaching them respect. In fact, children learn more from watching us than from following our demands. They learn more from how we treat them than they learn from how we tell them to treat others. They watch us closely and model our behavior. They learn how to treat others by experiencing how we treat them. When we treat our children with respect, they are much more likely to treat us and others with respect. So, to teach our children respectful behavior, the best place to begin is by treating our children with respect. Unfortunately, I fear we often neglect to respect our children. Disrespect creeps into our interactions through impatience, preoccupation, or fear of failure.  Think about these ways of respecting our children and do a little self-examination.  Consider each bullet and think about how well you respect your children in the way stated.

  • Respect your children’s competence enough to let your children do tasks around the house.
  • Respect your children’s ability to problem-solve and discover creative solutions rather than jumping in to solve every problem they encounter.
  • Respect your children’s age appropriate independence. Let them complete age appropriate tasks alone.
  • Respect your children by establishing and enforcing clear limits. Make these limits firm, but enforce them politely and respectfully rather than harshly.
  • Respect your children’s willingness to cooperate and accept their help…with a smile and a “thank you.”
  • Respect your children enough to state directly what you desire rather than trying to manipulate them with false choices and questions.
  • Respect your children’s need for predictability by establishing daily routines.
  • Respect your children’s ability to learn by not rescuing them. Let them experience the consequences of their own behaviors, both positive and negative.
  • Respect your children’s dignity by never calling them demeaning names or making comments that degrade them directly or indirectly.
  • Respect your children’s uniqueness by nurturing their individual talents and interests. Be excited about their progress and their interests.
  • Respect your children’s ideas and opinions enough to listen, even when they disagree with you. Respect their ideas enough to let them influence your decisions and actions.
  • Respect your children’s intelligence by letting them answer questions asked of them. You don’t need to answer for them or volunteer them for some activity. Respect allows them to answer for themselves.
  • Respect your children’s feelings by allowing them to express a full range of emotions and teach them to do so in an appropriate manner.
  • Respect your children enough to listen intently and fully.

Well, how did you do?  Are you respecting your children?  I’m sure we can all improve…I know I can.  Still, treating children with respect is the place we begin teaching them to respect others. Children who are respected by family become respectful. Start respecting children today and they will become more respectful tomorrow.

Think Like a Child to Discipline Well

Learning how children think helps parents discipline well. It’s true. Knowing how children process information gives parents crucial information for effectively stopping unwanted behavior and teaching desired behavior. Take lying for example. Studies suggest that up to 96% of children lie (see Help! My Teen Lies to Me for information on teens lying). So, if you have children you will have to deal with children lying. But, consider how children’s reasons for lying changes as they mature.

  • Disobedient boyThree-year-olds lie to avoid punishment. Even if you catch them with their hand in the proverbial cookie jar, in the act itself, they will lie in an attempt to avoid punishment. When researchers asked five-year-olds about lying, 92% said lying was “always wrong.” Still, they lied. Why? To avoid getting punished.
  • Things seem to change around six-years-old. Six-year-olds no longer lie when caught with their hand in the cookie jar. Instead, they tell the truth hoping it will make their parent happy (and it usually does). They no longer lie to simply avoid punishment but to keep their parents happy as well. They want the reward of parents who are happy with them.
  • When children hit the “preteen” years, they demonstrate an awareness of the impact of lying on others. They become more considerate of other people’s feelings and the potential risk lying poses to relationships. About 22% of eleven-year-olds carry some guilt for lying. They want to part of a group and know that lying can isolate them from the group.
  • 48% of eleven-year-olds say that lying destroys trust. They know that lying breaks down the social order. If a person lies, who can you trust…and how can society operate without trust.

I share these findings to make a point. Children think differently at different ages. To discipline effectively, a parent needs to consider their children’s developmental level and address the behavior at that level. In other words, they need to think like their children. A three-year-old may respond to a simple time out in a chair while a six-year-old will need more…like the constant acknowledgement of positive behaviors. Six-year-olds love to help their parents, providing an excellent opportunity to teach them chores and responsibilities. Eleven-year-olds begin to understand how behaviors impact their relationships and the world around them. Our explanations for appropriate behavior need to include this information. (More on child development in 5 Steps of Moral Development)

You get the idea. Listen to your children. Listen to how they think and observe what they find important. Learn about the changes that occur in children as they mature (More on development at Ages & Stages from Healthy Children). Use all this information in creative ways to discipline your children…and enjoy the rewards of your effective discipline!

Investing Time & Attention in Your Children

Children have two currencies for LOVE: TIME and ATTENTION (Read Your Child’s Currency For Love for mistaken investments). When parents invest time and attention into their children’s emotional bank account, their children grow to know themselves as significant and valuable. They realize they hold a place of importance in their parents’ lives. As a Happy family playingresult, they become more confident. They also develop a greater desire to please their parents. They obey more often and internalize their parents’ moral values more readily. In other words, time and attention are two powerful discipline investments that will result in better behaved children. One great way to invest time and attention in your children is through “Banking Play Time.” Here’s how it works.

  1. Set aside 15-20 minutes each day for playtime with your child. Do not make this time contingent on behavior. Do not use it as a form of punishment or reward. Just enjoy 15-20 minutes of play time with your child each day.
  2. Let your child pick the activity (within reason—TV does not work well for this type of investment). Let your child lead the activity as well. You simply follow your child’s lead. Play what they want to play, how they want to play.
  3. Become a student of your child’s actions and imaginations during this playtime. Objectively observe and verbally describe your child’s behavior during this activity. You can objectively describe behavior in several ways.
    1. You can simply report what you see your child doing. “Joey stacks the blocks and knocks them down.” “You put a blue dress on Barbie.” “You threw the ball right to me.”
    2. You may also describe what your child might be imagining in his play, modifying your play-by-play account as he directs. “Joey built a tower and knocked it down like the Hulk!” “You dressed Barbie in a pretty blue dress for dinner with friends.” “He throws the ball to first base and the runner is out! The crowd cheers.”
    3. You can also describe positive behaviors you observe during play. “You are waiting so patiently for your turn.” “You are working hard at putting that dress on Barbie just right.”
  4. Do not give directives or teach during playtime. This is child-directed play. You simply follow your child’s lead, spending time with them and paying attention to what he is doing. You are investing your time in playing how your child desires to play. You’re investing your attention in noticing them, their activity, and their thoughts and imaginations.
  5. Look for something positive, special, or unique about your child or his play. Verbally acknowledge or describe that unique quality. When you describe these positive qualities, make them specific and positive rather than a general label. For instance, say, “I like how you take turns” rather than “That’s a good boy.”
  6. If your child starts to engage in some negative behavior during play time, ignore it. Do not make eye contact. Simply continue engaging in, and commenting on, the positive aspects of the play activity. If the negative behavior starts to dominate the playtime, simply end the “banking time” session.

Try this method of investing time and attention into your child’s emotional bank account for 3-4 weeks. You will be surprised at how your child’s behavior improves.

Brain Waves, Toddlers, & Moral Development

All parents want to raise children with a strong sense of right and wrong. However, most parents don’t realize how early—surprisingly early—this moral behavior and thought begins. Kids on Victory PodiumJean Decety from the University of Chicago (and his associate, Jason Cowell) demonstrated that parents influence their children’s moral development as early as one year old! He showed a group of 73 toddlers (12-24 months old) two types of animated videos: one in which characters engaged in helping and sharing or one in which characters exhibited pushing, tripping, and shoving behavior. At the same time, they measured the toddlers’ eye movement (gaze) and brain waves. Afterwards, the researchers offered the toddlers a choice of two toys: one representing the “good” animated character or one representing the “bad” character.

What did they discover? First, toddlers looked at and tracked the “good,” pro-social characters longer. They showed more interest in the characters who exhibited positive moral actions. In addition, toddlers experienced different brain wave patterns when witnessing the prosocial behavior and the antisocial behavior.  But, these differences did not impact which toy the toddler chose. There was one factor that differentiated which toy the child reached for, regardless of the length of their gaze at the “good” character or the difference in the brain wave patterns associated with the prosocial/antisocial behavior. An additional distinct brain wave pattern was associated with which toy was chosen. This additional brain wave occurred just after the toddler witnessed the behavior of the animated character and it differentiated which toy the child chose.

Now for the really interesting part! The researchers discovered what may have contributed to that distinct brain wave pattern after reviewing questionnaires completed by parents prior to the research. These questionnaires measured parental values around empathy, justice, and fairness as well as their child’s temperament and demographics. Parental sensitivity to justice distinguished toddlers’ who reached for the “good character” toy from those who reached for the “bad character” toy! In other words, the parents’ values around justice impacted how their children’s brains work and whether their 12-24 month old reached out for the prosocial or antisocial character.

The researchers also gave the toddlers opportunities to share their toys in this experiment. This time, the parents’ ability to take someone else’s perspective influenced their children’s willingness to share, even at 12-24 months of age! So, if you want to raise children with a strong sense of right and wrong, children sensitive to justice, and children willing to share, begin early by:

  1. Cultivating your own sense of justice. Discipline fairly. Do not practice the “Do as I say not as I do” mentality. Instead, set the example of living and accept the just consequences for your behavior. Apologize and ask forgiveness when you make a mistake. Give just rewards for appropriate behavior (which can be as simple as a polite “thankyou” or “I appreciate your help.”). Talk about justice in the community. Read stories together that reveal justice. Cultivate justice in your life.
  2. Practice taking other people’s perspective before reacting to them. Put yourself in your spouse’s shoes, your children’s shoes, your neighbors’ shoes and consider the situation from their perspective. Think and talk about the perspective the store clerk, the police officers, or the teacher.

These simple practices will help you raise moral children…and help create a more moral world for your grandchildren.

5 Steps of Moral Development (and What’s a Parent To Do?)

One day my 5-year-old daughter came to the top of the stairs and called my name, “Daddy.” She sounded somewhat panicked. I knew that she and her sister were both upstairs so I wasn’t sure what to expect. “Daddy,” she called again. When I arrived at the bottom of the stairs, she said, “We don’t hit in this house, right?!” I was not sure if she meant that as a question or a proclamation. Either way, I voiced my agreement. “Right. No hitting.” She calmly returned to her room. To this day I do not know why she asked that question. It did reveal that she was beginning to internalize some of our rules though. That is a goal for all parents—to help our children move from externally influenced moral decisions to internally influenced moral decisions. We want them to internalize a moral compass based on our family values. Internalizing values does not happen overnight. It takes time, begins at a very young age, and seems to follow the sequence noted in the chart below. The chart also notes just a couple helpful responses for parents.
Externally controlled behavior: Children need adults to prompt appropriate behavior
·         Want to do the right thing to avoid punishment.
·         Fear authority and do not want to be punished
·         Let your child know the consequences of their misbehavior. Making the consequences clear will help deter them from engaging in misbehavior.
·         Follow through with the consequences you establish, even if your children look hurt and sad. And, they will look hurt because they hate punishment.
·         Children become more invested in behaving appropriately in order to receive a reward.
·         They behave well for a reward.
·         The most powerful reward is a parent’s praise and attention. Children love to hear their parents praise and encouragement.
·         Take the time to acknowledge and praise specific things about their work and play.
·         By simply acknowledging the specifics of their positive actions you encourage them to continue that positive behavior.
·         Statement as simple as “I appreciate how carefully you put that dish away” makes your child feel valued and encourages them to continue that positive behavior.
·         As a child moves through the elementary school years, their ability to see things from another person’s viewpoint improves.
·         Since they can see the world through another person’s eyes, they become more invested in maintaining the affection and approval of parents and friends.
·         In the preteen and teen years, this desire for approval in the eyes of others increases the power of peer pressure.
·         Teach your children how their behavior impacts other people. Keep your lectures short and point out the consequences of their behavior on them and others.
·         Maintain an open dialogue with your children about values and moral ideas. Create an environment that is open to discussion about different ideas while explaining the benefit of the values your live by.
·         Encourage confidence in their ability to think through moral decisions and their strength to stand by their decisions.
·         Children begin to understand that rules help maintain order…order in the house, order in the school, and order in the community.
·         They realize that rules keep society safe and healthy. Without rules, communities would have chaos.
·         Rules are necessary and good. Even more, rules are for everybody.
·         Fairness and equality become important. What is “good for the goose is good for gander.” Right and wrong is very concrete, black and white.
·         This is a great time for parents to calmly discuss and reinforce the reason for various family rules. This will help your children internalize the values and moral ideas of your family.
·         Live by the rules yourself. Your child is watching. They learn more through observation than lecture, so walk the talk.

Internally controlled behavior

·         Teens learn to think more abstractly about the benefit of rules.
·         They learn that some families have different rules than the ones you live by in your family. 
·         Maintain an open dialogue with your child about family values and rules.  
·         Explaining the reasoning behind the rules while living them out yourself will help your child internalize the rules.
·         Discussion may also lead to some compromises. Be open to appropriate compromises when they arise.
·         Through this process, your child will be making conscious choices about which rules they will choose to live by. They will be internalizing values.