Child development: Teaching morals and values

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It seems like tough challenges are always lurking just around the corner. So how can we teach our kids to make considerate choices based on ethical decisions?

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I think each and every one of us wants our child to grow up to be a good person. For me, having strong morals and values is an important part of being a good person, and an integral part of how I choose to raise my own children.

But what are morals? I believe that what each of us consider to be a good person varies slightly depending on our experiences, personality and culture. For example, being kind is a very important value to me, and something my children understand I expect of them, however I am under no illusions that every other person places the same importance on kindness.

Despite the differences in morals and values for different individuals, there are some common core values which are generally accepted amongst society, such as:

  • Not killing others
  • Telling the truth
  • Not cheating
  • Respect for others and their property
  • Being kind to animals

Research tells us that children who are raised by parents who promote strong morals will take these forward into their own future. Most children will experience some level of challenge to these core beliefs during childhood and adolescent, however more often than not people return to their taught beliefs into early adulthood and beyond. With this in mind, I think encouraging children to have strong beliefs and morals is a hugely important part of child raising.

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How do I instil good morals in my child?

As everyones values are slightly different, this list will look slightly different for everyone. However, I have tried to keep my advice quite general so you can use it in the way which best fits your family and beliefs. My top tip would be to really reflect on the things that are important to you, as well as the things which are important to you for your children, and then consider how you will weave those morals into your everyday consciousness.

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Demonstrate the morals which are important to you. You will probably do this quite naturally for most of the things you believe in, and your child will pick up on most of your core beliefs just by what you say and do. But these beliefs can also be so deeply ingrained in us that it can be quite easy to forget to actually explain them or point them out to your child. Sometimes a simple discussion about why something is important to you can make all the difference in your child’s understanding.

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Show care and concern for living things. Teaching children how to look after our earth and the creatures which live on it is a valuable lesson on care and compassion for your child, and helps them to form a deeper connection with life around them. Understanding living creatures helps children to empathise with the issues animals face, such as extinction and deforestation, and promotes a good sense of consideration and deeper thinking.

Talk to your child about how other people feel. Empathy is an amazing gift to teach your child. Understanding how other people are feeling in different situations has so many different benefits for your child, from friendships to a strong sense of self. But empathy is also great for developing a strong moral compass – children who can empathise with others make choices based on an understanding of how it affects others as well as themselves. Empathy can be developed in a range of ways, but for me the most effective way is just chatting about everything – movie and story characters emotions, disputes with friends, or any difference of opinion.

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Read stories together which contain a moral. There are so many stories which contain a very direct moral, especially fairy stories such as Pinocchio Hansel and Gretel and Little Red Riding Hood These stories allow for very natural discussion on what the characters did right and wrong, how the characters might be feeling, and what your child would do when faced with the same situation. Of course, there are plenty of stories out there which allow children to make their own decision on the moral of the story, such as The Girl of Ink and Stars There is massive value in this too, especially for older children and children who have developed a good sense of empathy. However, I feel it is still a great idea to talk with your child about the challenges faced by the characters, and what they have learnt from the book. You can also do the same thing with movies you have watched together.

Praise your child when they make a good choice. When your child has faced a difficult moral decision, but has chosen the ‘right’ choice, praising them for this will mean they are much more likely to repeat this kind of behaviour in the future. This could be as simple as praising telling the truth, or something much more difficult like making a choice which benefits another person more than themselves. I always find that very specific feedback on what they have done well helps cement their understanding of the situation – for example, instead of saying ‘well done’, try something like ‘it made me feel really proud when you…’.

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Teach your child to accept and celebrate other peoples differences. The more children can sense the humanity in other people and celebrate their differences, the more they will grow into compassionate and kind human beings. Being kind and considerate is an important part of having strong morals and values, and will help them to feel a deeper connection with humanity. A great way to do this is by making sure your child has a range of resources which celebrate diversity and difference, such as books like It’s OK to be Different , and introducing your child to a wide range of different types of people and cultures. I also find it really helpful to encourage a curiosity about the world, and travelling to new places wherever possible so children get a deeper understanding of how people can be different whilst still being similar. (For more information on challenging racism, see this article).

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I hope you have found these tips useful. It is important to consider that despite your hard work and thoughtful teaching, your child may still grow up to believe some different things to you, and that is ok – just know that you will have given them a great foundation for their future decision making and moral reasoning.

Love, Heather x

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Author: Heather

I am a parent and teacher, as well as a parenting blogger.

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