So what can be done to help children be morally accountable? This article states that children need to “know in their heads as well as feel in their hearts that what they did was wrong. Such morality doesn’t appear overnight but emerges slowly, over time. And according to the latest research, the roots of morality first appear in the earliest months of an infant’s life. ‘It begins the day they’re born, and it’s not complete until the day they die,’ says child psychiatrist Elizabeth Berger, author of Raising Children with Character” (Ibid.).
This article points out that no matter how hard you try, you can’t force your child to be moral. But there are things you can do to send him in the right direction:
• “Decide what values —such as honesty and hard work— are most important to you. Then do what you want your children to do. ‘If you volunteer in your community, and you take you child, they will do that themselves,’ says Joseph Hagan, chairman of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ committee on the psychosocial aspects of child and family health. ‘If you stub your toe, and all you can say is the F word, guess what your child is going to say when they stub their toe?’”
• “Praise children liberally. ‘You have to ignore the behaviors you don’t want and highlight the behaviors you do want,’ says Kori Skidmore, a staff psychologist at Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago. Rather than criticizing a toddler for his messy room, compliment him on the neat corner.”
• “Take advantage of teachable moments. When Dr. Garry Gardner’s kids were 3 and 4, they found a $10 bill in front of a store. Dr. Gardner talked to them about the value of the money—and they agreed to give it to the shopkeeper in case someone returned for it.” They then discussed the “finders keepers” way of thinking.
• “Watch what your child watches. TV and computer games can glorify immoral behavior. ‘If children are unsupervised, watching violence or promiscuity on TV, they’re going to have misguided views about how to treat other people,’ says Karen Bohlin, director of Boston University’s Center for the Advancement of Ethics and Character. ‘Children by nature are impulsive and desperately need guidance to form good habits.’” A loving caregiver by their side can teach them how to play nicely, safely, fairly, how to take turns, how to put things back where they belong, how to speak respectfully.
• “Discuss consequences. Say, ‘Look how sad Mary is because you broke her favorite doll,’ explains Berkowitz.” Parents can have their children help them decide on fair punishments. This way they learn that their voice has value (Ibid.). Allowing children to make choices when they are young will help them to be better able to make moral choices later (Ibid.).
• “Always help them see things from the other person’s point of view.” Saying, “Oh, that must have hurt,” when a child hits another child helps them understand as long as you add, “How would you feel if someone did that to you?”
• Suggest alternatives for negative behavior, i.e. hit the pillow instead of a child (Ibid.).
The final test is how young people act when Mom or Dad is not around. “With a lot of love and luck, your child will grow up to feel happy and blessed—and to want to help others who aren’t as fortunate. Now that’s something to be proud of” (Ibid.).