How to Teach Morals to Children

by Maggie McCormick

All parents hope to raise children who are loving, compassionate and naturally inclined to "do the right thing." From a child's earliest moments, he begins to learn how people treat others. You can take many paths to teach morality and no one way is better than another. It all depends on your family and your child.

Religious Framework

Many parents choose to teach children morality through a religious framework. Whether it's the 10 Commandments, the Buddhist Eightfold Path, the stories of Jesus or the Wiccan Rede, children can learn that we all follow basic rules. Though variations in wording exist, religious teachings generally boil down to the concept of being kind to others. If you have a religious community, sign your child up for classes, which can start as early as 3 or 4 years old. If your group doesn't have a program, offer to help start one.

The Moral of the Story

Young children have an easy time learning important concepts when presented in story form. Aesop's fables are classic stories that offer moral lessons at the end, but you can incorporate more modern stories into your teachings as well. Look for books that focus on being nice to others, such as "The Paper Crane" by Molly Bang, or "The Giant Hug" by Sandra Horning. Stories that feature young children making mistakes, but making it right in the end, such as anything in the Berenstain Bears series, are also helpful.

Focus on Feelings

A child who is empathetic to others is likely to behave in a moral way. Even as a young child, you can teach empathy by explaining how and why others are feeling what they're feeling. You might say, "Enrique feels badly because you're not sharing the blocks," or "Emma is happy because her grandma is visiting." As children get older, you can begin to have an open discussion about morality. One of the ways to drive home the finer points of doing good is to always focus on people's feelings. Ask your child, "How would you feel if...?" whenever he has a moral quandary.

The Ultimate Example

In the long run, children are going to do as you do rather than do what you say. You set the moral example in your home, though your child will also learn morals by example from the others around him. Take care to do the right thing as often as possible, even when it's inconvenient. For example, if you realize you forgot to pay for something as you are loading the groceries into the car, it's important to go back into the store and explain that you mistakenly took the item. If you find a wallet on the ground, make sure it gets back to its rightful owner.

About the Author

Maggie McCormick is a freelance writer. She lived in Japan for three years teaching preschool to young children and currently lives in Honolulu with her family. She received a B.A. in women's studies from Wellesley College.

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