Moral Development in Children-Stages and What Should You Do
Knowing right from wrong has been one of the distinguishing features of humanity. Understanding the good from the bad and choosing to be the former is a skill that every parent must ingrain in their children. And this ability to differentiate right and wrong should be acquired very early in childhood. As they grow, the children should not even have to think about what is right and wrong. They will just know it, nurturing the good and refraining from doing bad. It makes them compassionate and helps to instil moral development in children, who will nurture their family and friends, if not the world. But watching the news, it seems like society is full of immoral individuals and debauchery. But that is not the truth, not even remotely. For every bad person out there, you have a thousand good people. For every drunk driver, we have a thousand people who abide by the traffic rules and keep themselves and the public safe. For every thief or robber, you have dozens of people who are willing to help an old woman cross the road or tend to a wounded person. We don’t hear about them because that doesn’t make for a good story. Good is boring. Though good is drab, that is what makes this world a pleasant place to live. A safe place, too. Doctors, scientists, and various other activists, even the brilliant minds who invented the vaccine to corona, operate behind the curtains, working tirelessly, just for the sake of making the planet safe. All these unsung heroes have one thing in common: a perfect moral compass.
Though it seems like possessing a strong moral compass is easy, it actually is not. It should be taught from a very young age as morality is difficult to instill as the child steps into adolescence and, eventually, adulthood. If a child is not taught to share his lunch with his schoolmates, chances are, he won’t share his food with his colleagues and most probably eat alone.
So what can you, as a responsible parent, do to inculcate moral development in children? As you might have imagined, teaching morality is a long but not tedious process. Like how your child learns specific skills at specific age brackets, morality is learned similarly.
From a child, what feels natural at this age is what feels comfortable to do. They try to learn to vocalize their thoughts and use their limbs. Though it seems like their brain is busy teaching the body the basic necessities to survive, like walking and eating, a little of morality can be learned, too. And don’t forget. This is the stage where a child learns from the mother by imitating her. So feed a stray in the streets or birds out in the garden. You may even give tasks to the child, like watering the plants. The child won’t understand these altruistic behaviors, as humans are innately selfish and naturally don’t do things that don’t benefit them in some form. But the child doesn’t have to understand the meaning at all. A simple exercise in imitation of the mother in performing good deeds is enough at this age.
This is yet another stage where the child can just imitate the parents but not actually understand the why. It is fine because the parts of their brains where ‘reasons’ are contemplated are not yet fully developed. However, the child would have just started nursery, and it is a fine place to teach your child to practice good things. Ask the child to share their meals with other children or even teachers. When this happens, he/she will garner a lot of good attention in their nurseries, which they will grow to like. And if a child is failing to follow your instructions, a simple and harmless punishment will do the trick. Though a child can’t understand why doing what mommy refers to as ‘good’ brings them nicer experience in life and ‘bad’ gives them not-so-nice experience, he will link good deeds to nice, bad to unpleasant. Forming this sort of neural network early in childhood will make the child look at ‘bad’ things vehemently and do only good.
In this stage, a lot of morality can be taught. Children become relatively reasonable. Get a cat or a dog and set an example of how to treat animals right. Take the child to local parks and make them hell the homeless. When children see the less fortunate side of the world, they begin questioning the inequalities in it. As they bombard you with questions about it, you shall teach them that it is the duty of every human to take care of every other human. That we live in this world together, as kin, and we all should act like it. When children learn that if they keep what they need and give away what they don’t, and if everyone in their generation follows the same, there won’t be inadequacy in mankind. Toys, food, clothes, all of these can be donated to someone who will gratefully receive them, giving your child a highly nurturing exercise in morality.
The final stage any parent can impart any sort of knowledge in a child is this age bracket. From 16 to mid-twenties, children want to defy parents and go against what we tell them to. So this final stage is crucial. Get your child his/her own dog. Make them participate in soup kitchens or similar activities, where they come in contact with the poor directly. All of this must be done without your supervision, as children at this age will want the autonomy and approval of their peers. But if you have done an amazing job until now and raised a morally strong child, he is okay to be left alone because his decisions will be solely based on what is right and what is wrong.
The points above are not that difficult to follow. Essentially, it is just a reminder to tag your child along whenever you do something altruistic. Watching and copying is children’s inborn skill to survive. And when they watch their parents do a lot of moral things, they will surely try to do them. As they grow, they will also understand the reason behind it, which is making this world a better place.