With a decline in ethics and values today, it is essential that parents teach morals to their children. Here’s how to go about it.
By Dr Priscilla J S Selvaraj
Children’s material comfort, educational requirements, emotional needs, career aspirations – today, parents may put in every effort to ensure that they meet all these and more. But, how much do they focus on imparting morals to their children? In a materialistic world that is ruled by audio-visual and social media, parents have an important role to play in bringing up children with good values and ethics. In the article, 'Becoming Moral: Introduction to the Special Issue on Early Moral Development', published in the Journal Human Development (Sept 2018), Judith G Smetana et. al provide evidence from their program of research that children’s ability to make distinctively moral judgments typically emerges around 3 years of age. So, shouldn't parents begin teaching values to their children early on? Here are some tips for parents to make sure children uphold morals and values in their lives.
1. Be a role-model: This is the most important step. Be clear about your own sense of right and wrong, and establish the right standards for your child. Ensure that you practise what you preach. If you do not uphold morals and principles in your day-to-day life but insist that your child does so, you would be sending across confusing messages to your little one. Also, there is the risk of your preschooler viewing you as a hypocrite. Remember, parental influence is very strong on a child when it comes to ethics and morals.
2. Define values: Unless you have your values clearly in place, you will not be able to explain them or pass them on to your child. Having a well-defined value system is essential to inculcating morals in your little one. For, your child will be influenced by the principles you stand for and wish to adopt. Also, defining values will help you have a clear sense of direction in life and enable your child to follow suit.
3. Prioritise moral development: Yes, physical, cognitive, emotional and social development are all important. And, as a parent, you need to focus on all these areas. However, the most important aspect of your child’s development is the moulding of her character. Therefore, unless you prioritise the moral development of your child, you cannot do much in teaching her values and ethics. Not only should you prioritise this aspect of your child’s development, but you should also stay committed in focussing on it.
4. Ensure incidental learning: Use daily happenings to instil values in your child. This can be the best approach to teaching him morals. Whenever someone is honest or kind point it out to your child. Also, when someone doesn’t uphold values, explain to your child the repercussions. Let your child learn from what he observes around him. When he is involved in circumstances that offer scope for upholding morals, encourage him. You can, especially, use playtime to impart these lessons. Such experiential learning will go a long way in helping to raise him with a strong sense of values. In fact, you can tap every teachable moment possible to impart values to your child.
5. Narrate stories and fables: What better way than narrating or reading stories with a message to impart morals to your child. They are rich resources to teach values. Be it bedtime stories or light-reads in the evenings, weave values and morals into them. Aesop’s fables, stories from the Bible and scriptures – all these abound in moral narratives. Your little one will relate more to stories than any other form of teaching. Therefore, use them in abundance to inculcate values in your child.
6. Applaud good behaviour: Remember, it is important to recognise the demonstration of good values. So, whenever you notice your child's words or actions reflecting good values, appreciate it. For example, when your child is truthful or shares something, appreciate his good behaviour. Such appreciation will help reinforce the upholding of good values. On the other hand, if you notice bad behaviour, exercise caution in dealing with it. Do not punish your child. Sit down with him and talk to him about it. Avoid lecturing; rather, explain to him why it is wrong to behave in such a manner and what consequences it can have. Make sure you establish a connect with your child while talking to him about his bad behaviour. This will encourage him to correct his actions.
‘To educate a man in mind and not in morals is a menace to society,’ said the former American President Theodore Roosevelt. As parents, let us pledge to educating our children on values, principles and ethics. And, let us begin early, even as they are at the threshold of formal education – the preschool stage.
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Dr Priscilla J S Selvaraj