I recently worked with PARENTS magazine to conduct an online survey of over 2400 moms. One question: “How do you hope your child turns out?” Next to health and happiness, most parents hoped their children would grow to be adults with solid character and strong morals. One thing is certain: parents who raise moral kids don’t do so by accident. We also know that home is the best school for teaching character. And the best time to teach the beliefs and habits that boost strong character are in everyday intentional moments. Here are ten tips to help you raise your child to have a strong moral intelligence from my new book, The Big Book of Parenting Solutions.
1. Commit to Raising A Moral Child
How important is it for you to raise a moral child? It’s a crucial question to ask, because research finds that parents who feel strongly about their kids turning out morally usually succeed because they committed themselves to that effort. If you really want to raise a moral child, then make a personal commitment to raise one, and don’t stop until he does.
2. Be a Strong Moral Example
Parents are their children’s first and most powerful moral teachers, so make sure the moral behaviors your kids are picking up from you are ones that you want them to copy. Try to make your life a living example of good moral behavior for your child to see. Each day ask yourself: “If my child had only my behavior to watch, what example would he catch?” The answer is often quite telling.
3. Know Your Beliefs & Share Them
Before you can raise a moral child, you must be clearly about what believe in. Take time to think through your values then share them regularly to your child explaining why you feel the way you do. After all, your child will be hearing endless messages that counter your beliefs, so it’s essential the she hears about your moral standards. TV shows, movies, newspapers, and literature are filled with moral issues, so use them as opportunities to discuss your beliefs with your child.
4. Use Teachable Moments
The best teaching moments aren’t ones that are planned-they happen unexpectedly. Look for moral issues to talk about as they come up. Take advantage of those moments because they help your child develop solid moral beliefs that will help guide his behavior the rest of his life.
5. Use Discipline as a Moral Lesson
Effective discipline ensures that the child not only recognizes why her behavior was wrong but also knows what to do to make it right next time. Using the right kind of questions helps kids expand their ability to take another person’s perspective and understand the consequences of their behavior. So help your child reflect: “Was that the right thing to do? What should I do next time?” That way your child learns from his mistakes and grows morally. Remember your ultimate goal is to wean your child from your guidance so he acts right on his own.
6. Expect Moral Behavior
Studies are very clear: kids who act morally have parents who expect them to do so. It sets a standard for your child’s conduct and also lets her know in no uncertain terms what you value. Post your moral standards at home then consistently reinforce them until your child internalizes them so they become his rules, too.
7. Reflect on the Behaviors’ Effects
Researchers tell us one of the best moral-building practices is to point out the impact of the child’s behavior on the other person. Doing so enhances a child’s moral growth: (“See, you made her cry”) or highlight the victim’s feeling (“Now he feels bad”). The trick is to help to help the child really imagine what it would be like to be in the victim’s place so she will be more sensitive to how her behavior impacts others.
8. Reinforce Moral Behaviors
One of the simplest ways to help kids learn new behaviors is to reinforce them as they happen. So purposely catch your child acting morally and acknowledge her good behavior by describing what she did right and why you appreciate it.
9. Prioritize Morals Daily
Kids don’t learn how to be moral from reading about it in textbooks but from doing good deeds. Encourage your child to lend a hand to make a difference in his world, and always help him recognize the positive effect the gesture had on the recipient. The real goal is for kids to become less and less dependent on adult guidance by incorporating moral principles into their daily lives and making them their own. That can happen only if parents emphasize the importance of the virtues over and over and their kids repeatedly practice those moral behaviors.
10. Incorporate the Golden Rule
Teach your child the Golden Rule that has guided many civilizations for centuries, “Treat others as you want to be treated.” Remind him to ask himself before acting, Would I want someone to treat me like that? It helps him think about his behavior and its consequences on others. Make the rule become your family’s over-arching moral principal.
For more Parenting Solutions follow Michele at twitter @micheleborba or on her daily blog, Dr. Michele Borba’s Reality Check.
This article is excerpted from Michele Borba’s book, The Big Book of Parenting Solutions: 101 Answers to Your Everyday Challenges and Wildest Worries (Jossey-Bass) available for order now: