Parenting Solutions: Not Knowing Right from Wrong (page 2)
Has difficulty deciphering right from wrong, chronically lies or steals, can't be trusted, blames others for wrongdoing, won't accept responsibility for wrongdoing
The Change to Parent For
Your child learns right from wrong, internalizes your family's good values, and develops a strong sense of morality that helps him act right even in the face of temptation or without your guidance.
Question: "I found a video game that doesn't belong to him in my eight-year-old son's room. I'm positive he stole it from the grocery store. He has everything he wants, so how do I handle it?"
Answer: How parents react to their child's misbehavior can be destructive or productive in helping him learn right from wrong. Responding appropriately to his wrongdoing makes a parent's job especially significant when it comes to stretching conscience. Here are my Four R's of Moral Discipline to help your son learn from his stealing episode. You can also use these four points with almost any misbehavior to help your child understand right from wrong.
- Respond so as to help the child think through his actions. You might ask, "Explain what happened," "Why did you do it?" "What made you do it?" "How did you think it would turn out?" "Did it turn out as you had hoped?" "What would you do differently?"
- Review why the behavior is wrong. You might ask, "Do you think stealing is right or wrong?" "Why shouldn't you take something from a store or anywhere else?" "Can you think of other reasons why a kid shouldn't steal?" "Why do you think I'd be upset?"
- Reflect on the victim. Help your child imagine what it would be like to be in the victim's place. "Let's think about the man who owns the grocery store. How do you think he feels about his property being taken?" "How would you feel if you had to pay for things someone else took from you?" "Would it be fair if you had to use your salary to pay for it?"
- Right the wrong to stretch conscience. Brainstorm together a few options that guide your son to right the wrong and return the game because he knows it's the right thing to do. "You know that what you did was wrong, so let's think of what you can do to make things right."
Your goal is to stretch your son's conscience so that he understands the full impact of his actions, including the victim's feelings. Moral growth evolves gradually, so don't expect overnight changes, but instead find simple daily ways to use the Four R's to boost his moral growth.
Strong conscience—that magnificent inner voice that helps us know right from wrong— is what lays the foundation for decent living, solid citizenship, and ethical behavior and what every parent wants for his or her child. But according to recent polls, the general public believes we aren't faring so well in nurturing our children's moral growth. A recent Newsweek poll found that almost half of Americans believe that we have grown lax about enforcing moral standards;66another survey revealed that 93 percent believe that parents have failed to teach children honesty, respect, and responsibility.67Those results are especially alarming these days because our kids receive so many conflicting moral messages in the media and among peers that too often counter our values. But research also clearly shows that parents play a significant role in nurturing their children's moral growth, because morality is learned, and that learning starts right at home.
Teach Kids That Conscience Can Be Stretchable
Columbia University: For the past ten years, psychologist Carol Dweck and her team at Columbia (she's now at Stanford) studied the effect of praise in a series of experiments on hundreds of school-age students.65 Her research found that kids generally have two views about goodness, and those views can significantly affect moral growth. One group believes that goodness is basically fixed: people are invariably good or bad. The other group has a "goodness can be improved" mind-set, so that if a person does something wrong, it doesn't make him "bad," so long as he makes amends and resolves to do better next time. Dweck also found that kids in this group are less judgmental of others and try to set things right and learn from their wrong. The lesson from this research: teach your child that conscience is like a muscle that can be stretched, and whenever he misbehaves, emphasize that he can right his wrong with a little effort and that doing so will also increase his potential for goodness.
This entry offers proven strategies to help your child learn right from wrong, develop a strong conscience, and act right even in the face of temptation. Only then will our kids really be able to do what Jiminy Cricket advises Pinocchio: "Always let your conscience be your guide." After all, the only real barometer of good parenting is for our kids to act right without us. So let's roll up our sleeves and get started.
Pay Attention to This!
Could It Be Conduct Disorder?
Most kids will stretch the truth or take something that doesn't belong to them every now and then, but if such behaviors become a pattern, watch out. These chronic and habitual signs may indicate a more serious behavioral problem called Conduct Disorder, which requires an evaluation by a child or adolescent psychologist or psychiatrist:68
- Inability to give or receive affection; lack of long-term childhood friends; difficulty trusting
- Cruelty to animals; hurting peers or others emotionally or physically, relishing their pain
- Little or no remorse, guilt, or shame for wrongdoing or hurtful behavior
- Habitual stealing, lying, shoplifting, vandalism, truancy
- Eye contact abnormalities; won't look you in the eye
- Destructiveness: sets fires; is preoccupied with violence, blood, and gore
- Chronically disobedient; persistently displays little respect for you or other family members
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