Most children behave more morally and prosocially as they grow older. The table below describes the forms that morality and prosocial behavior are apt to take at various grade levels.
- Ability to distinguish between behaviors that violate human rights and dignity and those that violate social conventions
- Some awareness that behaviors causing physical or psychological harm are morally wrong
- Guilt about misbehaviors that cause obvious harm or damage
- Some empathy for, and attempts to comfort, people in distress, especially people whom one knows well
- Greater concern for one’s own needs than for those of others
- Make standards for behavior very clear.
- When students misbehave, give reasons that such behaviors are not acceptable, focusing on the harm and distress they have caused others (i.e., use induction; see discussion on p. 97).
- Encourage students to comfort others when they can.
- Model sympathetic responses; explain what you are doing and why you are doing it.
- Recognize that some selfish behavior is typical for the age-group; when it occurs, encourage more prosocial behavior.
- Knowledge of social conventions for appropriate behavior
- Feelings of shame as well as guilt for moral wrongdoings
- Increasing empathy for unknown individuals who are suffering or needy
- Recognition that one should strive to meet others’ needs as well as one’s own; growing appreciation of cooperation and compromise
- Increase in the desire to help others as an objective in and of itself
- Talk about how rules enable classrooms and other group situations to run more smoothly.
- Explain how students can often meet their own needs while helping others (e.g., when asking students to be “reading buddies” for younger children, explain that doing so will help them become better readers themselves).
- Use prosocial adjectives (e.g., kind, helpful) when praising altruistic behavior.
- Some tendency to think of rules and conventions as standards that should be followed for their own sake
- Interest in pleasing and helping others, but with a tendency to oversimplify what “helping” requires
- Tendency to believe that distressed individuals (e.g., the homeless) are entirely responsible for their own fate
- Make prosocial behavior (e.g., giving, sharing, caring for others) a high priority in the classroom.
- Involve students in group projects that will benefit their school or community.
- When imposing discipline for moral transgressions, remember that induction may be especially important for students who have deficits in empathy and moral reasoning.
- Understanding that rules and conventions help society run more smoothly
- Increasing concern about doing one’s duty and abiding by the rules of society as a whole rather than simply pleasing certain authority figures
- Genuine empathy for those in distress
- Belief that society has an obligation to help others in need
- Explore moral issues in social studies, science, and literature.
- Encourage community service to engender feelings of commitment to helping others. Ask students to reflect on their experiences through group discussions or written essays.
- Assign autobiographies and other literature that depict heroic figures who have actively worked to help others.
Sources: Damon, 1988; Eisenberg, 1982; Eisenberg & Fabes, 1998; Eisenberg, Lennon, & Pasternack, 1986; Farver & Branstetter, 1994; C. A. Flanagan & Faison, 2001; Gibbs, 1995; D. Hart & Fegley, 1995; Helwig & Jasiobedzka, 2001; Helwig et al., 2001; Hoffman, 1975, 1991; Kohlberg, 1984; Krebs & Van Hesteren, 1994; Kurtines, Berman, Ittel, & Williamson, 1995; Laupa & Turiel, 1995; Nucci & Weber, 1995; Rushton, 1980; Smetana & Braeges, 1990; Turiel, 1983, 1998; Yates & Youniss, 1996; Yau & Smetana, 2003; Youniss & Yates, 1999; Zahn-Waxler, Radke-Yarrow, Wagner, & Chapman, 1992.
Excerpt from Educational Psychology Developing Learners, by J.E. Ormrod, 2008 edition, p. 93.
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