No matter how strongly you stress morals and values at home, behavior problems with kids still emerge -- particularly if there are some emotional needs that aren't being met. The problem with kids is that they don't have the ability to express what's happening and so they commonly act on those needs. Our job as parents is to play detective and figure out what's behind the problem. Too often what we do is discipline the behavior -- without trying to figure out what could be causing it. Behavior is a symptom -- typically masking the real problem.
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 then don't stop until he does.
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.
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. He'll be hearing endless messages that counter your beliefs, so it's essential that he hears about your standards.
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.
Effective discipline should ensure that the child not only recognizes why her behavior was wrong, but also knows what to do to make it right next time. So help your child always reflect on the consequences of his actions: "Was that the right thing to do? Why? What should you do next time? What will you do?" That way your child learns from his mistakes and grows morally.
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. So post your moral standards at home then consistently reinforce them until your child internalizes them so they become his rules, too. Remember, your ultimate goal is to wean your child from your guidance so he acts right on his own.
Researchers tell us one of the best moral-building practices is to point out the impact of the child's behavior on the offended: "See, you made her cry." Or highlight the victim's feeling ("Now he feels bad"). Help your child 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.
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.
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.
Teach your child the Golden Rule that has guided many civilizations for centuries: "Treat others as you want to be treated." It helps him think about his behavior and its consequences on others. Make the rule become your family's over-arching moral principal. There is no better rule to guide moral intelligence.
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