Tuesday, October 16, 2018

6 Steps of Moral Development

 Teaching Kids to Make Good Decisions

Decisions, decisions. As adults we can weigh the odds and use our years of experiences and (hopefully) levels of maturity to make the best decisions possible, whether it is which job to pursue or which book to read. However, our kids don’t necessarily have those years of experiences or developed the maturity needed to make solid, sound decisions. So how can we give them the tools to make choices that will enhance their lives, nourish their souls, and take them one step closer to a better life than they were before?

As a mom to 4 children I am constantly looking for ways to strengthen my children’s independent thinking skills and abilities to make positive decisions. Drawn to the book title, Lighting Their Fires, by Rafe Esquith, I was pulled into this quick read and left the last page with a renewed sense of enthusiasm for teaching my children decision-making skills.

Morals and Decision Making

Rafe touches on something that is so paramount in parenting: children make decisions based on their moral codes of behavior. He describes in his book how he uses Lawrence Kohlberg’s six levels of moral development to in essence mark the moral development of his children, including his students. This basic structure includes the following six points.

  1. Obedience through Punishment Avoidance – Young children often learn, even inadvertently, that obeying the rules is important because you then won’t be punished. This is the very earliest point of moral development.
  2. Exchanges and Favors – Children are motivated to act a certain way because they perceive there will be a reward for their actions.
  3. Relationships – This is sometimes known as the “good boy/good girl” stage where children are developing their moral compasses and learning to conform to social expectations for the most part because the actions will please others (without necessarily a reward beyond that).
  4. Social Order – At this stage of moral development children are learning to make decisions based on their considerations for society in general. Children at this stage are developing the moral code of respecting authority and making decisions that reflect duty and order in society.
  5. Social Contracts – At this higher stage of moral development people not only respect the expectations and guidelines of society, but are able to account for different values and opinions. They are considerate of others and understand that social agreements sometimes need to be changed.
  6. Universal Ethics – This is that stage in moral reasoning where you get that gnawing feeling in your gut because the ethical principles to which you have learned to adhere don’t always follow the rules. You are more inclined to follow the internal set of ethics – your conscious.

How Do Morals Affect Decision Making for Kids?

According to Rafe, “Children set off on the path to extraordinary when they dedicate themselves to reaching level 6 on Kohlberg’s scale.” Our children are not born with the tools they need to make the best decisions, so we must equip them and consistently help them move throughout the levels on Kohlberg’s scale. Even if you don’t buy into every level of this model, it is easy to see that if we only make decisions based on a fear of consequences that we won’t ever be able to demonstrate the consideration and ethical focus required of higher decision-making processes.

How Do I Teach My Children Decision Making Tools?

As parents and caregivers we are the first and strongest influencers in our children’s lives. If we are complacent and base our decisions on the status quo – we choose to attend college because it pleases our parents, or landscape our yard to win the neighborhood lawn-care trophy, our decisions are based on external factors and lack the shaping that consideration and ethical principles bring.

Set good examples. You’ve heard it before and it is not always easy to do, but it is necessary.

Remove distractions. Limit mindless activities (such as endless hours in front of the television or video games). It is much easier to make decisions with all of the facts in hand and an on educated platform.

Teach children the value of time – both their own and that of others. Kids who value time, even understanding that it is not fair to make others late because they overslept, understand that consideration is important in relationships.

Read great works of literature with your child. Countless studies have shown that when children learn to assess the situations of characters and empathize with their emotions that they are building their own conscious.

Rely on faith. If you have a faith foundation, use it to teach your children about your beliefs and the reasons for them. Simply dictating rules is not enough – truly open your own heart about your values, fears, and faith.

Work together toward emotional intelligence. Identifying the emotions of themselves and others is a higher level of thinking that leads to better decisions.

Honor their feelings, even when you don’t understand them. Sometimes I have no idea why my child might be acting a certain way – maybe melting on the spot and at risk of crying into a puddle. However, when I demonstrate empathy they learn how to recognize their own feelings, and in turn, have respect for the feelings of others.

Give them opportunities and time. Let them sort out their own opinions and weigh their options, and try to let them make the decision. It might only be which activity to do on a weekend, but they need opportunities to consider the benefits and downsides.

It can be so difficult to watch children flounder as they struggle to make decisions, especially when we feel like we have the right or safe or best answers. I have even heard at least of my kids say, “I just wish I didn’t have to decide!” However, even when the situations are difficult, I always try to remind my kids that they should feel grateful they have a decision to make, because then their life is truly more their own.

Related posts:

  1. 7 Childhood Development Strategies For Raising A Go-Getter
  2. Preventing The Downward Spiral – 6 Steps for Parents of Teens
  3. When you hit a brick wall: 6 steps for dealing with parenting challenges

View full post on Parenting Tips For Raising Successful Kids | BetterParenting.com

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