How to Help Your Five-Year-Old Establish a Strong Moral Foundation
By the age of five years, many children are able to begin to imagine themselves in the place of someone who is upset, and they feel bad for that person. This is the beginning of the development of empathetic thinking. Consistent with most other behaviors, how parents treat their children sets the stage for how their children are expected to treat others. If children see their parents treat others with kindness, caring, and concern, they learn to model these behaviors.
Providing children with a stable set of rules, along with clear consequences for breaking those rules, also helps foster moral development. At all ages, children respond best to specific, clearly defined rules and limits that are accompanied by an explanation of the reason behind them. For example, telling a five year old that she cannot watch a particular television show that many of her friends watch will have more impact if an explanation of your concerns about the content of the show is provided. This may not prevent her from continuing to nag about watching the show, but it will help her to understand that your rule is not based on the particular mood you're in that day!
Although children at this age are not completely able to put themselves in another child's shoes, using recent memories and their imagination can help them to see how another child might feel. When your child tells you a story of a child at school calling another child names, use this situation to have your child "imagine" how each of those children might have felt.
Setting a positive example for your child can mean behaving in a particular way as well as discussing with (or, at least, in front of) her your own moral decisions and the reasons behind them. Pointing out moral behaviors in others is another way of providing positive examples to your child.
Establishing a strong moral foundation for your child helps her to deal with the confrontations she may encounter on the playground, in school, and at home. When a child has a good value system, she is better able to handle negative situations with others. In addition, early moral development gives children the strength to resist more powerful concerns, such as drugs, cheating, or stealing.
As parents, it is important to remember that you are talking to a five year old. Children this age are not able to attend to long, windy lectures about right and wrong. They forget easily. The discussion you had last night may be completely forgotten by the next day (or even the next hour). Keep your message clear, and let your child be an active participant in discussions of moral issues. Remember that many five year olds make a decision based on what benefits them the most. It is not until later years that children begin to express concern about what others will think of them and only in late adolescence and adulthood that there is an internalized sense of right and wrong.
Finally, it is important to monitor outside influences, such as television and peers. Television bombards children with the message that violent behavior, as well as alcohol and drug use, are acceptable behaviors. It is important to monitor the amount of television your child watches, as well as the type of program. Although peers are not as significant an influence at age five as they are in later years, they have a strong impact on what children view as right and wrong. Monitor your child's friendships, and if you have concerns, provide closer supervision and structure during playtime. Sometimes it is also possible to gently encourage friendships with children you feel may be a better influence on your child.
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