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How to raise a good child

Updated on September 6, 2014

Moral Development

The following is a book summary created with a lot of help from Morgan Taylor Dalrymple.

Rafe Esquith’s “Six Levels of Moral Development” are excellent standards to aim for when raising your kids:

1. “I don’t want to get in trouble” - This primitive motivation has to be left behind because your kids won’t get anywhere with it.

2. “I want a reward” – Proper behavior should be expected not rewarded.

3. “I want to please somebody” – Kids should find their way in life not yours or ours.

4. “I follow the rules” – Martin Luther King Jr. became a hero by NOT following the rules. It’s not a bad idea to question the rules yourself from time to time.

5. “I am considerate of other people” – Kindness really is contagious.

6. “I have a personal code of behavior, and I follow it” – This level can be taught by helping the kids identify level 6 behavior in others. Watch out for high level thinkers in books and movies. A good example is Pinocchio and how he acquires his personal code of behavior when at the end of his long journey he has learned from his mistakes and turns out to be his father's pride and joy.

From “Teach Like Your Hair’s On Fire” by Rafe Esquith

Truth and Lies

Truth is relative for a young child. Sometimes children lie simply because they want to believe what they are saying. At times they purposely lie to avoid punishment and embarrassment or to get attention. Ask yourself: “Are you always telling the truth?” Lying can be a shortcut to tranquility for you—and for your children. (“Sorry, the TV doesn’t work right now.”) Frequent denial in a child though is a sign a child has low self-esteem. He builds himself up by telling fanciful stories and protects his weak sense of self by denying misdeeds. If the behavior is habitual, he needs your help.

Tip: Don’t reinforce an assumption of bad character in the child’s mind by saying, “You are lying, and you know it.”

The more he thinks of himself as a liar, the more he will lie. Instead, calmly state your rule: “We only draw on paper.”

Help a child believe that deep inside he is truly honest by showing your surprise at his lying. (“Max, you are always so good about telling the truth. What happened today?”) Never fail to catch him telling the truth. (“It really helped me a lot that you told me the truth. You are honest and courageous.”)

The Era of Yes

We are living in the era of YES. We rejected “children should be seen but not heard” and have gone to the “child-centric” extreme and let our child’s voice dominate our lives. Everything should be fun. Rewards without work and instant gratification. Children are already inclined to want their desires filled immediately. It is our job to teach them to control their wants and needs in order to prepare them for life.

According to a psychology study from A. Duckworth and M. Seligman (University of Pennsylvania) self-discipline is twice as important for school success as intelligence. The future will belong to hungry kids –not entitled kids. Kids who know how to work hard, delay gratification, make sacrifices and discipline themselves –children who were taught the lessons of No. … -statement

The most effective parenting style is balanced and dares to use and enforce Nos. There are clear limits and consistently enforced consequences. Be engaged and emotionally connected with your kids. But respectfully demand accountability and responsibility.


•Plan ahead. Preventing the need to say no is worth a pound of enforced Nos.

•Letting a child know what you want her to do is as important as telling her what not to do. Use positive language; “feet on the ground” instead of “no climbing”

•Make sure the child knows that the consequence is his choice. He chose to break the rule.

•Use different ways of saying no, like “stop, enough, later.”

•Sparingly used nos are more effective.

•Use natural (if a child doesn’t eat, she will be hungry) or logical consequences if possible (if a child doesn’t play carefully with a toy, then he can’t play with this toy). Time-outs are useful when the natural consequence doesn’t make any sense.

•Saying “good job”is not enough for self confidence. Real personal success, which depends on self-discipline, builds the foundation of self-esteem. A child who takes on a challenge, perseveres and eventually succeeds will attain a deserved sense of pride in his abilities.

An excerpt from No: Why Kids –Of All Ages –Ned To Hear It And Ways Parents Can Say It by David Walsh. Copyright ©2007 by David Walsh.

Reprinted by permission of Free Press, a Division of Simon and Schuster, Inc.

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This is the mother of all moral values. A respectful child knows to trust you and your directions. An environment of mutual respect can lead to dramatic increases in progress, especially when it is recognized by all parties.

The best way to teach respect is to show respect – for yourself, other people and the world around you. When a child experiences respect, he knows what it feels like and begins to understand how important it is. Your integrity and reliability are necessary components. Before a child can respect others she must first respect herself.


•Teach your child to respect your sphere by not allowing her to get into your purse or closet without permission.

•The whole family should knock before entering a bedroom, when the door’s closed.

"My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness." The Dalai Lama

Children are innately kind and caring according to David Schonfeld, M.D., director of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at Cincinnati Children’s HospitalMedicalCenter. The older children get the less self-centered and kinder they become. “At first children help others because they get praise. Then they start to anticipate the needs of people around them, and it becomes intrinsically rewarding to do good.” This transition comes when children interact with one another. By working things out with a peer, a child develops the skills of moral and social behavior.

Tip: Whenever possible, let children solve problems on their own, even though sometimes you will have to guide them. Instead of giving specific instructions, ask leading questions like, “Is there some way you could make Kate feel better?” By coming up with solutions by themselves, they will learn and internalize their acts of kindness.


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