How Children Develop Morality

Moral development can vary among different cultures and has a number of factors, but the immediate family is, by far, the greatest influence when it comes to instilling values in children.

The morals, ethics, values and beliefs that people learn in childhood largely determine how they will behave as adults.  While the term “morality” is somewhat subjective and varies according to cultural traditions, morals and ethical rules teach a child what behavior is right and what behavior is unacceptable within a particular society.

What Constitutes “Good”?
All parents want their offspring to be responsible, successful, and productive citizens, but the things that actually signify “good” vary from family to family.  Some parents may define “right” as belonging to a particular political party or religion, while others may endorse alternative philosophies. Even given these types of differences, most parents would probably agree that the following basic list of values would be considered moral assets in the lives of their children:
* Honesty and integrity
* Having love and empathy toward others
* Being hard-working and responsible
* Having respect toward themselves and others
* Being forgiving
* Being generous and giving

The Family and Morality
The immediate family environment is the first place that children are exposed to morals, value systems, and belief structures.  Very early in life, a child will begin picking up on the constitution of a family’s value system as it pertains to things like money, honesty, relationships, education, and work ethics.  For this reason, it is very important for parents to model desirable behavior in front of their children.  In addition to gaining a sense of morality by following positive examples, children also need to understand the tenets behind “good” behavior.  Discussing why certain behavior is acceptable or unacceptable helps to solidify the concept.

Other Role Models
Children develop a sense of morality and ethics in stages, and in order to become well-rounded individuals, children need social interaction from outside the confines of the immediate family.  Teachers and other children’s parents, as well as religious and community leaders, can play a significant role in developing a young person’s moral compass.  Interactions with these community role models will both reinforce and challenge a child’s notion of morality, which will compel them to examine and, hopefully, improve upon their actions.

Moral development refers to the ability of a child to understand right and wrong behavior from the perspective of the attitudes and conduct dictated by social rules and laws. Understanding how morality is developed gives parents an advantage when it comes to introducing and teaching life-enhancing principles that will lead to more success for their offspring.  While children may be exposed to many influences in their lives, the members of their immediate family remain the most prominent people responsible for developing good moral foundations.

References: Kohlberg, Lawrence (1984). The Psychology of Moral Development. Harper and Row, New York.

About Melissa J. Murphy

Melissa Murphy is in the business of building self-esteem, instilling confidence, and restoring hope in those who have given up on life. She is currently completing her degree in psychology, and has worked as a life coach and faith-based counselor for more than a decade. By bringing her personal life experiences into her work, Melissa is able to help others survive their wounds, heal their pain, and live a life of success despite having incurred overwhelming emotional scars. For the last few years, she has discovered the joys of writing and has published a growing number of articles. Melissa currently resides in the Houston area with her husband and her two wonderful children.

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