A mother\’s world

October 14, 2005


Filed under: Uncategorized — womanzone @ 8:01 am

Raising a moral child means teaching your child to live by the Golden Rule. Before your child can “treat others like you want others to treat you,” he has to learn how to empathize, to be able to think through an action before doing it and to judge how the consequences of his action will affect himself and others. Therein lies the basis of a moral person.

1. Raise kids who care. Attachment parenting is your child’s first morality lesson. Parents are the child’s first morality teachers. Our own observations as well as numerous studies conclude that attachment-parented infants are more likely to become moral children and adults. The one quality that distinguishes these children from kids raised in a detached parenting style is sensitivity. We view sensitivity as the root virtue. Plant it in your child and watch it sprout other virtues, such as self-control, compassion, and honesty. Here’s how to grow a sensitive child.

When a child spends the early years with a sensitive caregiver, this infant develops an inner sense of rightness, a sense of well-being. In short, he feels good. Being on the receiving end of this responsive style of caring plants in the infant trust and eventually sensitivity. The child makes these virtues part of himself. They are not something a child has, they are what the child is, sensitive and trusting. He has learned it is good to help and hold a person in need. He has a capacity to care, the ability to feel how another person feels. He will be able to consider how his actions will affect another person.

This inner code of behavior becomes deeply rooted in connected children. As a result, they develop a healthy sense of guilt , feeling appropriately wrong when they act wrong. To a connected kid, a lie is a breach of trust. When he slips, his well-being is disturbed, so he strives to preserve and restore this sense of moral balance. A connected child can truly do the right things for others because others have done the right things for him.

The unconnected kid. The child who grows up with insensitivity becomes insensitive. He has no frame of reference on how to act. Without an inner guidance system, his values are subject to change according to his whims. One difference between kids who care and kids who don’t is their ability to feel remorse, to be bothered by how their actions affect others. Criminologists have noticed the most significant trait shared by unconnected kids and psychopathic adults is their inability to feel remorse and empathy, and thus take responsibility for their behavior.

A group of five-year-olds are playing and one of the children falls, scrapes her knee and starts crying. The connected child will offer a reassuring “I’m sorry you’re hurt” and show a desire to comfort. The unconnected child may say “cry baby.”

2. Make a moral connection. The connected toddler begins her moral development with the two fundamental qualities of sensitivity and trust. These “starter virtues” make it easier for parents to teach a toddler and preschooler the dos and don’ts of life. A morally-connected parent appropriately points out to the child what’s right, what’s wrong, and what’s expected. The child trusts that whatever the parent says is gospel. If Dad says hitting is wrong, it’s wrong. If Mom says comforting a hurting child is right, it’s right. The parents are the trusted moral authorities.

The first six years is a window of opportunity when a child unquestionably accepts the virtues modeled by parents. Consider what happens when the child receives even one “morality lesson” each day in the early years. For example, Ashley hurts her finger. “Let’s help her feel better.” Your son takes his friend’s ball. “Chris feels sad because you took his favorite ball.” Or “How would you feel if Chris took your ball?”

Initially a child believes behaviors are right or wrong because you tell her so, or she considers the consequences. By five years of age your child begins to internalize your values: what’s right for you becomes right for her. Your values, virtuous or not, become part of your child.

Between seven and ten the child enters the age of moral reasoning. Now the child begins to act right because it is the right thing to do. By seven years of age, most children have developed their concept of “what’s normal.” If sensitivity, caring, politeness and empathy have been standard operating procedure in the child’s home, those are his norms, and he operates according to them. What his parents take seriously, the child takes seriously. Up to this point, he believes his parents to be infallible, so he enters middle childhood with their values as part of himself.

Along come children with other “norms,” who grew up in insensitive, perhaps violent homes, with a distant parent-child relationship. Here is where the morally-connected child shines. Because his moral code is part of himself, the alternative values feel strange to him. They upset his sense of well-being. He becomes morally selective, taking those values which contribute to his well- being and discarding those that don’t.

Not so the morally ungrounded child. He is the product of a home where virtues are not discussed or taught and enters middle childhood like a ship without a rudder or anchor. He drifts in a sea of moral uncertainty, prey to whatever influences come along. Because he has no reference system to use as a standard, he adopts others’ values or he shifts values according to what’s most convenient for solving the problem of the moment. This child drifts into moral relativism : very few things are right or wrong, black or white, but most solutions are shades of gray, and the child takes the path of least resistance or the one that is most popular. This child is at risk because he lacks connection with morally-grounded parents.

3. Model morals. A model is an example to be imitated, for better or worse. In the early years children are totally dependent on their caregivers to show the world to them. Your standards automatically become theirs, because they soak up whatever surrounds them. They make no independent judgments as to the rightness or wrongness of actions. Even if you do something you’ve taught them is wrong, such as hit someone, they assume you are right in what you did and the person you hit deserved it. If they see and hear it from their parents, it’s right, and they store this behavior in their impressionable minds as something worth imitating.

After six or seven years of age the child begins to make judgments about which models are worth emulating and incorporating into his personality and which ones need to be discarded as threatening to his self. This means parents must saturate their children with healthy models in the preschool years, when children are most impressionable, so they can be discerning about models that come along later.

Healthy modeling does not imply perfect parenting , based not on what is right and wrong, but on what is convenient and expedient. Your child will pick up the way of life that she sees you living daily at home. You will inspire your child to follow your example, be it a valuable or a valueless model.

Besides providing healthy models at home, screen outside influences that might leave unhealthy models in your child’s mind. These include substitute caregivers, neighbors, preschool teachers, older kids, and television. Once upon a time persons of significance in a child’s life came primarily from within the extended family, but in today’s mobile society a child is likely to have a wider variety of models. Use these to your advantage and saturate your child’s environment with persons of significance who provide healthy examples so that there is little room left for unhealthy messages.

4. Minimize bad impressions. We emphasize models as one of the prime influences on a child behavior. Parents need to realize that negative behaviors viewed on TV (for example, anger and violence) are easier for a child to copy than positive behaviors (say, kindness). A few examples are all that is necessary to make a lasting impression. Positive behaviors are more difficult to imitate because they require maturity and self-control. These examples need to be repeated often to sink in. Parents should not be lulled into a false sense of security because their child has seen only “a few” violent movies. Nevertheless, you can’t control everything that goes into your child’s mind. To counteract the negative influences that slip in, saturate your child’s mind with examples of positive behavior. Also, beware of what we term “instant replay.” A child’s developing mind is like a giant video library. He stores all he sees for alter retrieval. If the child repeatedly witnesses graphic scenes of violence, this topic gets lots of shelf space in the library of his mind. So, years later when presented with similar circumstances, for example, a rivalry over a girlfriend, the teen or adult instantly replays a similar scene from his video library: He shoots the person who stole his girlfriend. We wonder if the criminals that go berserk (translation: “temporarily insane”) and commit a hideous crime are, by reflex, replaying what they were subconsciously programmed to do.

5. Teach your child to think morally. Take advantage of teachable moments , ordinary events of family life that offer opportunities to talk your child through the process of moral reasoning. One day I saw two eight-year-old neighborhood kids perched on a hillside ready to toss water balloons on cars passing by below. I nabbed them before their mischief began and began this dialogue with one of the boys: “Jason, what do you think might happen when the water balloon hits the car?” I asked. “It would splat all over the car,” Jason responded.”Imagine if you were the driver, what do you think the driver might feel?” I said.”I dunno,” Jason mumbled.”Do you think it might scare him?” I persisted.”Yes, I guess so,” admitted Jason.”He might be so startled that the car goes out of control, he drives up on a sidewalk, and a little child goes splat. Isn’t that possible?” I offered.”I guess so,” he admitted.”You would feel pretty bad if that happened, wouldn’t you?” I went on.”Yes, I sure would,” Jason agreed.

You can discuss people on TV in the same way. You notice your ten-year-old watching a questionable TV program. Sit next to her and in a nonthreatening and nonjudgmental way inquire, “Do you think what those people are doing is right?” Encourage discussions about current events: controversial sports figures, newspaper headlines, social issues. Raise your children to express their opinions. Encourage lively family debates. Respect their viewpoints even if you don’t agree. Studies show that children who come from families who encourage such open discussion are more likely to think morally mature. A California study of a thousand college students looked at the relationship between the student’s level of moral reasoning and how they were parented. Students who scored high on moral reasoning came from families that encouraged open discussion of controversial topics. Other studies have shown that highly-permissive parents who did not expect obedience from their children and gave inappropriate praise produced “me- firsters,” children whose only thought was to satisfy themselves. And the other extreme, over-controlling parents produced conformist teenagers who couldn’t think for themselves. In these studies, families who gave their children a voice in decisions produced teenagers who were able to reason morally. Getting children to preach to themselves becomes the most lasting morality lesson.

Let your child hear you think through the rightness or wrongness of an action. You and your child are at a store and the cashier gives you too much change back. You notice the error and share it with your child: “Oh, the cashier gave us too much money back.” And then you offer a moral commentary as if thinking out loud: “This extra money does not belong to us. It would not be right to keep it. The cashier may be suspended or lose her job for this mistake. I would feel bad if I kept the money…” Your child justifies, “But Dad, everybody does it.” You reply, “Does that make it right? What do you believe is the right thing to do? How do you think you would feel if you kept money that didn’t belong to you?” Then add, “I feel good doing the right thing and returning the money.”

6. Know your child. Know how your child is thinking morally at each stage of development. When situations occur that require a moral decision, involve your child in them. One day our ten-year-old Erin and I were driving by a beggar. Erin said, “Dad, can we stop and give him some money?” Taking her cue, I stopped the car for a teachable opportunity. Testing where she was at morally I suggested, “Maybe he should get a job.” Erin answered, “Maybe he can’t find one.” That told me where she was. We stopped at a nearby store and bought some food for the needy person.

Morals are important to a child because they govern the choices they make. If a child is self-centered, materialistic and lacks empathy, she will often think of her own convenience first and take the path of least resistance. If empathy is ingrained in her, she will make choices that make her a better person to be with and society more caring.

7. Know your child’s friends. Parents, know the values of your child’s friends because some of these will rub off onto your child. One day we witnessed a case of childhood blackmail. Nine-year-old Matthew was playing with eight-year-old Billy who tried to blackmail Matthew into doing something. He told Matt that he would not invite him to his birthday party if he didn’t do it. Matthew, a very sensitive and principled child, was visibly bothered. We used this opportunity to talk to both children. We impressed on Billy that this is not how children should treat each other. We also asked Matt how he felt being on the receiving end of the blackmail. By learning what it felt like to be treated like this, Matt’s principles were reinforced. You can always get positive mileage out of negative situations. Real life provides real lessons.

In our zeal to convince our children of the wisdom of moral living, there is a bit of missionary in all of us. Yet the older children get the more they seem to tune out preaching. That’s why teachable situations , such as those we mentioned above, leave more lasting lessons than anything you say.

8. Send your child off to school morally literate. Ground your child in your moral values day in and day out, and continue to reinforce these values as long as you have an influence on your child. You want your child to do what’s right, not just what’s expedient in a given situation. To do this, he must act from inner conviction built up over many years. Values don’t stick if they are tacked onto the child at the last minute, like a holiday decoration, or changed like a piece of clothing, according to the fashion of the day.

Once children enter middle childhood (ages six through ten), they are on the receiving end of tremendous peer pressure. If the child does not have her own inner guidance system telling her which choice to make, she will more readily become a victim of peer pressure . Children are searching for principles. If a strong guidance system prevails at home and within children themselves, they are likely to conform to their parents’ and their own inner morals. They become leaders among their peers instead of followers, setting their own course, staying on it, and swimming upstream even when the prevailing current is against them.

Teaching your child right from wrong must be done with patience and care. Power or fear morality is not likely to stick because it does not become a willing part of the child’s self: “If I catch you stealing again, I’ll belt you even harder,” yelled a dad who was determined to teach his child right and wrong by the use of fear and force. This child is more likely to spend his energy figuring out how he can avoid getting caught than in moral reasoning about the rightness or wrongness of the act.

One of the goals in raising moral children is to turn out moral citizens. The family is a mini society where a child learns how to live with others and to respect authority. Children who operate with inner controls and not out of fear of punishment make morality a part of themselves. They have a balanced view of authority: they respect authority figures but do not accept others’ values unquestioningly. If the laws are not serving the interests of the people, they’ll be the ones leading the charge to throw out the lawmakers and elect new ones. Raising kids who care is the first step in maintaining a moral society.

Children go through stages of moral development, yet unlike physical growth, moral growth doesn’t happen without some input from parents. To develop into a morally solid person, a child must be given a solid foundation at each stage.

Stage 1 — infancy. An infant does not have the capacity to moralize, other than having a sense of rightness or wrongness as those feelings apply to himself. After nine months of being nurtured in the womb, a baby enters the world expecting that nurturing will continue. Never having been hungry, baby concludes that hunger is wrong; it hurts. Never having been unattended to, baby finds aloneness to be wrong; it’s scary. Never out of touch, baby knows that unresponsiveness is wrong. Being in-arms, at breast, and responded to feels right! Baby feels she is the center of the world and she develops a feeling of rightness that becomes her “norm.”

Stage 2 — toddlerhood. By eighteen months a sense of “otherness” begins. Toddlers learn that others share their world; others have needs and rights, too. The house he lives in has “rules” that he must learn to live by, which is frustrating. The child does not yet have the ability to judge something as “right” or “wrong”; he is only directed by what others tell him, which competes with his internal drive to do what he wants. A child doesn’t yet have the ability to realize he hurts someone when he hits. Hitting is “wrong” because parents tell him so or because he gets punished for it. Depending on how parents convey the behavior they expect, the toddler learns obedience to adults is the norm.

Stage 3 — preschoolers (three to seven years). A major turning point in moral development occurs: the child begins to internalize family values. What’s important to the parents becomes important to him. The six-year-old may say to a friend, “In our family we do…” These are the child’s norms. Once these norms are incorporated in a child’s self, the child’s behavior can be directed by these inner rules — of course, with frequent reminding and reinforcing from parents. Later in this stage children begin to understand the concept of the Golden Rule and to consider how what they do affects other people, that others have rights and viewpoints, too, and how to be considerate. Children from three to seven years of age expect wiser people to take charge. They understand the roles of “child” and “adult” and need maturity from the adult. They perceive consequences and can grasp the when-then connection: when I misbehave, then this happens. The connected child behaves well because he has had several years of positive parental direction. The unconnected child may operate from the basis of “Whatever I do is okay as long as I don’t get caught.”

Stage 4 — (seven to ten years). Children begin to question whether parents and teachers are infallible. Perhaps these people in charge don’t know it all. They have the most respect for those adults who are fair and know how to be in charge. Authority is not threatening to the child, but necessary for social living. They believe that children should obey parents. And, school-age children believe that if they break a rule they should be corrected. This strong sense of “should do” and “should not do” sets some children up to tattle.

Seven-to-ten-year-olds have a strong sense of fairness, understand the necessity of rules and want to participate in making the rules. They begin to believe that children have opinions too, and they begin to sort out which values profit them most — a sort of “what’s in it for me” stage. Parents can use this sense of fairness and drive for equality to their advantage: “Yes, I’ll drive your friends to the movie if you agree to help me with the housework.” These negotiations make sense to this age child. This also begins the stage where children are able to internalize religious values, which concepts truly have meaning for them, and which don’t.

Stage 5 — preteens and teens. These children strive to be popular. They are vulnerable to peer pressure and peer values. As they continue to sort out which values will become part of themselves and which they will discard, they may vacillate and try on different value systems to see which ones fit. This child is more capable of abstract reasoning about moral values and becomes interested in what’s good for society. Children may view parents more as consultants than as powerful authority figures.

From infancy to adulthood the developing moral person progresses from self (“It’s right because it feels right to me”) to others (“It’s right because it’s what we do in our family”) to abstract moral reasoning (“It’s right because it is right”).

Children lie for the same reasons adults do: to be accepted socially, to get attention or status, to hurt someone else, or because they fear the consequences of the truth. But younger children do not understand the concept of truth the way adults do. Let’s get into the world of the child to understand why kids can twist the truth so easily.

1. It’s not a lie; it’s fantasy. One type of childish fantasy is wishful thinking. Witness the five-year-old telling his friend about a trip to Disneyland — where he’s never been. “Why, he’s lying through his teeth,” you think. “What’s wrong with him?” He’s not lying (at least by childhood standards), he’s thinking wishfully — imagining what he wishes had happened. Not only does wishful thinking allow the child the luxury of living in a dream, it impresses his friends and raises his social status. “You really played with Mickey Mouse?” the admiring friends inquire. Children fabricate tall tales for other children, knowing they always have an audience of believers.

If you hear two children spinning yarns, that’s innocent storytelling — not lying. This stage will pass around seven to nine years as imaginative thinking wanes and peers become less gullible. (If it continues past nine, this character trait will not win friends and is probably a sign that there is an underlying problem needing attention.) You can use storytelling as a teachable moment. You overhear the child’s presentation of his make-believe trip to Disneyland, “We went to Disneyland for my birthday…” Don’t label your child a liar. That’s a putdown. Instead, respect his wishful thinking. “You wish you went to Disneyland. That would be fun. Now, tell us what you really did for your birthday.” The child knows you understand and sees you are not angry. He also subtly learns there’s no need to lie. Also, wishful thinking often reveals the wish. “You wish you could go to Disneyland. Maybe I can help that wish come true. Let’s plan a trip…” It’s comforting for a child to know that some dreams do come true.

Preschoolers usually can’t (or don’t want to) distinguish fact from fiction. To a four- or five-year-old, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs exist somewhere. Most children don’t begin to understand truth and falsehood until the age of seven – the age of reason. By eight or nine most children have, or should have, a sense of morality. They feel wrong when they don’t tell the truth and right when they do. They understand what “lying” means and can feel “it’s right to tell the truth.”

2. Fantasy and reality. “I didn’t do it. Toby did it.” Who’s Toby? The child’s imaginary tiger friend who spilled the juice. The preschool child confuses fact and fiction. This is normal. Children often fabricate imaginary characters and enjoy living in their make-believe world. Appreciate your preschooler’s creative thinking and enjoy this imaginative stage while it lasts. Play along with the child’s fantasy. Sometimes children bring imaginary friends along to my office for a check-up. I place an extra chair for the invisible companion and even do a brief pretend exam. We laugh together.

Adults believe that it’s important to be firmly grounded in reality and to know the difference between real and pretend. But these are adult standards. To children, the world is not only what it really is, but what they need it to be. Imaginative thinking can actually help a child cope with the real world. Children periodically retreat into their make-believe world, which they can control, as a way of coping with the adult world which they can’t control.

If your child “lies” by making the fictitious friend the scapegoat (“Toby the Tiger did it”), get into your child’s fantasy: “Tell me exactly how Toby broke the glass.” As your child gropes for details to get himself off the hook, he will quickly reveal his part in the incident. In the meantime, ask yourself why he wanted you to think he “didn’t do it.” Do you tend to react to accidents or experiments too harshly?

Respect your child’s creative thinking by telling him that you understand his viewpoint: “It’s easier if you pretend Tony broke the glass. I understand. But now tell me what really happened. I won’t get angry.” Help your child to feel that the truth won’t hurt — there’s no need to fabricate a cover-up because you will love and accept him no matter what he tells you.

Sometimes a recurrent theme in a child’s storytelling reveals what is truly missing in their real world. A mother of a six-year-old consulted me about her child’s “lying.” Her daughter was telling her friends wild tales of fun things that she and daddy were doing: fictitious yarns about trips to toy stores, airplane rides, horseback riding, etc. The truth was she seldom saw her daddy. He traveled a lot, and because he brought his work home with him, was mentally absent while physically present at home. This child built a world of make-believe in self- defense, to protect her growing self from her loss.

3. Conveniently pleasing. Children want to please their parents. If they sense that lying will please, but the truth won’t, they often choose to lie and believe that’s the right thing to do. Mother will ask her five-year-old, “Did you pick up your puzzles?” and will get an affirmative answer because the child wants mother to smile and say “thank you.” Later when mother finds the puzzles (or most of them) still spread all over, she’ll need to let her child know that the lie is more displeasing than the disorder. A seven-year-old will say “yes” to the toy question because he doesn’t want to inconvenience himself at the moment and go pick up. Eventually, he’ll realize mom is going to go check. He needs to discover that his tactics won’t work. He is responsible for keeping his toys in order, putting them away every night before bedtime. That’s a family rule.

4. The truth hurts. Children develop self-protective lies out of fear of punishment. The fear of punishment wipes away any guilt for not telling the truth. Children who are on the receiving end of a lot of corporal punishment often protect themselves by becoming habitual liars. If the child believes that the broken vase will merit a spanking, he reasons it’s less painful to lie. The same thing happens in children who are given major punishments for minor offenses. This inappropriate correction may hinder a child’s development of conscience. Children who fear punishment will say anything to avoid it.

We have helped our children overcome the fear of telling the truth by making this deal: “We promise we will not get angry “no matter what you did, if you tell us the truth, although you will have to face the consequences. However, when we find you have lied to us, the punishment will be severe.” One day someone left Erin’s bike in the driveway. She told me that Matthew had it last. To discover “who did it” I had to free Matt to tell the truth by assuring him I would not get angry if I heard the truth. “Matthew, the deal is I don’t get angry at truth. I get angry at lies.” If a child is afraid of the consequences of telling the truth, he may become a habitual liar. When he can trust you not to fly off the handle, he will be able to open up and tell you honestly what happened. Listen calmly, be fair, and help him correct his behavior. The best way to encourage children not to lie is to support them as they tell the truth.

5. The child who lies a lot. At some point normal childhood storytelling evolves into purposeful lying, which may become habitual. The child intends to deceive. Many of his social interactions revolve around falsehood rather than truth. The root cause is an angry child who is dissatisfied with his real life and afraid of his parents’ reactions. He doesn’t experience acceptance for normal clumsiness or poor judgment. He has been taught he is bad.

Seven-year-old Charlie’s father disappeared from his life when he was six. To keep from acknowledging painful reality, Charlie created a make-believe world with wonderful father-son stories. Gradually he found that the world of make- believe was more comfortable than the real world. By the age of eight he was lying habitually about other things. Charlie claimed A’s on his tests when he was barely passing and lied to his mother about where he went after school and about where new possessions came from. Lying became a way of life, a protection from his anger and a cover-up for his poor self-image. The cure for Charlie’s lying was to help Charlie accept and learn to cope with his real life. Therapy for Charlie allowed him to accept that his father wasn’t coming back and that he hadn’t caused his father to leave. It wasn’t his fault. His mother learned through support counseling to spend more time with Charlie doing fun activities and listening to him. Charlie joined a soccer team and the coach took a special interest in him. Soon lying was a thing of the past. (See )

By understanding why children lie at times, it is easier to understand what to do. Getting behind the deceitful words (or actions) and into the child’s mind will help you practice preventive discipline. Here are ways to build a truthful child.

1. Practice attachment parenting. Connected children do not become habitual liars. They trust their caregivers and have such a good self-image they don’t need to lie. Even the most connected child will spin a few outrageous yarns at four, try lying on for size at seven, and try more creative lying out at ten. When you’ve caught your child lying once, and you’ve corrected her, don’t automatically assume she’s “lying again” if a similar situation arises. Give her the benefit of checking out the facts or she’ll be hurt that you don’t trust her.

2. Model truth. Create a truthful home. Just as you sense when your child is lying, children will often read their parents’ untruths. If your child sees your life littered with little white lies, he learns that this is an acceptable way to avoid consequences. You may be surprised to learn the lessons in lying your child witnesses in your daily living. Consider how often you distort the truth: “Tell them I’m not here” is the way you get rid of a phone pest. You rationalize that this isn’t really a lie, or perhaps it is only a “white lie,” which, as opposed to a black lie, is really all right because it gets you out of an embarrassing situation. Don’t ask your child to share in your lie by having him say you’re not at home. (Instead, he could say, “She can’t come to the phone right now. May I take a message?”) Don’t tell your child something is “gone” when it really isn’t just to make it easier for you to say he can’t have anymore. Sharp little eyes often see all and you haven’t fooled your child at all. You’ve just lied to him, and he’ll know that, since he knows you so well. Just say “no more now” and expect your child to accept that.

Also, don’t become a partner in your child’s lying. If your child didn’t finish her homework because she was too tired or disorganized, don’t let her convince you to write a note to the teacher saying the printer broke on the computer. These practices sanction lying and teach the child how easy it is to avoid the consequences of poor choices.

3. The truthful self is OK. Convince your child you like her just the way she is. “I like a truthful C more than an untruthful A,” you teach the youngster who marks up her real grades. The child who knows her acceptance in the family is not conditional upon performance is less motivated to lie.

4. Don’t label the child who lies. Avoid judgments like “You’re a liar!” or “Why can’t you ever tell the truth?” Children often use parental labels to define themselves. To them a bad label is better than no label at all. At least “the liar” has an identity. A label can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Better to say something like, “This isn’t like you; you’re usually honest with me.” Don’t ask, “Are you lying?” but rather, “Is that really the truth?”

5. Avoid setups for lying. If your child tends to lie, confront him squarely with a misdeed rather than giving him the opportunity to lie. If you don’t want to hear lies, don’t ask questions. If he’s standing in front of the broken cookie jar with telltale crumbs on his hands, it’s ridiculous to ask if he did it. Of course he did it. Confront him.

6. Expect the truth. Give your child the message “I expect you to tell the truth.” Children should not feel they have choices in this matter. Children are not intellectually ready to deal with situational ethics, which teaches: “You tell the truth when it’s convenient, but choose to lie when it’s not.” They’ll get enough exposure to this kind of thinking in high school and college. When your child knows what you expect, he’s likely to deliver.

7. When your child lies. Always correct your child for lying. Don’t let him think he’s getting away with it. Confront him and let him know you are disappointed. A child with a conscience will punish himself by feeling remorseful. Any further punishment would depend on each circumstance. Any natural or logical consequences should be allowed to take place. Occasional lying will happen, but habitual lying needs to receive counseling to uncover the cause.

8. Encourage honesty. Every chance you get, talk about how important “the truth” is. Don’t wait until you are in the middle of a situation when what you say may be taken as preaching. Comment on broader topics, such as truth in print and advertisements, how truth keeps life simple (lies to cover lies), and how the truth always comes out in the end. Current events and family happenings can be analyzed from the standpoint of honesty. Talk about how truthful people are respected. Have a look at honesty themes in literature, such as “crying wolf.”

9. Teach a child when silence is not lying. Children are delightfully honest, but sometimes at the wrong moments: “Aunt Nancy, your breath stinks” or “You really are ugly.” Teach the child that if the truth hurts someone’s feelings, it is not necessary to say anything. “Sometimes it’s best to keep thoughts to yourself.” While you don’t want to squelch the candor and honesty of children, you do want to teach them to consider others’ feelings. Remember Thumper’s line from Bambi, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.”

10. Get behind the eyes of your child. “Maybe you just wanted the toy so much that you imagined that Andrew gave it to you. Shall we call him and check?” This gives your youngster a chance to come clean, or maybe Andrew did give it to him. You need to play detective and help him uncover the truth, for you and for him. Young children can talk themselves into believing a pretend story if it satisfies their desires. Once a child reaches the age of seven he is better able to understand the difference between pretending and telling pretend stories that are intended to deceive.

11. Offer amnesty. Sometimes you know that your child has lied to you, and you want to turn a negative experience into a moral lesson. Try offering amnesty. When our son Bob was fifteen he asked to go to a rock concert, which he rationalized would be okay because it was held at our church. We said no, and told him we felt that this particular group modeled values foreign to our family. Conveniently, there was also a team curfew Bob was under because of a football game the next day. Reluctantly he agreed. I had heard about the group, but I wanted firsthand observation so I could be sure of my judgment, so I went to the rock concert. A few weeks later we found out from another source that Bob had attended, too. After getting over our initial shock and anger (this was way out of character for Bob), we called a family meeting and offered “amnesty” to any misbehavior “no matter how awful.” The children were allowed to get any wrongdoing off their chests. Bob confessed. Afterward he shared his relief. (We had worked hard to build consciences that would bother our children when they did wrong — healthy guilt.) We explained we already knew he had gone to the concert, thus teaching Bob it’s unwise to lie. If amnesty hadn’t worked, we would have confronted Bob and there would have been stronger consequences. In this situation, we wanted him to have the benefit of confessing voluntarily so he could experience the reward of deciding to come clean. Bob, now a father himself, fondly recalls this event.

Looking back we realize how our attitude toward something important to Bob actually pushed him to be so uncharacteristically defiant. A highly-principled child from the very beginning, Bob explained he felt we were using the curfew as an excuse to deny his attendance. He was right. We had discussed this ahead of time, before we laid down the rule. We could have asked the coach for an exception or asked Bob to leave early. Bob told us afterward that the whole football team was there, flaunting the curfew. In hindsight, I should have cleared it with the coach and then arranged for us to go together, father and son, to enjoy an outing. Since this whole episode, we’ve watched our teens develop a wholesome discernment in their entertainment choices, and we have broadened our range of tolerance. Martha actually enjoys some of the rock music our children listen to and finds it a window into their world.

If you create an atmosphere in your home and an attitude within your child that honesty is the best policy and the child’s truthful self is really the nicest person to be around, you are well on your way to building trust and avoiding dishonesty.

Little fingers tend to be sticky, allowing foreign objects to mysteriously find their way into little pockets. Before lamenting that you are harboring a little thief in your house, take a moment to understand why children steal and how to handle this common problem.

1. Understand why kids steal. Like lying, “stealing” is an adult term that may not mean anything to young children. Candy found clutched in a sticky fist after going through a checkout line or a toy car that turns up in the pocket of a four-year-old after a visit to a friend’s house is not proof that your child is already a delinquent. To the preschool child, possession means ownership. In a child’s mind he has a right to anything within grabbing distance. Children under four have difficulty distinguishing between “mine” and “yours.” Everything is potentially “mine.” They don’t know that palming a piece of candy at the grocery store is stealing until you tell them so. In the child’s mind he has done no wrong until the parents pass judgment.

Many preschool children can’t curb their impulses. They see the toy, feel they must have it, and take it without any judgment as to the rightness or wrongness of the action. Instead of guilt, they feel relief that their craving is satisfied. The more impulsive the child, the more likely he is to help himself to things.

Around five to seven years of age children develop a hazy notion of the wrongness of stealing. They can understand the concept of ownership and property rights. They come to terms with the reality that the whole world doesn’t belong to them and begin to understand the rightness or wrongness of taking things that don’t belong to them — stealing. Also, by this age the child may become a more clever thief. Still his deterrent is more the fear of adult retaliation than an understanding of the immorality of stealing. Jimmy may recognize that it’s wrong for Jason to keep the baseball cards he “borrowed,” but the next day Jimmy may want to hang on to Jeff’s prized cowboy pistol and bring it home at the end of the play session.

Stopping petty stealing and teaching its wrongness may seem to some like a smallie, but learning honesty in small matters paves the way for biggies later. A child must learn to control impulses, delay gratification, and respect the rights and property of others.

2. Practice attachment parenting. Because connected children are more sensitive, they are better able to understand and respect the rights of others. These concepts sink in deeper and at an earlier age. Connected children feel remorse when they have done wrong because they develop a finely-tuned conscience sooner. It’s easier to teach values to attachment-parented children. These kids have the ability to empathize and understand the effects of their actions on others. And they have parents who are putting their time in, being with their children enough to realize when they stray into these gray zones. Connected kids have an innate respect for maintaining trust between people. Lying, cheating, and stealing violate this sense of trust.

Because attachment parents know their children so well, they can read facial and body language cues that reveal a child’s hidden misbehavior. And because of the parent-child connection, the child is more likely to accept the parents’ advice and values. Because they trust their parents, connected kids are also more likely to come clean when confronted. They find it harder to lie about their actions because they feel wrong when they act wrong and they know that their parents can read that “suspicious look.”

3. Lead them not into temptation. Children will take money from family members almost as though it is community property. They may even rationalize “I’ll give it back when I can.” Teach your children to keep their financial affairs private. Money should be kept in a locked box which is stored in a secret place. Anytime money is lent, an “IOU” should be required to help them remember who owes what to whom. You should also keep your money inaccessible, except for smaller amounts in your purse or wallet that must be asked for. Sure family members trust one another, but give them credit for being human and don’t allow temptation in the path. If someone comes to us and complains “Someone took my five dollars,” we ask “Where were you keeping it?” We don’t bother detecting the perpetrator — as we said above, we know conscience is at work. And, we will not be put in the position of being responsible for the safe-keeping of money for those old enough to do it themselves. Siblings, after all, are not the only possible suspects. Our kids have learned the hard way you can’t trust everyone. This is in itself a good lesson for life.

4. Teach ownership. Toddlers have no concept of ownership. Everything belongs to a two-year-old. Between two and four a child can understand ownership (the toy belongs to someone else), but may not fully believe that the toy doesn’t also belong to him. Even as young as two, begin teaching “mine” and “yours.” During toddler toy squabbles the parent referee can award the toy to the rightful owner, but don’t expect this concept to sink in fully until around the age of four. Look for other opportunities to reinforce the concept of ownership: “This toy belongs to Mary,” “Here’s Billy’s teddy bear,” “Whose shoes are these?” As the child grasps the idea of ownership and the rights that go along with it, teach the logical conclusion that ignoring these rights is wrong.

Correct wishful ownership. “It’s mine,” insists the four-year-old whose detective parents discover a suspicious toy in his backpack. “You wish the toy was yours,” replies the parent. “But now tell daddy who this toy really belongs to.” “Johnny,” the child confesses. Capitalizing on this teachable moment you reply, “If Johnny took your toy, especially if it was one you really liked, you would feel very sad that your toy was missing. What would you want him to do?” The best way to teach lasting values is to draw the lessons out of a child rather than imposing them. You want the “give it back” idea to come from the child if at all possible.

5. Correct the steal. Getting the thief to give back the goods sometimes requires masterful negotiating. Encouraging and helping the child to return stolen goods teaches not only that stealing is wrong, but also that wrongs must be made right. If you find an empty candy wrapper, go ahead and trot the offender back to the store with payment and an apology.

6. Identify the trigger. Find out what prompts the child to steal. The child who steals habitually despite your teaching about honesty usually has a deep-seated problem that needs fixing. Is the child angry? Does he steal to vent the anger? Does the child need money and feel that stealing is the only way he can get what he believes he needs? If so, offer an allowance. Help him get odd jobs. Help the child learn work ethics so that he can earn the toys instead of steal them. Most of the time a child who habitually steals is suffering from a poor self-image and needs to steal to boost his worth or get attention. As in handling all behavioral problems, it’s often necessary to take inventory of your whole family situation. Does your child need more supervision? Perhaps, some redefining of priorities and reconnecting with your child is in order.

7. Identify the child at risk to steal. Watch for these risk factors:

Poor self-esteem
Impulsiveness: strong desire, but weak control
Generally insensitive to others
Not connected
Change in family situation, for example, divorce
generally bored
alone a lot
If you focus on helping your child deal with these risk factors, lying and stealing should subside.

It’s important to get to the bottom of stealing. If the problems behind chronic stealing and lying are uncorrected, they tend to snowball. With repeated misdeeds, the child convinces himself that stealing is not really wrong. He desensitizes himself to his own conscience and to your teachings. The child without remorse is at high risk for becoming an adult without controls. With attachment parenting, even if a child is not “caught in the act,” he will punish himself sufficiently with the remorse he will feel. He won’t want to repeat wrong actions.

8. Praise honesty. The five-year-old finds somebody’s wallet and brings it to you. Praise him to the limit for his action! “Thank you for bringing Mommy the wallet you found. Now let’s see if we can find out who it belongs to. I’ll bet that person will be very happy you found it, just like you would feel if you lost something special and someone returned it.” Avoid saying, “Thank you for telling the truth.” Some children may not even have thought of keeping the wallet, and you don’t want to plant in their minds the option of being dishonest. Whatever praise you give, convey the message that your child did just what you expected.

Children cheat. But like lying and stealing “cheating” is an adult concept not well understood by the child under six. To an adult, cheating is akin to lying or stealing. But a child who is fabricating his own rules as he grows does not yet understand why rules are not supposed to be changed or broken. Best to translate cheating into a positive value — fairness. Even a six-year-old can understand “play fair.” Teach your child that cheating is wrong because it’s unfair to other children in the game. Ask him how he would feel if he played fair but his friends didn’t. Notice as you play games with children from six to ten, they often change the rules to their favor even if they understand them in the first place. There’s no problem with changing the rules, as long as all the players agree before the game begins. This kind of rule change adds creativity to board (or bored) games.

The child who cheats at school is a matter for discipline. Does the child cheat without remorse? Many times the child feels forced into cheating because of parental pressure or the spirit of competitiveness in the class. The desire to please parents with high expectations can override even the most solid little conscience. The temptation to cheat is especially strong in a child with a weak self-image who equates self-worth with accomplishment. If he wins he’s a winner; if he loses he’s a loser. So he must win even if he has to cheat to do so. This unhealthy attitude can develop if you model that winning is all that counts when playing (or working) with adults.

You can help your child avoid the temptation to cheat at school. Take care to put just the right amount of scholastic pressure on the child. Too little and he gets lazy and bored, and becomes unfulfilled and unhappy; too much and he either gives up or cheats to achieve. Try to find the balance that fits your child. We have given our children the message that good grades make you feel good and that they are one (not the only) ticket to success. We tell them that we want them to get good grades first to please themselves and second to please us. They are in control, based on how much work they are willing to do, of achieving their goals. We will be pleased if they sincerely do their best — no one can ask for more.

Apologizing helps your child accept responsibility for a wrong and provides a tool to make things right again. It helps the child dig himself out of a hole. It clears the air, helps heal the relationship, and gives it a new beginning. To teach your child — and yourself — the art of apologizing, try these tips:

1. Model apologizing. When you’ve acted wrongly, admit it. Apologize when you overreact: “I’m sorry I yelled at you. You didn’t deserve that outburst. I’ve had a hard day.” I’ve said this to my children many times. Everyone makes mistakes; that’s life. Everyone apologizes; that makes life better. These are valuable lessons for a child to learn. Saying “sorry” to your child is not a sign of weakness, but of strength. Even “the boss” should apologize if his or her actions are unkind. A child who has never been apologized to won’t understand the apology process, and more than likely he’ll refuse, turning a potentially beneficial moment into a standoff with hurt feelings.

2. Start young. Toddlers quickly learn to give a hug to “make it better” when they hurt someone. If you model hugs for hurts at home, he’ll know just what to do. Once he’s calm and ready to hug, you can verbalize a simple apology and maybe help him say it with a hug.

3. Forgiveness follows apologies. Apologizing and forgiving need to happen after someone gets hurt or offended. For most everyday squabbles we tell our kids that we want them to “make peace” with whomever they are at odds with. It doesn’t need to be a formal apology scene. We leave it up to them to figure out what “make peace” means and how to do it. Sometimes they use words, sometimes they don’t. But we all know if they have or haven’t. In order to live in the same house together, siblings need to be at peace with one another. Apology without forgiveness is an incomplete process. For real healing to happen the one offended needs to “drop the charges” by saying “that’s okay” or “I forgive you.”

4. Say “excuse me.” Children belch, gulp, and fart – excuse me, pass gas. Boys especially delight in showing off their body sounds. If one unintentional belch gets laughter, you can imagine what will follow. But if these sounds meet with silence or mild disapproval from you, they will soon fizzle away. Teach children that, in company, breathing sounds (that is sneezing and coughing) are okay but digestive tract sounds are rude. When your child emits upper digestive tract sounds in your presence, look disapprovingly, and say “excuse me.” Require the older child to excuse himself. Passing gas is especially offending because of the odor accompanying the sound. As your child gets older he will learn he can control this function most of the time and do it in private. If passing gas becomes a habit, the offender will quickly be taught by peer disgust to keep it to himself. As kids mature a bit their gut sounds diminish; these offenses will soon be sounds of the past.

5. Stop manipulating feelings and orchestrate sincerity. Some children learn to parrot an “excuse me” or “I’m sorry” within a millisecond of the offense to avoid being “squealed on” or to get themselves off the hook quickly if parents force apologies. Parents can’t force feelings. Only the child knows how he feels. Forcing feelings can teach your child to fake apologies, that it’s okay to be insincere, or that forgiveness has to be an instant thing which is not real life. Depending on the ages of the children, their temperaments, the circumstances, and the emotions that may be flaring, a cooling-off period before an apology will be needed. A two-year-old who just kicked his sister may need a two-minute time-out on a chair, along with a reminder that kicking hurts, before he’s ready to hug her. A ten-year-old who slaps her sister for vicious teasing must deal with wounded pride before she’ll be able to remember how wrong it is to slap. It’s your job as a parent to make sure the apology happens so both children can start again with good feelings between them. But, you cannot make it happen. What you can do is model and instruct: “When people are at peace with each other they feel better inside.”

Every parent dreams of the polite little child who says “please” and “thank you.” After all, your child’s behavior reflects on you. Manners come easily to some children, others are social flops. Understanding the basis of good manners will help you help your child acquire them. Good manners, after all, are necessary for people to live together in this world. Gracious manners reflect a loving and considerate personality.

1. Expect respect. Believe it or not, you begin teaching manners at birth, but you don’t call them that. The root of good manners is respect for another person; and the root of respect is sensitivity. Sensitivity is one of the most valuable qualities you can instill into your child — and it begins in infancy. The sensitive infant will naturally become the respectful child who, because he cares for another’s feelings, will naturally become a well-mannered person. His politeness will be more creative and more heartfelt than anything he could have learned from a book of etiquette. In recent years it has become socially correct to teach children to be “assertive.” Being assertive is healthy as long as it doesn’t override politeness and good manners.

2. Teach polite words early. Even two-year-olds can learn to say “please” and “thank you.” Even though they don’t yet understand the social graciousness of these words, the toddler concludes that “please” is how you get what you want and “thank you” is how you end an interaction. At least you’ve planted these social niceties into your child’s vocabulary; later they will be used with the understanding that they make others feel good about helping you. When you ask your toddler to give you something, open with “please” and close with “thank you.” Even before the child grasps the meaning of these words she learns they are important because mommy and daddy use them a lot and they have such nice expressions on their faces when they say these words. Children parrot these terms and understand their usefulness long before they understand their meaning.

3. Model manners. From age two to four, what Johnny hears, Johnny says. Let your child hear a lot of “please,” “thank you,” “you’re welcome,” and “excuse me” as you interact with people throughout the day. And address your little person with the same politeness you do an adult. Let your child catch the flavor of polite talk.

4. Teach name-calling. We have always made a point of opening each request by using the name of our child: “Jim, will you do this for me?” Our children picked up on this social nicety and address us by title: “Dad, may I…” or “Mom, would you…” Our son Matthew, now eight, has made all of these language tools part of his social self. Matthew has concluded that if he times his approach for the right moment, looks me in the eye or touches my arm, addresses me as “Dad…,” and adds a “please” or “may I,” he can get just about anything he wants. Even when I know I’m being conned, I’m a pushover for politeness. Although Matthew doesn’t always get his politely-presented wish, I always acknowledge his good manners.

5. Acknowledge the child. The old adage “children should be seen and not heard” was probably coined by a childless person. Include your child in adult goings-on, especially if there are no other children present. When you and your child are in a crowd of mostly adults, tuning out your child is asking for trouble. Even a child who is usually well-behaved will make a nuisance of herself in order to break through to you. Including the child teaches social skills, and acknowledging her presence shows her that she has value.

Stay connected with your child in situations that put her at risk for undesirable behavior. During a visit with other adults, keep your younger child physically close to you (or you stay close to him) and maintain frequent verbal and eye contact. Help your older child feel part of the action so that he is less likely to get bored and wander into trouble. 6. Don’t force manners. Language is a skill to be enjoyed, not forced. While it’s okay to occasionally dangle a “say please” over a child before you grant the request don’t, like pet training, rigidly adhere to asking for the “magic word” before you give your child what he wants. The child may tire of these polite words even before he understands them. When you remind a child to say “please,” do so as part of good speech, not as a requirement for getting what he wants. And be sure he hears a lot of good speech from you. Overdo politeness while you’re teaching it and he’ll catch the idea faster. “Peas” with a grin shows you the child is feeling competent in her ability to communicate.

7. Correct politely. As a Little League baseball coach, I have learned to chew out a child — politely. When a child makes a dumb play (which is to be expected), I don’t rant and rave like those overreacting coaches you see on television. Instead, I keep my voice modulated, look the child straight in the eye, and put my hand on his shoulder during my sermon. These gestures reflect that I am correcting the child because I care, not because I am out of control. My politeness shows him that I value him and want him to learn from his mistakes so he becomes a better player, and the child listens. I hope someday that same child will carry on these ball field manners when he becomes a coach.

Have you ever wondered why some children are so polite? The main reason is they are brought up in an environment that expects good manners. One day I noticed an English family entering a hotel. The father looked at his two sons, ages five and seven, and said, “Now chaps, do hold the door for the lady,” which they did. I asked him why his children were so well-mannered. He replied, “We expect it.”

“Mommy, Andrea was playing with your new dress yesterday…” Parents are often caught up in the tattling trap. There’s something unsettling, almost devious, about the motive of a “squealer.” Yet, some children have such a sense of rightness that they feel any impropriety must be reported. What is the parent to think? Here are some ways to sift through accusations and decide when to act and when to leave well enough alone.

Is it a smallie or biggie? For the sake of your own sanity and the better social development of your children, try not to be drawn into squabbles that are smallies. “Daddy, Daddy, Susie is using her allowance to buy cookies for her friends.” That’s a smallie. (It might be a nice thing to do anyway.) Don’t pursue this case, but don’t squelch the tattler either. Sometimes the reporter is privy to something parents need to know; you do want to hear about the biggies. If it’s a smallie, let the children work it out themselves. Making a big case out of a small issue, especially when the accuracy of the charges is questionable, often causes bad feelings between the tattletale and the accused. The tattler may very well be inaccurate. Beware of a tattler who uses his tale to get even with or belittle a sibling. By the time he finds someone to listen to his story, he may have colored the facts to his liking.

Consider the source. Is the child’s reporting trustworthy, or does he have a history of distorting the truth? Matthew is our family’s “righteous person.” No injustice goes unreported. We always respect his sincerity by listening. We are also aware that this trait gets him bad press among his siblings and peers, even the ones not in trouble at the moment. We are helping Matthew lighten up a bit on being the family’s Department of Justice. He gathers from our response that much of what he reports will be allowed to take care of itself. He is gradually becoming relaxed about the family foibles. When he (or any of the children) does have something big to report, we protect our informant’s identity.

If five-to-eight-year-olds are constantly tattling on siblings or playmates, a good rule to use is: “Unless someone is going to get hurt I don’t want to hear the words ‘I’m going to tell Mom!'” Once habitual tattlers are old enough to write, put up a tattle box and have them write it down. Mellow out the compulsive tattler so he doesn’t carry this trait with him to school. His teachers will thank you.

Children have difficulty sharing, especially young children. This is a normal part of the development process. Knowing and accepting this is the first step in helping your child grow up to be a generous person. Here’s an overview of what’s going on inside that possessive little mind.

1. Selfishness comes before sharing. The power to possess is a natural part of the child’s growing awareness. During the second and third years, as the child goes from oneness to separateness, this little person works to establish an identity separate from mother. “I do it myself!” and “mine!” scream the headlines in the toddler’s tabloid. In fact, “mine” is one of the earliest words to come out of a toddler’s mouth.

The growing child develops attachments to things as well as persons. This ability to form strong attachments is important to being an emotionally healthy person. The one-year-old has difficulty sharing her mommy; the two-year-old has difficulty sharing her teddy bear. Some children get so attached to a toy that the raggedy old doll becomes part of the child’s self. When asked to draw a picture of herself, four-year-old Hayden would always include her doll — as if it were part of her body. Can you imagine convincing her to share this doll with a playmate? It was too important. She could not feel safe and secure if that doll was being handled by another child.

2. When to expect a child to share. True sharing implies empathy, the ability to get into another’s mind and see things from their viewpoint. Children are seldom capable of true empathy under the age of six. Prior to that time they share because you condition them to do so. Don’t expect a child less than two or 2½ to easily accept sharing. Children under two are into parallel play — playing alongside other children, but not with them. They care about themselves and their possessions and do not think about what the other child wants or feels. But, given guidance and generosity, the selfish two-year-old can become a generous three or four-year-old. As children begin to play with each other and cooperate in their play, they begin to see the value of sharing.

Attachment-parented kids may be more sensitive to others’ needs and thus more willing to share, or they may be more aware of their own need to preserve their sense of self by not sharing. It’s easier to share with someone less powerful than you or less threatening, (i.e., someone younger,)—a visitor rather than a sibling, a quiet child rather than a demanding one. Much depends on your child’s temperament. Follow your child’s cues in judging when he is ready to share.

Even at four or five years of age, expect selective sharing. A child may reserve a few precious possessions just for himself. The child is no more likely to share her treasured teddy or tattered blanket than you would share your wedding ring or the heirloom shawl your mother gave you. Respect and protect your child’s right to his own possessions. Kids know kids. At four, Matthew sized up his friend Johnny, an impulsive, curious child who would have been a natural durability tester for a toy manufacturer. Johnny explored every moving part, pulled and twisted them; only the strongest toy could survive this child. Matthew recognized his friend’s destructive nature and hid his more valuable and breakable toys when he saw Johnny coming. We supported Matthew’s wisdom.

3. Don’t force a child to share. Instead, create attitudes and an environment that encourage your child to want to share. There is power in possession. To you, they’re only toys. To a child, they’re a valuable, prized collection that has taken years to assemble. Respect the normal possessiveness of children while you encourage and model sharing. Then watch how your child operates in a group play setting — you’ll learn a lot about your child and about what kind of guidance he’ll need. If your child is always the grabber, he’ll learn that other kids won’t want to play with him. If he’s always the victim, he needs to learn the power of saying “no.” In the preschool years your child naturally goes through a “what’s in it for me” stage, which will progress into a more socially aware “what’s in it for us” stage. Gradually — with a little help from parents — children learn that life runs more smoothly if they share.

4. Get connected. A child gives as he is given to. We have observed that children who received attachment parenting during the first two years are more likely to become sharing children in the years to come, for two reasons. Children who have been on the receiving end of generosity follow the model they’ve been given and become generous persons themselves. Also, a child who feels right is more likely to share. An attachment-parented child is more likely to have a secure self-image. He needs fewer things to validate his self-worth. In taking a poll of attachment- parented children in our practice, we found they needed fewer attachment objects. They are more likely to reach for mother’s hand than cling to a blanket.

5. Model generosity. Monkey see, monkey do. If big monkey shares, so will little monkey. When someone asks to borrow one of your “toys,” make this a teachable moment: “Mommy is sharing her cookbook with her friend.” Let your sharing shine. Share with your children: “Want some of my popcorn?” “Come sit with us — we’ll make room for you.” If you have several children, especially if they are close in age, there will be times when there isn’t enough of you to go around. Two children can’t have one hundred percent of one mommy or daddy. Do the best you can to divide your time fairly. “No fair” may be the single most frequently repeated complaint of childhood. Try to be an equal opportunity parent as much as possible, while teaching your children that other factors come into play in day-to-day life.

6. Play games. Play “Share Daddy.” Placing the two-year-old on one knee and the four-year-old on the other teaches both children to share their special person. Even a two-year-old can play “Share Your Wealth.” Give your two-year-old some flowers, crackers, blocks, or toys, and ask her to share them with everyone in the room: “Give one to big brother. Give one to Daddy.” You want to convey the message that sharing is a normal way of life and sharing spreads joy. Lauren found a piece of chocolate in my (Martha’s) purse the other day. She happily ate it and then showed me a second piece she’d found. I told her that piece was for Stephen and Matthew to share and asked her to go give it to them, thinking to myself she’d just eat it on her way. I didn’t bother to go with her to see the “inevitable.” Bill later told me how cute it was when she walked up and doled out the halves, one to Stephen and one to Matthew.”

A good way to model principles to a young child is through play. Games hold a child’s attention, allowing lessons to sink in, in the spirit of fun. Children are more likely to remember what they have learned through play than what they’ve heard in your lectures. Consider the character traits that are fostered during a simple game: humor, fairness, honesty, generosity, concentration, flexibility, obedience to rules, sensitivity, and the all-American value of competitiveness. And, sorry to say, unhealthy traits such as selfishness, jealousy, lying, and cheating can also be experienced through play. Expect play time to reflect how life is to be lived, and tolerate only principled play.

7. When to step in. While we don’t expect toddlers to be able to share, we use every opportunity we can to encourage taking turns. Teach your child how to communicate her needs to her friends. Say something like, “When Catherine is all done with the car, then you can ride it. Ask her when she will be done” or “Hold out your hand and wait; she’ll give you the doll when she’s ready.” When a toy squabble begins, sometimes it’s wise not to rush in and interfere. Give children time and space to work it out among themselves. Stay on the sidelines and observe the struggle. If the group dynamics are going in the right direction and the children seem to be working the problem out among themselves, stay a bystander. If the situation is deteriorating, intervene. Self-directed learning — with or without a little help from caregivers — has the most lasting value.

8. Time-sharing. Using a timer can help you referee toy squabbles. Johnny and Jimmy are having trouble sharing the toy. You intervene by asking each one to choose a number and the one who chooses the closest number to the one you thought of gets the toy first. You then set the timer. Two minutes is about right for younger children. You can ask older ones to wait longer. When the timer goes off, the toy goes to the second child for the same amount of time (though he has probably forgotten that he wanted it). You may have to sell children on the plan with an animated, simple explanation. Walk them through a cycle, starting with the older one or the one more likely to cooperate. For example, Stephen has the toy for two minutes. The buzzer goes off. Extract the toy from Stephen with talking and encouragement and hand it to Lauren, reassuring Stephen it will be his turn again when the buzzer goes off. It may take several cycles before a child can hand over the toy on her own, smiling because she knows she will get it back. A family in our practice who uses the timer method told us that it worked so well that the older sibling runs to her mother saying, “Mom, set the timer. Suzy won’t share.” External and internal timers help children learn valuable lessons for later life – how to take turns and how to delay gratification.

If the time method doesn’t work, time-out the toy. Put it on the shelf and explain that the toy stays there until they learn to share it. Children may sulk for a while as the toy sits unused, but sooner or later the realization hits that it’s better to share than to forfeit the toy completely. They will learn to compromise and cooperate so that everyone winds up winning.

9. Plan ahead. If your child has trouble sharing his toys and a playmate is coming over, ask the playmate’s parent to send toys along. Kids can’t resist toys that are new to them. Soon your child will realize that he must share his own toys in order to get his hands on his playmate’s. Or, if you are bringing your sharing child to the home of a non-sharing child, bring toys along. Some children develop a sense of justice and fairness at a very young age. One of our children didn’t want to return to a friend’s house because “he didn’t share.” We made this a teachable moment by praising him: “Aren’t you glad you like to share? I bet kids like to come to your house.”

10. Protect your child’s interests. If your child clings to his precious possessions, respect this attachment, while still teaching him to be generous. It’s normal for a child to be selfish with some toys and generous with others. Guard the prized toy. Pick it up if the other child tries to snatch it. You be the scapegoat. Ease your child into sharing. Before play begins, help your child choose which toys he will share with playmates and which ones he wants to put away or reserve for himself. You may have to play referee: “This is Susie’s special birthday toy. You may play with these other ones until she’s ready to share.” Respect ownership. The larger the family, the more necessary it is to arrive at a balance between respecting ownership and teaching sharing. Point out, “That’s Collin’s toy… but this one belongs to the whole family.” And, of course, encourage trading. Children easily learn the concept of family toys, such as television, which everyone shares. The mother of one large family with four close-in-age boys had a policy of the family toy pool — gifts were enjoyed by the new owner for one hour, then they joined the pool of toys. Special toys that needed individual care were set apart in the owner’s room.

11. Give your child opportunities to share. To encourage sharing, Janet gave four-year-old Benjamin a whole cookie with the request, “Please give some of the cookie to Robin.” He broke off a piece and gave it to her. It was good practice for Benjamin and, from his modeling, two-year-old Robin learned about sharing. Oftentimes, you can teach values to your younger children by using the older children as models. In this case, both the teacher and the student got a lesson in values, and Janet breathed a sigh of relief that Benjamin came through with the desired behavior.

Conventional wisdom says that a child doesn’t have a conscience until the “age of reason,” considered to be around seven years of age. Yet you begin nurturing a little conscience from birth. After watching how his models live and processing thousands of interactions during the early years, the child collects a large storage file of “normal behaviors,” a code of how he is supposed to behave. Once the child incorporates these internal codes (his norms) as part of his growing self, it bothers him to deviate from them.

Think of conscience as an internal “bother button” that goes off if a child thinks or acts contrary to the code he’s internalized. There’s also a positive side to a conscience—a child feels good inside when he does the right thing.

Between seven and ten years of age, a major breakthrough in moral reasoning occurs – the ability to figure out if an action is right or wrong, not because the parents said so or out of fear of punishment, but because the child knows it. This is the beginning of a true conscience. The child has internalized your values and made them his own, and now he starts gleaning others on his own. The key to conscience-building is to surround the growing child with healthy choices early on when he is inevitably exposed to unhealthy choices they will disturb him.

A conscience may not mature until the child is nine or ten, but it is built from birth. The child who enters the age of conscience without an internal reference file is at a disadvantage. Like a gardener who waited too late to plant crops, parents find that values taught later in childhood may take root, but the roots are not as deep as if they had been planted in the right season.

Beginning some time around six or seven years of age, or whenever you feel your child has the ability to understand, teach your child what a conscience is. Try what we call the “Pinocchio principle” with your child: “You will have two voices inside you, a ‘do right’ voice and a ‘do wrong’ voice. Sometimes the ‘do wrong’ voice is easier to listen to. It may even seem like more fun at the time; but when you choose to listen to it, you’ll know it was the wrong choice because you won’t feel right inside. Listen to the voice that tells you to do right. That’s the one that will make you happy.”

By the age of six Matthew showed the beginnings of a conscience. If I caught him beginning to fabricate an untruth, his eyes would meet mine and he would back of from his misdeed. As our eyes were engaged, he would start smiling (so would I), as if he were saying, “No, Dad, that’s not really true.” From the look Matthew gave me, I believe he felt that lying would breach our mutual trust, our connection. The truism “I cannot tell a lie” has some physiological basis for Matthew. He has been programmed toward truth and trust. Any deviation from his inner code disturbs his sense of well-being. ( Also see: Teaching Manners)

Ayto kai to τα υπολοιπα αρθρα, (και ακομα πιο πολλα)…εδω…

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