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|Quick reference medical handouts used
by Pediatric offices
How do children learn what is right and wrong?
- Children do what they see, more than what you
say. It is important for you to provide a good model for your child to
- Children pass through different stages of
moral development beginning in early childhood and advancing through
- Very young children do not really understand
the concept of right and wrong. For them, what is "good" is what
they like and what is "bad" is what they don't like. Therefore, it
is important for adults to provide controls and limits for them. This is
especially true for children who have no words to tell themselves, "No,
don't pick the flowers."
- At about age 4 or 5, children begin to label
or identify things that are "good" and "bad." They can
talk about them, but the true understanding is still outside of their own
feeling. Children of this age follow rules only because they are told to do
so. That is why it is very important for adults to provide consistent and
gentle guidance. As a child uses words to describe self-controlling
behaviors, such as "No. No. Don't touch," they begin to
internalize, or understand, what those words mean.
- By age 7 or 8, children's understanding of
right and wrong seems to be based more on fear of being punished. For
example, a child might feel that the reason people do not steal is that they
will be caught by the police. Generally, children still have not developed
true moral values. Again, it is important for adults to help children
understand what is right and wrong, and why.
- By age 9, children are beginning to understand
the Golden Rule: Do unto others, as you would have them do unto you. This is
the beginning of a true understanding of right and wrong, of guilt and
- Help children develop self-discipline during
the pre-school years through a lot of adult help.
- Remind your pre-school child of the rules
- If your child continues to break a rule, use a
problem-solving approach in which the child helps decide what is the best
way to keep from breaking the rule. A critical aspect of self-discipline is
a sense of personal responsibility.
- Remember that all young children want to do
the right thing and gain approval of their parents. Help them know what that
is so that they feel good about themselves.
As a reminder, this information should not be relied on as
medical advice and is not intended to replace the advice of your childs pediatrician.
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