How to raise moral children

Why praising character works more than praising behavior

According to this article in the New York Times, praising kids character traits encourages them to live up to the ideals of those character traits. Praising the behavior does not.

So – if a kid doesn't cheat on a test – saying, thank you for not cheating, won’t have much of an impact. Saying, wow – you’re so honest – I like that about you does.

It gives a kid something to strive for. A goal to be reached. It provides a sense of identity. And don’t we all need that? 

On any given day my behavior may or may not reach up to the ideal I set for myself. The point is, that I have an ideal I've set for myself. And that ideal is a value, not a particular behavior. 

It’s the value that determines my character and whether I am moral or not. If I tried to be moral by defining each specific behavior that I consider to be good, I would have an endless task. The permutation of possible behaviors is endless. Which is why I think religions that have rules of behavior fail to create moral people.

As a Humanist, my goal is to be the best most ethical human I can be. This is a moral ideal. It doesn't tell me what sort of sex is moral and what isn't. It doesn't tell me what food I can eat or not eat.  Instead, it encourages me to think about my behavior in each situation I find myself in to figure out what a good ethical person would do. And then, do that to the best of my ability.

Since reading this article, I have become aware of how I discuss moral behavior with my son. And I try to make a conscious effort to talk about the sort of person he wants to be instead of just praising him for certain behaviors.  I've noticed when I discuss his moral character; he does light up and become excited. The idea of being a good person resonates with him in a way that – doing your homework does not.

Your exercise for the week, is to remind yourself about your ethical character. And if you are parent, to try and integrate ethical character praise to your child this week and see how your child responds. Good luck. 

1 comment:

  1. Enjoyed reading your post this morning. Lots of good ideas to think about!


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...