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You are always your child's first and most important moral instructor, a role to be taken with immense seriousness.  We're given only one chance to do our job well, so do it with purpose, conviction and love.


Moral intelligence is the capacity to understand right from wrong; it means to have strong ethical convictions and to act on them so that one behaves in the right and honorable way.

The first three years are especially critical to self-control because this is when the cortex develops.  The cortex is where higher-level thinking and moral reasoning takes place.

Building our children's moral intelligence will perhaps be our greatest legacy.  These virtues will remain vital long after our children leave home.  Building that foundation is our most crucial and challenging tasks as parents.

One of the greatest gifts you can instill in your child is the deep-seated belief that says, "I am a good and moral person."


The best way for kids to learn self-control is through watching others, and because parents are so stressed, they often pass that on to their kids.  Overworked, stressed-out parents trying hard to balance work and family has serious impact on their kids' self-control capacities.  If the most significant person in a child's life isn't modeling self-control, how will she learn it?

If you don't take the time to involve yourself in your child's life, with the exception of disciplining them when they misbehave or telling them "No" when they do something you don't permit, you will not raise a morally intelligent child.  You must intentionally go out of your way to "catch" your child acting morally and acknowledge her good behavior by describing what she did and why you appreciate it.  "That was good sharing!  You're so good at sharing!"

Moral intelligence is learned and you can start building it when your kids are toddlers.  The mistake parents often make is waiting until their kids are six or seven to develop their moral capabilities.  Delaying in this way only increases children's potential for learning destructive negative habits.

Parents are powerful people.  We have the inside track in our children's development because we have the ability to have the closest relationship.

The sooner you begin purposefully cultivating your child's capacity for moral intelligence, the better her chances of acquiring the foundation she'll need to develop solid character and of growing to think, believe and act morally.

A caution: Even parents who do all the right things will still find raising children the hardest job on earth.

Without good character, we can't lead a fulfilling life.  Morality builds on love.  When we build a bond of love with our children, we will have a channel of influence.  Then, in a world that surrounds them with bad examples, our example is likely to have the deepest and most enduring impact.

If we raise our children in an environment of control, without pouring love and effort into their lives, why should we expect them to care what we think about their actions when they become teenagers and young adults and we are able to exert less and less of that "control" on their lives?  If we haven't heavily invested in the relationship at the expense of giving up some of our personal time, if we have simply laid down the rules and consequences, we will have little input and little moral authority to guide them when the decisions they are making are much more critical.

Toxic influences are so entrenched in our culture that shielding your child from them is almost impossible.  Even if you prohibit them in your home, once your child steps outside they lurk at every corner.  It's crucial that you build his moral intelligence so he has a deeply developed inner sense of right and wrong and can use it to stand up against those outside influences.

Teaching any new habit takes time, commitment, and patience.  The optimum goal is for our kids to become less and less dependent on our moral guidance by incorporating these moral principles into their daily lives and making them their own.  That can happen only if you emphasize the importance of the virtues over and over and your child repeatedly practices these moral behaviors.

Aristotle pointed out "We are what we repeatedly do."  Consistent, repeated, short lessons about these virtues are precisely what your child needs to achieve them.  Telling your child about the virtue is never as powerful as showing what the quality looks like by demonstrating it in your own life.  Make your life a living example for your child to see.


Empathy is the foundation of moral intelligence.  It is the ability to identify with and feel another person's concerns.  

Statistics show that children whose fathers took more responsibility for their children's discipline and schoolwork and were more involved in their children's personal problems had significantly higher levels of empathy.

Alternatively, empathy can be greatly impaired in the first 36 months of life as a result of repeated stress -- neglect, trauma and/or abuse.

Children lack empathy because their experiences have never allowed them to think about perspectives other than their own.

Those who don't develop empathy as children are not able to experience empathy in their relationships as adults.  This will ultimately make it virtually impossible to be loving spouses or parents themselves.  Worst case, it is the foundation for psychopaths and sociopaths who have no connection to the people they harm.


There are simple strategies you can implement in order to develop empathy in your children.

Make a point of asking them every Friday, "What was the proudest moment you had this week?"  Follow that up with, "What was the kindest thing you did for someone else this week?"

Praise sensitive kind actions.  This involves watching your children.  You have to take the time to pay attention to them.  If you work all the time and are too stressed to parent them when you get home, you will not have the opportunity to notice the things your children are doing well, instead your interaction with them will simply be one of discipline and control.

You need to have the time and energy to be with them and notice when they do something well.  

-Praise sensitive ACTIONS ("Good sharing!" as opposed to "Good girl!")  

-Comment on the effect that their sensitivity had ("You sure made mom happy when you helped her put away the groceries!")

-Share why you feel the way you do.  ("I'm frustrated because I was expecting the car to be fixed today" instead of "I'm frustrated.")

-ROLE PLAY with your child.  This is effective for anything you want to teach and we do far to little of it.  If you want your child to know what it is to be kind, ROLE PLAY a scenario of being kind.  If you want your child to know what to do if a stranger asks them to help them look for their lost puppy, ROLE PLAY the scenario.

-To show your child the virtue of caring, you might play-act such behaviors as patting someone on the back, putting your arm around a person and looking concerned offering a tissue to wipe away tears, or saying "I'm sorry," "Can I help?" or "What do you need?"

-To teach kids empathy, you must show them empathy.  The best moments to tech empathy are usually not planned -- they just happen.  Capitalize on those moments to help your child understand the power that "feeling with others" can have.

-Expand your child's emotional intelligence by asking often, "How do you feel?"  Children must be able to identify different emotional states in themselves before they can become sensitive to the feelings of others.

-Know what your kids are watching and listening to; protect them from cruel, degrading, desensitizing images that can corrupt that empathy can have on others.

-Tune up your empathic behaviors so your child regularly sees you show concern for other people's "hurts and needs."  Then act on your concerns to comfort others so that your child can copy your actions.

-Provide opportunities for your child to experience different perspectives and views in your community -- for example, by visiting nursing homes, homeless shelters, etc.  The more your child experiences different perspectives, the more likely she will be able to empathize with others whose needs differ from hers.

-Catch your child acting morally and acknowledge her good behavior by describing that she did right and why you appreciate it.


Parents often fall short in the most critical way they can raise moral kids: deliberately teaching the virtues of ethical living.

What kind of person do you want your child to become?  When was the last time you talked about the virtues that you place importance on with your child and told him or her how strongly you believe in it or acknowledged your child for practicing the virtue? 

Telling children about the trait is never as powerful as showing them what it looks like.  Demonstrate a virtue by using your own behavior as a living example.

-Be a strong moral example.  One of the greatest questions to ask yourself at the end of each day is, "If I were the only example my child has to learn from, what would she have learned today?"

-Develop a close, mutually respectful relationship.  Building this kind of relationship clearly takes one-on-one personal, uninterrupted time.  Doing so is the best way to ensure that your child's primary moral instructor is you.  One of the biggest mistakes I see parents making is assuming that their children must respect them.  Respect is earned, so focus on the things you have done to earn your children's respect.

-Share your moral beliefs.  You can't prevent your children from exposure to every negative influence.  Use TV shows and events in life to comment on and discuss the circumstances.  Make certain your children are clearly aware of your moral beliefs (and more importantly, LIVE a morally exemplary life).

-Expect and demand moral behavior.  Once those expectations are set, you must stick to them and not back down!  Have clearly established guidelines and a minimum of rules.  Here is a suggestion of the minimum of rules:

  • No hitting.  Those who hit end up in a room alone without toys.  They should have one item of comfort (blanket, plush toy etc.).
  • Screaming and fits are only permitted in one's bedroom.  If screaming or fits begin, the child has the option of taking themselves to their bedroom or be taken their.  They may come out the moment they are quiet and ready to be positive again.  (Don't use arbitrary times like 5 min timeouts or 15 minute timeouts.  The child needs to be positively reinforced the moment they demonstrate self-control.)
  • Things that are taken out get put away.  We don't get to do the next activity until the first one is cleaned up.

-Reinforce virtue in daily life.  Have your child record virtue efforts and results in a workbook and take the opportunity to use incidents in life to discuss moral guidelines.  "What kind things did you do fore someone today?"  


Parents often don't plainly explain the reasoning behind their standards strongly enough, so their children's commitment to them is often weak.  Kids need to know not only that we want them to do the right thing, but also WHY it's important to act that way.  Clearly describing why you set a standard helps enhance your child's moral growth.


These are deadly sins.  You can spend all your time telling your children to make the right choice, but if you make immoral choices that they see, you will destroy the very moral fabric you are attempting to build.

Think of incidents in your day-to-day life that might be sending mixed moral lessons about honesty and integrity to your kids.  Be careful: kids watch us much more than we sometimes realize, and what they see is often not what we want them to see.  A quick way to check whether you are walking your talk with your kids is to ask yourself, "How would my child describe my moral behavior to someone else"  Is it how I would like to be described?"

-Your boss phones, and you tell your child to say you're not there.

-Your child misses school because she oversleeps and you write a note excusing her tardiness by claiming she was ill.

-You drive faster than the speed limit.

-You make up a story about why you were late.

-You sample from the grocery store.

-You do the work on your child's school project.

-You lie about your child's age to get a discount.



-Calmly assess the child's intentions.  You must remain calm.  If you are angry, let them know that you will come and talk to them when you have regained your composure.  If you deal with your child in a state of anger, they cannot learn a moral lesson, rather they learn how to obey with fear.  When you are calm, discuss why the child made the decision they made and discuss how they feel about that decision.  

-Review WHY the behavior is wrong.  You need to be certain your child understands why what they did was wrong.  If you simply tell them that it was bad and they are to be punished, they don't necessarily internalize the moral reasoning, which is what needs to happen in order for them not to make the same choice again.

-Reflect on the Behavior's Effects.  Talk about what happened as a result of the behavior.  Who got hurt?

-Explore alternatives that would have been better.

-Encourage the Child to make reparation.  If you force them to apologize or replace an item, they will not learn as effectively as if they choose to rectify the situation.  Ultimately, if someone has been hurt by their behavior, you need to insist that they make reparation.


Overworked, stressed-out parents trying hard to balance work and family has a serious impact on their kids' self-control capacities.  The best way for kids to learn self-control is through watching others and because parents are so stressed , they often pass that on to their kids.  If the most significant person in a child's life isn't modeling self-control, how will she learn it?

Attention deficits and hyperactivity problems have increased from 1.4 percent to 9.2 percent in two decades.  That's 700 percent in just 20 years!

The first three years are especially critical to self-control because this is when the cortex of the brain develop.  The cortex is where higher-level thinking that controls moral reasoning and impulses takes place.  Repeated doses of abuse neglect and terror in theses early years drastically increases risk of acting aggressively and experiencing learning problems throughout life.

Robert Coles states in The Moral Intelligence of Children that the best way for kids to acquire a moral compass is by watching their parents.  Our good example is the best way of ensuring that our kids will acquire the moral virtue of self-esteem.

  • How do I act in front of my kids after a hard day and my patience is lacking?
  • How do I control my own anger and stress?
  • In the middle of an argument, am I able to stop and say, "Let's get calm?"
  • Am I doing anything in excess -- drinking, gambling, eating, smoking, swearing, spending, working, or playing -- that might be sending a mixed message to my kid?
  • Do I restrain my urge to drive over the speed limit?
  • Do I model fiscal prudence or buy things impulsively?

We can't change an impulsive child into one who is passive, but we can teach him how to temper his aggressiveness so that he can react more calmly.  Many of the most important skills of self-control are learned, not inherited; and the very best training ground for teaching those skills is in our homes.

Emphasize that there are often lots of things we may want to do instead of what we should do.  Use examples from your own life!  Ask your child what things are hard for her to put off: eating dessert before dinner, saving money, watching TV before doing homework, punching someone who makes her mad, or saying no to what a friend wants her to do.  Use the term self-control frequently to help your child understand how important the virtue is in her life.  And when your child successfully resists temptation, point it out and reinforce it: "That's self-control.  you didn't give in, and you did what you knew was right.  Good for you!"

Research shows that parents who feel strongly about their kids showing self-restraining succeed because they committed themselves to that effort.  You must follow through on your commitment!

One mother tells someone she trusts about her parenting plans.  That way she is accountable to someone in following through on her commitment.

Create a family motto that includes self-control

Set a rule to talk only when in control

Emphasize that once the rule is agreed on, it must be honored: if someone calls a time-out, there should be no questions asked and no judgments passed.  This rule is particularly valuable for kids with persistent self-control problems or if you have an emotional adolescent at home.

Self-control develops slowly over time, but we can help our kids when they are young by weaning them from expecting rewards or social approval for being good.  Kids these days are being raised to expect rewards and incentive for acting right or performing well.  Instead of developing internal control, they end up with a highly developed external control system that relies on someone else to acknowledge (or reprimand) their actions.

Morally intelligent kids choose to act well because they know it's the right thing to do and because that in itself is reward enough.  The more our kids recognize that they need to rely on themselves, the more they will develop good old inner strength and control -- willpower.

The deadliest scenario for moral development is one in which the child grows up believing that she should do something only if she's given something in return: "I'll share my toy with Sally because mommy will think I'm a good girl."  "I'm going to tell Johnny I'm sorry I hit him.  Daddy will like me more if I do." "If I'm really good and stay quiet, Granny will buy me a treat."  Instead of behaving the right way because inside the child knows it's right -- being self-controlled -- she acts in ways that are contingent on our response: "other-controlled."

Switch your pronouns from "I" to "you."

"I" statement: I'm really proud of how hard you worked today.

"You" statement: You must be really proud of how hard you worked today."

Encourage internal praise.  We can tell our kids from morning till night how proud we are of them, but in the end they need to rely on themselves as their own reinforces.

Once a week ask each child to spend a few minutes writing (or drawing) his successes.

Ten Ways To Help Kids Control Their Spending Urges

  1. Spend less than youearn!
  2. Give a weekly or monthly allowance (depending on age) so that she can learn to budget money.  Redo this idea from Robert Kiysaki's tape.
  3. Buy her a piggy bank to save coins.  Make a rule that it must be filled before the money is spent.
  4. Make her draw or write down her intended purchase and post it for a few days before she buys it.
  5. Require her to spend her own money on entertainment and nonessential items.
  6. Don't give out loans.  Better yet, get her to loan you money!
  7. Help her open up a savings or checking account so that she can monitor her money and spending.
  8. Require that a portion of her allowance go to a charity of her choice.
  9. Require a portion of her allowance be saved.
  10. Say no to frivolous, rash buying - and don't give in.

Praise That Nurtures Self-Reliance

We need to be more conscious of how we encourage and what we say.

Praise the action, not the child. Effective praise focuses on what the child did: "That was so kind when you shared your toys."

Make the praise as specific as possible  "Good job!  I know it was hard waiting so long in line, but you showed great self-control."

The praise should be deserved.  Children know when they have really earned the praise they receive.

The praise should be genuine.  Kids know instantly when we're not being sincere.  A middle school teacher was very poor at classroom management and tried to get the students in line with her praise.  The problem was that she used a very phony sugary sounding voice.  and to top it off, her praise was juvenile -- "Oh, I just  love the way Mark is sitting!" -- that it backfired.  Instead of appreciating her intentions, they saw right through her praise.


Many kids display aggression because they simply don't know how to express their frustrations any other way.  Kicking, screaming, swearing, hitting, or throwing things may be the only way they know how to show their feelings.

Help your child recognize what specific warning signs she has that tell her she's starting to get upset.  The more we help kids recognize those early warning signs when their anger is first triggered -- usually when they first show signs of tension and stress -- the better able they will be to calm themselves down and learn to regulate their own behavior.  Anger escalates very quickly and if a child waits until he's in meltdown to try to regain control, it's too late.

Use self-talk to stay in control.

"Stop and calm down," "Stain in control," "Take a deep breath," "I can handle this."

Learn to breath to relax.

A Formula To Help Kids Gain Control: 1 + 3 + 10

  1. Tell yourself "Be Calm!"
  2. Take 3 deep, slow breaths.
  3. Count slowly to ten inside your head.

-To teach kids self-control, you must show kids self-control, so be a living example of self-control.

-Be aware of the ratings for violence on television, music, movies, and video games, then set clear standards for your child and stick to them.

-Refrain from always giving tangible rewards for your child's efforts.  Help her develop her own internal reward system in which she acknowledges herself for a job well done.

-Your home is the best place for your child to learn by trial and error how to control his impulses and deal with stressful situations.  Reinforce his efforts until he is confident doing so on his own.

-Kids need to practice making moral decisions, so help your child think through the possible outcomes and then guide her toward making safe and right choices; this way, she will eventually learn to act right without your help.


Many North American students seem sad or even angry.  They can sound like they're confident, but deep down they feel empty.  They're just treating others the way the really feel about themselves.  How can you treat others respectfully if you don't respect yourself?

A decent and moral life begins with the recognition of the infinite value of every human being, and to achieve that recognition, our children must learn first to respect themselves.  Only then can they really respect others by treating them with consideration, thoughtfulness, and honor.  And it will help children gain what so many long for: self-respect.

-A nationwide survey published in theNew York Times showed that 93 percent of responding adults believed parents have failed to teach children honesty, respect and responsibility.

The Impact of Treating Kids Disrespectfully

In order for a child to respect others, she must first learn to value herself, and she can do that only if she has been treated with respect.  Researchers find that a warm, cordial, and respectful relationship with parents is critical for nurturing respect.  Perhaps therein lies one of the greatest reasons respect is disintegrating in our kids: far too many are treated disrespectfully by adults -- parents as well as others significant caregivers.

Studies tell us that on any day in an average family, a child hears 460 critical statements and only 75 positive acknowledgements.

Research shows, for instance, that the average parent makes EIGHTEEN disrespectful comments to his child for every respectful comment, and reports continue to reveal an alarming upsurge in child abuse committed by parents.  A study of 991 parents by sociologist Murray A Straus, co director of the Family Research Lab at the University of New Hampshire, found that half of parents surveyed had screamed, yelled, or shouted in rage at their infants.  By the time a child reaches seven years of age, 98 percent of parents have verbally lashed out at them.  A telephone survey of parents revealed that one out of five has threatened to kick a teen out of the house in the past year and that one out of three called his children belittling names and swore at them.  All of us can confirm this by listening to how our fellow adults talk to their kids.  I did so this weekend and was appalled at how a parent spoke to their kids "If you don't sit in this cart, I'm going to smack you."  "You're such a pain -- I'd like to leave you here and see if anyone would put up with you."  "I'm tired of listening to you.  Shut up!"  The fact is that far too many kids are receiving a preponderance of sarcastic, disrespectful, negative messages from grown-ups.  No adult would put up with such rudeness from another adult, but kids don't often have a choice.

There's an epidemic of lack of understanding of how to parent.  The idea that you can berate, let alone abuse your children is concerning.  It is in part that parents are out of control.  It is also in part that parents simply haven't been trained in appropriate ways to deal with the stressful situations of raising children.  We're too busy and wrapped up in the stress of our lives to have the patience and energy necessary to raise our children (or dogs for that matter).  If we don't have our life arranged in a manner that we are able to raise our children in an atmosphere of love and understanding, we need to make it our first priority to begin working on getting our lives to the point where that is the case.

Perhaps the most disturbing new trend of incivility is to be found not among our kids, but among their parents -- at their children's athletic events.  I believe that this is a product of the "All for me" or "I deserve" generation raised after the hardship of the second world war.  Parents from that generation went so far to provide messages of working hard to get ahead and the opportunity for a "better life" that it translated into "money" rather than happiness and family.

The Price of Fear and Suspicion

One of the first things we teach our kids is to be suspicious of people.  A common trait of people who behave morally is that they stand up for the rights of others.  But how can you show positive regard toward other people if you distrust their intentions?  By admonishing our kids to be suspicious of their fellow beings, we may be training them to become leery of doing the very kinds of considerate, helpful behaviors that express respect.

Disrespectful acts are perpetrated by adults in powerful positions who are supposed to be -- at least in children's eyes -- models of solid moral conduct.

The Increase in Obscene Language

is an index of civilization, so the casual and prevalent use of bad language suggests yet another sign of moral decline and a crisis of disrespect.


Children who make respect a part of their daily life are kids who are more likely to care about the rights of others.  Because they do, these kids show respect for themselves, too.

Your children model YOU!


  1. A mother tells her child how wrong it is to talk behind someone's back.  Then the child overhears her mother the next day gossiping about their neighbor to her friend.
  2. A father fines his son for swearing.  The son walks into his dad's office and hears a conversation in which his dad is swearing about his boss to a coworker.
  3. A father lectures his daughter about how she never listens when he's talking to her.  The daughter later tries to tell him about a school problem, and he asks her not to interrupt him because he's watching the game.
  4. A mother gives her son a time-out for talking rudely to her.  Later the boy hears her phone conversation with his grandmother, in which she's blatantly disrespectful.
  5. A mother tells her daughter how wrong it is to read people's mail.  Later the daughter finds her mom reading her diary.

Six Parenting Practices That Nurture Respect and Love

  1. Treat your child as the most important person in the world.  Stephanie Martson, author of The Magic of Encouragement, suggests that you ask yourself often, "If I treated my friends the way I treat my child, would I have any friends left?"  Ask yourself the question so often it becomes a nighttime habit.  It also helps you remember throughout the day to treat your child respectfully.

  2. Give love with no strings attached.  No child should have to earn our respect and love; it should be guaranteed with birth.  Unconditional love is loving your kids with no strings attached and is the kind of love that says, "I'll never stop loving you, no matter what you do."  Of course, that doesn't mean we're going to necessarily approve of all our children's behaviors.  In some cases, when our kids' actions are inappropriate, we may need to respond with clear and sometimes passionate corrections.  But our kids know we'll always be there for them no matter what -- and that's the kind of love kids need to feel they are genuinely respected and valued.  Make sure the love you give your child is unconditional and guaranteed, so that no matter what, he knows you love him.

  3. Listen attentively and respectfully.  Kids tell researchers that the one behavior they wish their parents would do more is listen -- really listen -- to them.  Attentive listening is a wonderful way to convey respect.  When your child talks, stop everything and focus completely so that she feels you really value her opinions and want to hear her thoughts.  Acknowledge him simply by saying how you think they're feeling: "You seem so happy" or "Wow, you look proud."

  4. Build positive self-concepts.  Labeling children with such terms as shy, stubborn, hyper, or clumsy can diminish self-esteem and become daily reminders of unworthiness.  They can also become self-fulfilling prophecies.  Regardless of whether the labels are true or not, when children hear them they believe them.  So use only labels that build positive concepts.  One good rule to remember about labeling is, if the nickname is not respectful, it's best not to use it.

  5. Tell them often why you love and cherish them.  The more you show your child you love her, the more your child learns to value and love herself.  So tell your child often that you love her, but also tell her what you love about her and express your gratitude that she is your child. "I love that you are so kind."  "I respect the way you never give up."  Never assume that your child knows what feelings about her you hold in your heart.  Tell her.

  6. Make your child your priority.  Put your child at the top of your schedule and set aside relaxed times together during which you can really know who your child is.  Only then will you be able to let her know why you value, love and respect her.

Three Simple Ways to Show Respect To Your Children 

  1. With your child, mark a spot on the calendar that's just for "special together time."  Ask your child to choose what special thing she wants to do with you, then do it.

  2. Write a letter each year about why you're glad your child is part of your life, and read it together.  Save all the letters and give them to her as a special 21st birthday present.

  3. Deliberately say positive comments about your child to someone else, making sure your child overhears you without knowing she's supposed to.

Instill respectful rules.  Gather everyone together and ask, "What rules should guide how we treat one another in our family?"  Write all suggestions on paper and then use the democratic process and vote. The top suggestions become the Family Constitution.  Here are a few guidelines:

-Don't borrow without asking

-Listen to each other

-Only say things that build people up

-Respect each other's privacy

Refuse to Engage When Treated Disrespectfully

Just clearly refuse to continue the conversation until your child stops the rude behavior -- and do it every time your child is disrespectful.  (and expect them to do the same if you are treating them without respect).  "We'll talk when you use a respectful tone."  "If you want to talk to me, talk respectfully.  I'll be in the other room."  "We'll talk when you can listen respectfully without rolling your eyes and smirking."

Time-outs are over the moment the individual acknowledges the inappropriate behavior and genuinely commits to the right behavior.  They can dictate their own consequences if they do it again.


Teach New behaviors to Replace Inappropriate Ones

If you notice that your child is continuing to repeat the same respectful behavior, then it may be time to teach him a new, more acceptable behavior.  Very often the reason kids continue their rude behavior is that no one took time to show them a different way to behave.  Remember that children learn new behaviors through repetition, so practice the new technique again and again until your child masters the more respectful skill.  Changing a behavior generally takes a minimum of three weeks, so consistently stick to teaching the new behavior until you see a change.  And do remember that the best time to teach any new behavior is when you and your child are calm and relaxed, not during the conflict.

-Find another word.  Help the child find a more appropriate behavior or word to replace the inappropriate one.  "That's a swear word, and it's disrespectful.  Let's think of another more appropriate word to use when you're mad so that people won't think you're rude."

It's ok to be upset.  Everyone gets upset, but you need to deal with the feelings maturely, or in private.


Encourage respectful behavior

One of the simplest ways to increase the frequency of a behavior is to reinforce it when you see your child doing it right.  Studies have shown, however, that the majority of the time we do the opposite we point out when they're acting incorrectly.  So any time you see or hear your child practicing respectful behaviors, acknowledge them and express your pleasure.  Here are a few example:

-Danny, I like that respectful tone.

-Jenny, thank you for listening so politely when I was talking.

-I know that you were frustrated, but you didn't swear that time.  It's hard changing a bad habit, but you're really trying.


Point out Disrespectful Behaviors To Kids

-Code Word Many parents and teachers tell me the easiest signal they've tried is a previously agreed-on code word.  As soon as the child makes a disrespectful comment, whoever hears it says the code word to the offender.

-Family Signal  Whenever your child exhibits the behavior in public, have a signal like pulling your ear.


Teaching Kids to Disagree Respectfully

Being respectful toward other people doesn't mean you always have to agree with their opinions.  we need to let our kids know that it's OK to disagree, but respectfully and it's a skill you need to teach.



Assuming that our children will become warmhearted and compassionate in a world that's deluging them with pessimistic, unkind messages won't work.  The average parent makes 18 critical comments to his child for every one positive comment.  With no significant adults in their lives to help them form moral convictions, children will turn to their peers as their primary moral teachers.  The result can be disastrous to their moral growth.



A child's level of kindness is in large part determined by how much his teachers and parents treated him kindly as well as deliberately taught caring behaviors and instilled in him the importance of treating others kindly.

  1. Teach the Meaning and Value of Kindness

  2. Establish a Zero Tolerance for Unkindness

  3. Encourage Kindness and Point Out Its Positive Effect

When children understand that kindness can make a difference they will be more likely to incorporate that behavior in their own lives.  The best place to start is not with them but with us.  If we really want our kids to be caring, we need to make the virtue a priority in our own lives and then reinforce in in our children.

Your child learns a great deal about morality simply by observing your behavior, so model what you want your child to copy.  If you want your child to be kind, consciously demonstrate kind behavior.  Children may miss your modeling, so deliberately tune them up.  After performing a kindness, be sure to tell your child how good you feel!

Spell out loudly an clearly your expectation that others must be treated kindly.  Go over with them what kind people do and say.

Make sure kids know what kindness means, it's a step too often overlooked.  "Kind people think about another person's feeling and not just their own, they help someone who is in need, and they are kind even when others are not.  Kind people never expect anything in return.  They just treat other people kindly because they want to help make someone's life better.

Some years ago I had the privilege of watching Dr. Sidney Simon, a Harvard professor and author, conduct a stirring workshop with teachers and parents.  He wanted to convey the impact unkindness has on children's emotional well-being, and his technique was unforgettable.  He began by holding up a large sign with the letters IALAC, which he explained stood for "I Am Loved And Capable."  Then he told a poignant story of a young boy who years nothing but derogatory, ridiculing comments about himself from his family throughout the day.  What made the story so moving was that each time the boy heard an unkind comment, Simon ripped a piece from the sign and tossed it to the ground until finally nothing was left.  What was so obvious was how the stream of unkind words had destroyed the boys' feelings of worthiness.  I'm still moved thinking about that session.



Target the Unkind Behavior, Not the Child

Effective discipline is INSTRUCTIVE, not berating.  Think of how you would like to be told by your boss you screwed up.  Wouldn't you like to be addressed constructively, even if you knowingly messed up?  Don't fall into the trap of giving a lengthy sermon.  Your message should focus only on your child's unkind behavior, not on the child.

Decide on a New Behavior with Which to Replace It

Too often we may overlook this step because we assume that the child knows a new way to behave.  Don't make that assumption!  I've seen many kids become "repeat offenders" simply because no one took time to talk them through what their "replacement behavior" should be.



The more children practice doing kind behaviors, the better they will feel about themselves and the better others will feel about them.  Doing kind deeds is simply one of the best ways for children to enhance their self-esteem.  As your child continues to do kind deeds for others, she will find she can't get enough of it she will start going out of her way to perform more kind acts.

A great strategy to implement in a group or in a family, is to assign secret kindness pals.  Every day they are to do something kind in secret for their secret pal.  If they're young, they won't be able to keep the secret, but that's not the critical part.



Marguerite Wright, a black psychologist states, "Children, unless rigorously taught to do otherwise, start out making no distinction among people because of their skin."  I witnessed this myself when working as a lifeguard and a little girl came up to point out a problem with a girl in the deep end who couldn't swim.  I asked her to point the girl out and she said, "The one in the pink swim suit."  What was so amazing was that the girl she was pointing out was the only black individual in the facility.  As an adult, I would have said, "The little black girl," but this youngster just didn't see color.

Children are not born hateful prejudices, biases, and stereotypes are learned or arise in the absence of adequate socialization.  Parental availability has dwindled, leaving many kids home alone after school.  In today's world of latchkey kids, kids are not so much being raised, as they are being provided for.  Without adults in their lives, kids must interpret the messages of the world themselves.  With TV and the Internet bringing all kinds of messages to their attention, this unfiltered information source can easily distort their minds.

There is a Native American saying, "Your actions speak so loudly, I can't hear what you say."  Moral behaviors need to be caught as well as taught.

None of us are completely free of some prejudice or stereotypical beliefs.  The problem is that prejudices and stereotypes can be so deeply seated that we may not even be aware they are there.  You are communicating those attitudes (usually quite unintentionally) to your child).

Parents who take time to think through how they want their kids to turn out usually succeed simply because they planned their parenting efforts.

Refuse to allow discriminatory comments in your presence.

Develop your child's pride in his culture.

Celebrate differences early on.

Expose your child to diversity.

Give straightforward, simple answers to questions about difference.

Point out biases and stereotypes when they come up

Counter your child's discriminatory beliefs.

-Help your child discover the positive traits about people and teach him from the time he is very young that no one is better than any other person.

-Get in touch with your own prejudices and be willing to change them. 

-Encourage your child to participate in social and community activities that promote cross-cultural programs, diversity, resistance to hate groups and tolerance.




A great test is to ask yourself at the end of each day, "If my child had only my actions to copy, would she know what fairness looks and sounds like?

Expect and Demand Fairness

Research studies are very clear on one point: kids who treat others fairly have parents who expect them to do so.  Therefore, one of the easiest ways to build fairness is to make it a priority in your home - and the sooner you start, the better.  Teach your kids that unfairness and cruelty are never acceptable and the moment you see it stop it.  "That's not fair, and I expect you to treat your friends fairly," or "In this home we will always treat one another fairly and act just as we'd like to be treated by others."

It's not enough to learn something by reading it out of a book.  You need to internalize it.  If it's something particularly difficult or very new, you need to practice it, rehearse it outside of the situation.  Role play with your spouse, your children or a friend.

One of the best ways kids learn fairness habits such as taking turns, sharing, negotiating, compromising, and mutually solving problems is by playing with friends in natural, unstructured settings.  Over the past years, the number or those play times has dramatically decreased.  They're in front of the TV, the computer and the movie screen.  

Speak regularly to your child about your beliefs and why you feel the way you do.  After all, your child will be hearing endless messages that counter your beliefs, so it's essential that he hears about your moral standards.  TV shows, movies, newspapers, and literature are filled with issues addressing fairness and justice, so use them to discuss your beliefs with your child.  These discussion times are also great opportunities to hear his moral views and determine his current level of reasoning ability.

You can't assume your child will know what your morals are simply because he lives in your house and he won't pick them up by osmosis.  You must talk about what you believe and why.  You can't control what he believes, but you can tell him how you make your decisions and what you expect of him.



Things to Do When Your Kids Say "That's Not Fair!"

Calm Everyone Down- Intervene before an argument escalates.  Have the involved parties separate until they can deal with the issue calmly.

Clarify Feelings- State their position so they know you understand, "You're frustrated because you're not getting a turn."

Don't Take Sides-  Stay neutral, even if you believe one person is more in the right.

Make the kids part of the solution-  Ask those involved to come up with suggestions for solutions.  Get them to stop, think and quiet down.  Set guidelines for talking it out: no interrupting, no put-downs, only calm voices.  By taking turns, kids can learn to make their point with words, not blows.

Offer to Mediate- If the kids can't think of a fair solution, ask if they would like your help creating one.



Listen Fairly and Openly

Individuals who display fairness listen openly without prejudging the speaker.  The trick for most parents is to avoid interrupting or adding their opinions and instead just to listen - really listen- to their kids.  Really focus attentively on her and offer a non-judgmental word of encouragement.  

Set Fair Realistic Expectations

There's a fine line between stretching your child's natural abilities and potential and pushing him to become what you want.  Your child may misinterpret such pushing as a message saying "You're not good enough," which diminishes self-esteem, or "You want me to be more like my brother," which exacerbates sibling rivalry.  Here are a few questions to ask yourself to make sure the expectations you are setting are fair and realistic:

  • Is my child developmentally ready for the tasks I'm requiring, or am I unfairly pushing him beyond his internal timetable?
  • Is what I'm expecting something my child wants, or is it more something I unfairly want for myself?
  • Am I setting a fair expectation based on my child's interest and capabilities, or am I unfairly basing the expectation on those of another child?

Refrain from comparing behaviors.  Never compare your child's behavior to anyone else's, especially that of a sibling! "Why can't you be more like your sister?  She's always so neat, and you're such a slob!"  "Why aren't you organized like your brother?"  Making comparisons can diminish a child's self-worth as well as strain sibling relationships.  And your child ends up feeling she has disappointed you because she can never be as good as her sibling.

Never compare schoolwork.  Kids should compare their schoolwork, test scores, and report cards only to their own previous work, never to the work of their siblings or friends.  Instead of stimulating a child to work harder, comparisons are more likely to fuel resentment.  Though we may think we are motivating our kids to try hard by using an example they should strive to copy, in doing so, we often unwittingly aggravate rivalry between siblings.

Avoid using negative labels. Family nicknames like Shorty, Porky, or Klutz can cause unfair ribbing, "Don't worry, he's just the family klutz" as well as become daily reminders of incompetence.  These kinds of labels often stick and become difficult to erase, not only within, but also outside your family.

Avoid making comparisons based on gender.  Basing comparisons among siblings on gender sets up unfair assumptions and promotes stereotypes and biases.  "I know you'll want to do more girl kinds of things on the trip, Sally.  We can go shopping.  Erik will probably want to go fishing with Dad."

Avoid praising one child in contrast to another.  Complimenting one child's positive actions by contrasting them to those of another child is a deadly form of praise: "I appreciate how you always call to let me know where you are.  I can trust you, unlike your brother."  This kind of comparison puts down the other child and unfairly puts pressure on the child you praised.

-Model exactly how to do a task.  Go through each chore, step-by-step at least once with your child so that he clearly knows how to do it.  Then observe him doing it at least once to make sure he can handle it.

-Get kids in the habit of helping early.  Even three-year-olds can help around the house by picking up toys, feeding pets, emptying wastebaskets, setting and clearing the table, etc.

-Give choices.  At a family meeting, brainstorm a list of all the ways kids can help out.  Then have each child choose a few.  Some experts suggest assigning a child three daily chores (for example, making the bed, putting dishes in the dishwasher, and putting dirty clothes in the hamper) and one weekly chore (such as dusting, vacuuming, garbage etc.).  

-Post the chore list.  Make sure everyone is clear about which person is expected to do what and when.

-Aim for improvement, not perfection.  The effort, not the product, is the most important thing.

-Don't do any task your child can do for herself.  She needs to see herself as a family contributor.

-Praise his efforts.  Let your child know how much you appreciate his helping out in the home.



Foster Fairness-  The goal of family meetings is to get your kids involved so that they can practice fairness principles, so it's important to make sure they feel that their ideas count.  This is a time to hold back your judgments and encourage your child to speak up.  Don't use this time for parental lectures: keep those for private times between you and your child.  During family meetings each member's opinion is considered equal, everyone has a right to be heard, and anyone can bring up any sort of problem or concern.

Set common Courtesy Rules-  It's important to make the meeting time a place where kids feel safe, so clearly set common courtesy rules for your meetings, and the most important one is that no family member is ever to be insulted or yelled at.

Determine How Decisions Will Be Made- Decide if it's something that needs a majority vote or a unanimous vote.  Don't project the idea that kids get the final say on every item.  There are still some things that parents must decide, but there are many things the entire family can decide on.

Hold Regularly Scheduled Meetings-  Once a week for 15-30 minutes, longer for new major issues.  Sunday is often the best day for these meetings.

Rotate Meeting Roles.  Chairperson, Moderator (making sure the rules are followed), Meeting Planner (Posts date, time and topics), Secretary (keeps notes).

Create A Fun Meeting Spirit- Don't hold meetings to just hash out problems; kids will learn to dread them.  Try starting each session with each member reading their list of compliments from the past week they have for the other members.  End your meeting on a fun note, going out for dessert, playing a game or watching a video together.


Research shows that kids who share with their peers usually do so because their parents clearly emphasized that they expect them to share.  Take time to spell out your sharing ground rules and explain them to your child.  One dad passed on his rule: "If it belongs to you and it stays in sight, then you must share it."  It's also a good idea to emphasize that you may share only items that belong to you; otherwise, permission must be granted from the owner.  Without permission, it may not be shared: "I'm sorry, we can't play with that.  It belongs to my brother, so it's not something we can share."

Create Sharing Boundaries- Talk often with your children about sharing.  Have your child put away toys they don't want to share before guests arrive.  Explain that anything that is left out is there to be shared.

Encourage sharing behaviors-  Sharing can be quite painful for some children.  You will need more gentle reminders and assistance if you have such a child.  "Catch" your child sharing and praise their behavior by saying, "Good Sharing!"

Emphasize the effect sharing has on others- Have your child explain to you how someone sharing with them makes them feel and why they should share with others.  Point out the effects when you see it, "Look how happy Robby is with you sharing your toy!"


-Do not tolerate any form of peer unfairness: taunting, name-calling, put-downs, harassment, or plain meanness.  Teach your kids that unfairness and cruelty are never acceptable.

-Encourage your child when he encounters unfair treatment to stand up for himself and the rights of others.  Teach him the skills of assertiveness so he can be confident enough to do so.

-Emphasize acting fairly and good sportsmanship both on and off the field.

-Hold regularly scheduled family meetings.  Doing so is one of the best ways for your child both to practice fair behaviors - sharing, co-operating, taking turns, asserting herself, making decisions, reaching consensus, and hearing different points of view - and to grow morally.

-Children are likely to treat others fairly if they understand why fairness is important and how it affects others.  Help your child understand the value of fairness.

-There is no more powerful way to boost kids' moral intelligence than to get them personally involved in an issue of injustice and then encourage them to take a stand; they will learn that they can make a difference in the world.  Look for opportunities in your neighborhood or community and get involved together in making the world a better place.



One of the moral skills we ask of our kids is to say they're sorry for any harm they caused.  But, ironically, parents tell me that apologizing to their kids is often difficult for them.  Saying you're sorry doesn't mean you're admitting to not being perfect (believe me, our kids have already figured that out) or begging forgiveness.  It's just making a simple and direct statement that expresses remorse and rebuilds your parent-child bond.  Parents who apologize are much more likely to have kids willing to say they're sorry to others.  Doing so is one way to act justly.


Teach your child to lose gracefully.  Model it.


Teach your child ways to stand up against unfairness and injustice.  Model it.

Matching Your Child's Interests and Strengths With Social Justice Projects

1.  Linguistic Learners like to read, write and tell stories.  They learn by hearing and seeing words, know unusual amounts of information, have advanced vocabularies, and memorize facts verbatim.

They do well reading or writing letters for young kids, the elderly, or people with disabilities.  Start a letter writing campaign about an issue that concerns them.  Become a pen pal with an orphan overseas or a patient at a nearby hospital.  Donate used books to a library, homeless shelter, or classroom.

2.  Body/kinesthetic learners handle their bodies with ease and poise for their age, are adept at using their body for sports or artistic expression, and are skilled in fine motor tasks.  They can help coach younger children in dancing, sports or acting.  Make or repair dolls and other toys for needy or sick kids.  Mend clothes or sew blankets for a shelter.

3.  Intrapersonal learners  have strong self-understanding, are original, enjoy working alone to pursue their own interests and goals and have a strong sense of right and wrong.  They can "adopt" someone who could use a friend, such as an elderly person; offer to call periodically.  Teach a special hobby- magic, art etc. - to needy kids.  Ask permission to start a food drive in their community.

4.  Interpersonal learners understand people, lead and organize others, have lots of friends, are looked to by others to make decisions and mediate conflicts and enjoy joining groups.  They can make after-school snacks for kids in need or work at a soup shelter.  Put together a walk-a-thon or read-a-thon for a local charity.  Go door-to-door with parents and friends collecting items for the less fortunate.

5.  Musical learners appreciate rhythm, pitch, and melody and they respond to music. They can offer to play music at an old folks home or tutor younger kids in how to play an instrument.

6.  Logical/mathematical learners understand numbers, patterns, and enjoy science and math.  They can tutor other kids in these subjects, play games like chess and checkers at the hospital.  Make computer flyers for organizations.

7.  Spatial learners like to draw, design and create things.  They can help beautify spaces, make holiday greeting cards, decorate or do crafts.

8.  Naturalists like the out-of-doors and are curious about the features of the environment.  They can pick flowers, plant vegetables to be donated, clean up a park or school ground.

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