Parenting is a challenge, there are no two ways about it. But, for all the challenges come amazing rewards. You get to watch your little one grow into an adult and learn along the way. They become their own people, though a lot of their development is based on the teachings of mom and dad.

One of the big – and quite scary – challenges for parents is helping to mold their attitude and ability to understand right from wrong. You obviously don’t want your kids out there thinking bullying other children is right and being honest is wrong! But, how do you teach your child right from wrong? Well, it starts at an early age. Read on for tips on helping to guide your children’s moral compass.

It Varies by Age Group

The process of teaching a child is quite obviously a long one. There’s no one lesson at a certain age that defines a child’s moral learning. And for a very young child, the experts at suggest learning toys. Toys and books help young children understand everything, including moral lessons, as they prepare for the upcoming mental demands of mixing with lots of new children in preschool.

As children reach school age, their minds develop rapidly. Then, they start learning respect whilst also asking plenty of questions. They begin to understand that fair and responsible adults command respect, whereas people who treat them badly will be less understood. At this age, communication trumps toys, reading, or play for learning – more on this later.

First, Build a Strong Relationship

The first stage of teaching your kids is building a strong relationship with them. As mentioned, children naturally gravitate to respecting and listening to those who treat them fairly. Even as young children, over-the-top discipline for small things can lead to issues with respect and learning later down the line.

As a family, it is important to build your relationship with your kids from day one, sharing love, empathy, and kindness with your children as often as possible. Kids who feel loved and nurtured have fewer emotional problems as they develop into adulthood, many studies have shown.

Theory of Mind

At a certain age, children begin realizing that everyone else has their own minds, emotions, and feelings. At this stage, you can really start to help your kids develop their own moral code and understand empathy, as you teach them how others may be feeling. As they understand why other people get upset, angry, happy, or frustrated, you can begin to teach them empathy. Ask them questions like “why do you think he reacted that way?” so they can begin to learn the theory of mind.

Read Books and Stories

From a young age, books, stories, and even kids’ movies begin to teach these things. Even movies and TV shows aimed at babies have elements of empathy and emotion in them, as do books. These stories are designed to help mold your child’s mind while teaching them important lessons to take through life.

When reading or watching one of these stories with your children, watch them react and ask them questions. Ask them if they understand why a character was nasty or nice, teach them again about how different people act different ways because everyone has their own mind.

Be Honest About Your Own Mistakes

No parent is perfect, therefore you will likely make mistakes in front of your own children. They may ask why mom acted in a way they perceive to be wrong. Don’t panic, this is an incredible teaching opportunity. If you show your children that you do indeed make mistakes, but that you can own them, apologize for them, and explain why they happened, they will quickly learn how to navigate their own rights and wrongs in their minds.

Listen and Explain

As kids navigate school, there will always be situations that shock, confuse, or even inspire them. If someone has done something “wrong,” they may want to discuss it with you. Listen in detail to everything your child has to say about the situation, then respond accordingly. Again, explain how someone may be feeling when acting a certain way, or offer them alternatives on the “right” way – or a better way – to deal with any given situation they talk about. Listening and gently explaining is a great skill for any parent to hold.

Of course, there are a million possible scenarios that could arise where you worry about what’s right or wrong to say to your child. You won’t get everything right, it’s impossible! But, as you are honest and build these conversations with your child, you will be putting them on the “right” path.

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