The best way to explain good moral character to a child is through exemplifying good moral character yourself. Children learn by experience, so concepts like right and wrong, consequences for actions and self-control are best explained through action. Each moment in a child's life is a teachable moment. Through interactions with siblings, friends and elders, parents should seize every opportunity available to explain what good moral character means.
Teach a child the difference between right and wrong. It is important for a child to learn what is acceptable in order to understand good moral behavior. The Ask Dr. Sears website published an article titled, “8 Way to Raise a Moral Child,” outlining ways a parent can teach a child right from wrong. For instance, a child takes a toy from a friend, and the friend begins to cry. The parent can explain to the child, “When you took the toy away from him, you made him feel sad. If you give the ball back, he will be happy, and you can ask to play with him so you can both play with the ball.” Ask Dr. Sears advises parents to look at each of these moments as teachable moments where a child can be provided a good moral compass. With internal understanding of the concept of right and wrong, comes an understanding of good moral character.
Explain and show there are consequences for inappropriate actions. Part of good moral character is the understanding that bad behavior is not worth the consequences attached to it. In order for a child to understand that unacceptable behavior comes with consequences, he must be taught this concept, according to the article, “Discipline,” published by the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. The AACAP explains a child should be taught that rules are to keep him safe and sound. Therefore, when he chooses to break the rules, he endangers himself, or others. The AACAP also recommends parents explain consequences before any inappropriate actions have occurred, so the child understands ahead of time. For instance, a parent can explain before entering a store what the expected behavior is -- and what the consequences are if the child acts out.
Instill the concept of self-discipline in a child. In order for a child to be able to exhibit good moral character, he needs to be able to pause and exhibit self-control. According to the article, “Teaching Young Children Self-Control,” published by the National Association of School Pyschologists, parents should set age-appropriate goals and reward the child when he exhibits the proper behavior. For instance, when a child goes to bed promptly at his previously defined bed time, without a fuss, he should be praised for his good behavior. This encourages children to continue the positive behavior and causes a pause before acting out. The school psychologists group also recommends parents talk to a child about the concept of wanting something that he may not be able to have right then. Self-control is an important lesson for a child who is being raised to understand and have good moral character.
Instead of lecturing a child, it is more effective to use examples of things that happen throughout the day in short conversations. This way the child does not tune out and stop listening.
If a child is exhibiting unacceptable behavior, despite being taught good moral character, there may be an underlying cause. It may be necessary to speak to the child's teacher or a counselor.