Moral Development & Self Concept

By Jack Ori
The ability of children to develop morals is influenced by their cognitive development.
The ability of children to develop morals is influenced by their cognitive development.

Social psychologists such as Jean Piaget believe that a child concept of self evolves as he gets older. The ability to reason and understand morals, or to differentiate right from wrong, grows as he understands more fully that he is a separate individual from his parents and the rest of the world. Parents can aid in their children's moral development by engaging in age-appropriate activities with their children and basing moral teachings on their children's ability to understand.

Theory of Self-Concept

Jean Piaget believed that children grow from completely dependent beings to autonomous individuals capable of making moral decisions based on abstract reasoning. Piaget stated that an infant is born without a concept of self and must learn to differentiate his self from others as part of the process of cognitive development, according to learningandteachinginfo.com

Self Concept and Moral Development

Moral development in children refers to the development of moral understanding (discerning right from wrong) and one's own set of moral values. Piaget believes that moral development is tied in to self-concept. Children are born amoral, according to Piaget, and must develop concepts of morality as their self-concept develops. Piaget's theory states that children go from amoral to believing in the "pleasure principle" (the right thing to do is the thing that makes them feel good) to being able to follow concrete rules to being able to make moral decisions based on abstract concepts such as justice. This corresponds with the child's initial inability to differentiate self from others, which develops into awareness of her own emotions, then into the development of empathy, and finally the ability to consider many factors when making moral decisions.

Development of Empathy

Empathy, or the ability to understand how someone else feels, is a key component in moral development. Without empathy, children don't understand that certain actions hurt others. A child's sense of empathy evolves as he gets older, according to nurturingparents.com. He realizes he is a separate person at around one year of age and continues to develop an understanding of how others feel throughout childhood.

Helping Children Develop Morally

In order to help children develop morally, take their age and developmental stage into account. While it is important to teach specific rules, children learn best when parents also take the time to talk with them about morality in a way they can understand. Children do not become abstract thinkers until they are about eleven or twelve years old, according to Piaget. Before this point, they can benefit from learning to follow rules as well as being given specific examples of behaviors that are right or wrong. You can also ask them how they would feel if someone behaved a certain way towards them to help develop empathy. Children of any age pay attention to their parents' behavior more than their words; modeling moral behavior is the best way to teach it.

Discipline and Moral Development

Discipline helps children learn rules and develop a sense of right and wrong. A young child's self concept extends to what makes him happy or sad, so taking away a favorite toy or television program is often an effective means of correcting inappropriate behavior. Pre-teen children are often rule-oriented; you can teach moral behavior by responding appropriately to behavior that is "against the rules."

About the Author

Jack Ori has been a writer since 2009. He has worked with clients in the legal, financial and nonprofit industries, as well as contributed self-help articles to various publications.