Kids & Parenting

Moral development in children

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When will this child develop a moral compass
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What is the timeline for moral development in children

Ethics and morals are essential to interacting with society and other human beings. People develop their morals in very different ways but there is a road map as to how the moral development in children changes as the child ages. Outside influences can change just how fast or how slow morals become a part of a personality but there is a definite timeline for when a child can even possess the ability to have different moral behaviors.

There is a definite age when a child will be able to sense empathy and when they will be able to suss out exactly what that feeling is. Morality changes the way a child thinks and acts, because they understand there are consequences to any actions the child takes. Morality can also mean just wanting to help someone when they are feeling down or feeling upset. 

Looking at the chronology of moral development in children allows us to prepare for their actions and understand the driving force behind certain actions or decisions.

The First Two Years

After the child's first birthday their moral compass won't have developed much. Right or wrong is still a tricky subject for a two year old, but they will be able to recognize when someone is feeling unhappy. More than recognition, the two year old will be able to offer their help to make those around them feel better. This is the beginning of empathy and is a trait that will be extremely important as life goes on.

Two to Three Years Old

Around the child's second birthday they will be able to truly understand how their actions effect others. Two and three year old children become able to understand the rules in their house and this is when rewarding acceptable behavior and discussing or punishing poor behavior can begin in earnest.

Shaming your kids is never the best approach to parenting but they will begin to feel guilty for their actions at this age. Kids in this age group will also be able to recognize when others are doing wrong and can delight in telling them what they are doing is not alright.

Three to Six Year Old

Punishment and rewards really take hold when the kid hits the toddler stage, between the ages of three and six. Kids will not only understand that what they are doing is right or wrong, but they will make decisions based on that understanding.

This means a child will actually not take that extra gumball because they realize they are not supposed to and that they could be punished if they do. Praise for when a child makes the correct decision and corrective action when they make the wrong decision is especially important this stage of moral development.

If there is a separation between nature and nurture this is where the shining bright line is drawn.

Seven to 10 Years Old

As your child ages and matures into pre-adolescence they will stop making decisions based solely on right and wrong. Kids between seven and 10 begin making decisions because they want acceptance from a larger audience. Peer pressure becomes a big issue during these ages because kids will be attempting to gain plaudits from their classmates.

10 to 16 Years Old

All the teachings that you gave your children as they developed now come to fruition as they enter adolescence. Children draw on their own moral compass to make decisions, moving through the teen years. Moral development comes to its final stages as someone moves out of childhood and into adulthood. Here the children begin to judge their moral dilemmas depending on intentions of those surrounding a certain situation.

16 and Up

We never stop changing when it comes to our moral compass but the actual formation has stopped and little tweaks and changes are all that is left. Adulthood looms and decisions we make are left up to us rather than leaning on the teachings of authority figures.

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