Webster’s Dictionary defines conscience as, “the sense or consciousness of the moral goodness or blameworthiness of one’s own conduct, intentions or character together with a feeling of obligation to do right or be good.” The development of a consistent value system is the foundation for our decisions, for our sensitivity to what is right and what is wrong and for the feelings of those around us. The media has recently been barraging us with stories that show us why the development of a conscience is imperative. It seems scary that many children today are growing up without a moral code. Simple things like cheating in school isn’t seen as wrong, to things like online bullying and even more horrific things like school shootings are all evidences of where our society is right now.
Chuck Colson states, “Most people believe the conscience is regulated by feelings. But it must be informed by objective moral truth. Our conscience needs to be trained, and failing to do so results in dire consequences. To see the cost open today’s newspapers.”
Those of us who have raised toddlers know that a conscience is not something that we are born with; it is something that is developed and nurtured. Conscience is knowing what’s right, then feeling the obligation to do what is right. That doesn’t come automatically. It must be taught or instilled. So the question is, how do I raise a kid of conscience?
The training process has five parts.
First, we need to teach them that there is right from wrong, or moral absolutes. Learning what is right and what is wrong comes from Truth. The Truth is not situational. Right is right always. It is the same for wrong… it’s wrong wherever it’s done, even if no one sees you.
Second, communicate with your child. Be there to be a sounding board and allow your child to process through situations with you.
Third, we need to set the example. Make sure to follow your conscience and express to your children when you do so.
Fourth, give your child a framework in which to learn. A great way to start is by teaching your child to say “I’m sorry” even if they don’t quite mean it. This teaches them when they do something wrong.
Fifth, from a very young age, we need to give them the experience of following their conscience. Allow them to exercise their choice and then reward or give a consequence based on the outcome. A great story that illustrates how we go from conscience to action can be found in the Bible, in Luke 10:25-37.
Encouraging the right choice
We consistently mention here at Parenting on Purpose that one of the most important things in parenting is encouraging our children when they make the right choice. It is not enough to discipline when they do the wrong thing; we must show them that choosing to do the right thing is worth it. That way, when they are older, it will be instilled in them that making the right choices, although hard sometimes, is worth their time.
We do this by giving rewards and praising the right choice. It can even be as simple as verbal praise. This is something that, although sometimes hard to remember, is imperative to encouraging right behavior. It seems with any phase of parenting it is easy to constantly be saying “no” or redirecting. I have to catch myself and make sure that I am going crazy with praise when my children listen or make a good choice….yes, sometimes a happy dance is involved! It is important to get in the habit of praising the right choice, otherwise it is easy to get in the mentality of just expecting good behavior and not rewarding or praising it.
Visit parentingonpurpose.org for more advice from Dr. Bob Barnes and Torrey Roberts.