One of our most important roles as parents is to help our children form a “good conscience.” Having a “good conscience” — among other things — is vital to one’s life because, as American founding father Thomas Jefferson put it:
“Our greatest happiness does not depend on the condition of life in which chance has placed us, but is always the result of a good conscience, good health, occupation, and freedom in all just pursuits.”
In other words, having a “good conscience” will help us gain happiness in life — and the same applies to our children.
What does having a “conscience” actually mean?
Anne Jayme Roblas, who was a Values Education teacher and guidance counselor before becoming a fulltime missionary, says the word “conscience” can actually be translated “in different ways through actions and personal goals.”
“For example: I am kind, I will be kind to others and I will respond with kindness,” she expounds.
Roblas further states that she is “convinced” that even a child as young as 12 months “can grasp and develop a ‘conscience.’”
She also lists the following points that indicate a child having a “conscience”:
1. The child is compassionate.
2. The child is able to make decisions freely, and can communicate or reason why he or she came up with that decision — meaning he or she somehow has an understanding of why he or she made that choice.
3. The child is able to reflect on his or her actions.
4. The child has a willingness to listen.
5. The child is open to correction and able to amend his or her ways to be better.
Bearing this in mind then, Roblas emphasizes that helping a child form a conscience “really takes practice.”
“It all starts with an action habitually done that builds up the character of the child,” she says.
Conscience “milestones” per age and stage Roblas suggests making use of or reinforcing certain milestones per stage of a child’s development.
Ages 10 to 12 months “At 10-12 months old, the parents are the child’s central figure. Children are also able to understand what you mean when you say ‘no,’” Roblas says. Here are tips for helping your child at this stage:
Be consistent and clear. Let your ‘no’ mean ‘no.’
And, set a good example.
Make sure that you, as an adult, also follow rules, behave, talk and respond well to others.
“Children at this stage can already ‘obey’ commands, and are also able to repeat and imitate actions,” Roblas explains. “Parents and significant people around the child play a big factor in their lives —- the way we behave, talk, and respond to events and situations is influential in their growth years.”
Ages 2 to 3 years “At 2 to 3 years old, we can observe what kids are passionate about —- be it music, an activity or a toy,” Roblas shares. “They continue to copy their parents’ actions and imitate other people’s mannerisms. They can also decipher or understand facial cues and expressions.”
Below are suggestions on how you can help reinforce good behavior in your kids, thus, helping them form their conscience:
1. Provide positive reinforcement. “This is the best time to reinforce good behavior by looking at children in the eyes whenever they do good or do an act of kindness,” Roblas explains.
2. Talk about their actions and consequences. “Talking to children until they understand the consequences of any unkind actions will be more effective compared to just hitting/spanking them,” Roblas emphasizes. “If they can already respond or speak, find time to talk and walk through their actions, and get the reasons behind them.”
Roblas hopes that parents will remember that aggressive behavior is often just the effect or outcome of “unheard frustrations” in our kids — they “act up” when they feel that they’re “not being heard or loved.”
Ages 4 to 5 years According to Roblas, children who are 4 to 5 years old still imitate their parents “although they are already open to social cues.”
“They are also into cooperative play which can lead to competitiveness,” she adds.
At this stage, parents can help their children be more conscientious by:
1. Assigning age-appropriate tasks. For example: packing their things away after playtime, helping switch off the lights or TV after use, etc.
2. Teaching them to be kind. “Show them how to relate with others, and reinforce the use of ‘I’m sorry,’ ‘Thank you,’ and ‘Please,’” suggests Roblas.
To conclude, Roblas wishes to remind parents and other caregivers of children that a major part of forming their conscience lies in “being there” for them.
“Listening and talking to them; understanding them; reminding them of what is right –- these will make them feel that we love them and care for them,” she emphasizes.
Roblas also adds that talking to children in the morning “gives them motivation to do good and be kind.” She also recommends leading children in their nightly prayers – “help them pray for the people they have hurt and ask for guidance to be kinder to others the next day.”
Ultimately, teaching our children and raising them to have a conscience may be challenging but it can be done – especially if we “walk the talk” ourselves. As German writer Jean Paul once wrote, “The conscience of children is formed by the influences that surround them; their notions of good and evil are the result of the moral atmosphere they breathe.” May we parents, then, strive to always provide the right “moral atmosphere” for our children.