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Would you prefer your child was smart or good?

Two brother with their arms around each other at the beach at sunsetSurely, it’s silly question – the answer is ‘both’. But what if you couldn’t have both? What if you could have a child who was good, but not particularly smart, or smart but not particularly good?

Thinking music …

If you said ‘smart’, stop reading now. This article isn’t for you.  But if you eventually said ‘good’,  then that may possibly create a bit of a seismic shift in how you see some parts of your child’s future.

All of those flash cards, toddler extension games and brain extension activity – what if the concepts of sharing and playing nicely trumped them every time? All of those schools you were looking at sending your child to … what if their social service and pastoral care suddenly became just as, or more, important than their NAPLAN results or gifted programmes?

And what if all of those nagging statements said for the 500th time – ‘take turns with your sister’, ‘share that game’- were not just a way of keeping the peace, but the moral foundation of the child for the rest of his or her life.

Of course parents have been instrumental in raising moral and wonderful children for thousands of years. As a parent of a primary school aged children myself, I’m doing my best down there in the trenches with a wholly standard list of successes and failures to my name.

But some big questions in raising ethical children are ‘How much can their little minds cope with?’ ‘When do they start to get a sense of right and wrong?’ ‘how explicit should I make the fact that I am talking about fair and unfair?’ ‘can they reason their way through anything much?’.

One or two of my own observations.

  • Firstly, Piaget and the other educational theorists in the first half of the century got it wrong when they said that children could only reason abstractly after they turned about 12, and that before this all of their thinking is concrete. Children can start reasoning abstractly from a very young age. It comes in like the tide, but evidence of it is there from just a few years old. You can jump in and help develop this by talking about things might be ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ or just plain difficult from very young.
  • Secondly, parents can show their reasons in their statements to children quite easily. Instead of saying ‘Share with your sister’, a parent can say ‘share with your sister, because you like her to share with you sometimes’ (reciprocity) or ‘share with your sister because sharing is an important thing that we do in this house’ (value clarification). Any other number of statements can also be made. Longer conversations can also be had about what values are important in families – and it is good for kids to see the reasons made clear. This does not mean that endless talking and negotiation should replace firm parental action – just that children should have a chance to hear the values structures that underpins decisions.

But this is just a start. Over to you …

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One comment so far -

  1. Thanks for this post!

    I’ve been reading a parenting book that touches on some of the points you mentioned. Particularly the one on “giving the moral reason why” they should/should not do something. If they are not made to understand the reason why they are being corrected, kids might just file the issue as something situational… e.g. I must not do this when someone is looking, or do it/not do it simply to avoid punishment.

    It was good to read your post to reiterate this again for myself.



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