Raising moral children, part 1: The power of stories

helpful big brother

Contrary to what is being shown in the picture above, cogsci-toddler is not very moral these days. His favorite food game is taking food away from people. He wants you to share with him even though he is unwilling to share. He lets out a scream of frustration when he sees someone else playing with his preferred toy of the moment. His one saving grace these days is his spontaneous propensity to say, “Thank you!” with great enthusiasm.

So in my search to raise a less immoral child, I ran across this finding. Kids (3-7 yrs old) are more willing to tell the truth when told a story about being praised for admitting to a lie (e.g., the apocryphal story of George Washington and the cherry tree) than when told a story about being punished for telling lies (e.g., Pinocchio or boy who cried wolf).

Practically though, most of the library books we have aren’t really moral tales… One of our recent favorites is Chu’s Day by Neil Gaiman where bad things happen when Chu sneezes… and (spoiler alert!) although there are a few false alarms, in the end Chu sneezes and creates a huge mess. He simply says, “Oops!” and the final scene is Chu being tucked into bed. There’s no mention of whether he or his family takes any responsibility for cleaning up! Is he taking future precautions against sneezing? What is a kid supposed to learn from this?!?

Here’s what cogsci-toddler learned: whenever Mo hears someone say “oops” he cries, “Chu’s day!” So goes my attempts to raise a moral child. Sigh.

 

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One thought on “Raising moral children, part 1: The power of stories

  1. treevalley says:

    haha! im with you mama!

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