Learning to be honest is a long-term process, and it is just the beginning at age six. The child has lessons to learn as he/she struggles with wishful thinking and the desire to change the world to be the way he would like it to be. Imagination and fantasy are important at three and four – even at five – for enlarging a child’s world. As he tries to bring about his/her dreams he uses make-believe, even lying and stealing if he must.
How does a child learn that lying and stealing are not acceptable? What will motivate him to comply? He will learn most from modeling on his parents’ morals and from their values, and his reward will be their approval and the thrill of being just like them. Meanwhile, parents feel great pressure to help their children take these important steps in their moral development. To help us, Kohlberg has given us six stages of moral development:
1. Avoiding punishment: “I won’t lie or steal because I might get into trouble”; or, “My parents tell me I can’t lie, and they’ll be angry if I do.”
2. Doing right for self-serving reasons: “You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.”
3. Pleasing others and fitting in: “I didn’t mean to do it” means a child knows what he should have done.
4. Doing one’s duty: “Rules are rules. Everyone has to follow them.”
5. Reaching consensus: “We can agree on rules that serve us all, and we can stick to them.”
6. Acting on principles to satisfy one’s own conscience.
The development of morality is a long-term process, and many adults continue to grapple with it even in adulthood. Most child development specialists believe that the majority of growth in this area occurs between the ages of six and twelve; however, many believe that growth continues into adolescence and even young adulthood.
A parent who says, “I love you, but I don’t like to hear you lie,” is still facing the child with the responsibility for having lied while implying that the child can do better. This is a good parental response.
Marilee Hartling, RN, MFT