February 26, 2004
Five Steps to an Ethical-Action Child
Everything teaches something. Here are five ways to help your children develop an ethical-action consciousness in their everyday lives.
First, be an ethical-action cheerleader and acknowledge your children's positive behavior. Few learning experiences are as effective as being caught in the act of doing something right. One of the most important things you can do is to simply make sure that your children know that you notice their ethical behavior.
Look for opportunities to acknowledge their ethical decisions and praise them for good moral judgments. When a child offers to help a younger sibling with homework or spontaneously does a favor for someone without expecting anything in return, that child deserves recognition for behavior that reflects good character and values.
Second, reinforce integrity. Every day is filled with opportunities to teach lessons in integrity and trust. Begin by giving children small, easily managed tasks, such as carrying silverware to the dinner table or putting laundry away, and then let the chores become increasingly complex as they grow older.
Every time your child completes an assigned task, tell her how proud you are that she can be trusted to keep her word and follow through on her commitments. This creates a link between integrity, trustworthiness and earning the respect and admiration of loved ones.
Third, use your children's heroes as teaching examples. Integrity is one of the main ingredients of which children's media heroes are made -- and so, for that matter, are courage, honor, altruism and other positive ethical values. One good way to begin instilling these values is to bring their attention to the way they are expressed by Batman, Superman or other heroes from cartoons, TV and movies.
Any time these heroes act in a way you want your child to emulate can become a teaching moment.
A simple comment like, "What I like most about Steven Seagal's movies is that he always helps people in need," or "Isn't it neat how in all the Batman movies he will do just about anything to help the people who need it the most?" will get them thinking in the right direction.
Fourth, find teachable moments in popular culture. Helping your children identify the negative messages they encounter in song lyrics or on TV will to some degree help mitigate the negative effect of the messages themselves. For example, you might ask your children to share with you the words to some of their favorite rock songs, then ask them what they think your impression might be and why. Their answers will reveal much about their attitudes toward the values you think are important, and about how effective you have been in instilling these values in them.
Fifth, nurture your child's awareness of self. To lead an ethical life, children must be taught the skill of stepping away emotionally from their actions, looking at them objectively and making intelligent choices about whether or not they want to repeat them in the future.
Most children act without examining what they are doing. Teaching them the skill of self-examination and reflection is one of the greatest gifts you can give.
This article originally appeared at jewishfamily.com.
Steven Carr Reuben is senior rabbi at Kehillath Israel in Pacific Palisades.