As I mentioned earlier, my wife and I wanted our children to grow up with good values. I was surprised at how little I really knew about how a child learned values. There were books on parenting, but very little that was specific to teaching values. The following is information that I wished I had had when we began our parenting career.
General Characteristics of Children
Because of their age and level of cognitive development, young children think of themselves as the center of the universe. This does not mean that young children have a moral problem which makes them more selfish than older people. Indeed, many young children freely share and help others who are hurt. Yet, because of their developmental level, most young children have a “world view” that perceives other people and things to have meaning only in relationship to the children themselves. As a result, their concepts of time and space are limited to that of their own experience and they are often unable to truly perceive the needs of others.
Moral behavior in young children consists of learned, concrete patterns of behavior that are followed in order to receive rewards, avoid punishment, or satisfy an authority figure. Young children are emotionally attached to parents and teachers. Therefore, they are usually willing to do what adults ask them to do and to believe anything adults say… unless adults have shown themselves to be untrustworthy or children are asserting their independence!
Youngsters have difficulty in distinguishing between reality and fantasy. They believe, “If I think so.” They are not detached thinkers; they cannot think about thinking. They use and understand language only in concrete terms. They do not understand metaphors, symbols, or abstract ideas. They take people literally.
- BOUND BY SENSORY PERCEPTIONS
Young Children deal only with that which they experience perceptually, that is, through their senses. And they focus on just one aspect of a situation at a time. For example, when they see someone put on a mask, their visual perception tells them that the person has actually changed into something else. When they see a glass of water poured into several glasses, their perception tells them that there must now be more water because there are more glasses.
- CONTROLLED BY THEIR IMPULSES
We may be able to have children state “the rules,” but find that many of them are unable to convert the “knowing” into “doing” what is expected. Young children are unable to exert the control necessary to deny their strong inner impulses.