An entire box of cookies was missing. Three boys were in the house. Three boys denied eating them. Somebody wasn't 'fessing up.
After some sleuthing, Mom pretty much had Scotty, the youngest, pegged. But Scotty persisted in denials?until Mom threatened to punish all three boys. Then Scotty's guilty conscience couldn't take it anymore. He confessed.
What's happening here? Now that Scotty is older, his ability to govern himself is beginning to take shape. He's still concerned with punishment or reward, yet he's beginning to criticize himself for thoughts or behaviors that others may not be aware of. These are prime conscience-building years.
But as any parent knows, children within the same family vary widely in their moral sensitivity. One child crumbles at the thought of doing wrong, while another won't flinch when con-fronted with stacks of incriminating evidence.
How can we cultivate a healthy sense of right and wrong in our grade schoolers?
Establish a pattern in your home of openness, accountability and forgiveness. Admit your own mistakes quickly. Ask for forgiveness when you've wronged someone. Also, watch your reaction when your kids blow it. Why should your daughter admit she dropped your calculator in the toilet if she knows she'll be screamed at?
If you know your child has done something wrong, confront him with what you know?and hold him accountable. Don't manipulate, even if it takes time for him to come around. If you want your child's moral grid to have straight lines, you have to be willing to hold the line.
Put wrongs in the context of how they hurt people. Your grade schooler is becoming more aware of the needs and feelings of others (and also of long-term consequences instead of just the immediate payoff). You might point out that unconfessed sin also hurts our relationship with God. God sees everything, even if parents don't. A great verse in these situations is 1 Timothy 1:5?"The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith."
Cushion discipline with affirmation. You're trying to nurture a conscience, not win a battle. This happens best when your child knows her actions won't affect your unconditional love for her.
Walk your child through a process of restitution. If he stole something, make sure he returns it. If he lied, expect him to apologize. Taking responsibility for actions isn't pleasant, but it's a big step toward maturity. Dealing with the consequences of wrong choices will teach a child more than any lecture from you.
Remember to point out the good news. Forgiveness is as necessary for humans as soap and water?and who knows this better than parents? When we make things right, we get to experience the load-lifting joy that accompanies a clean conscience.
Freelance writer, educator and mother
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