Moral precept #1: Teach the way of virtue

In my next few posts, I will outline the moral precepts offered in On Becoming Childwise and explain the practical implementation of each.

Do you spend more time suppressing bad behavior and not enough time encouraging good behavior? Listen to yourself throughout the day. Do you sound like this:

  • Don’t touch the TV.
  • Don’t walk away from Mommy.
  • Stop! Don’t run into the parking lot.
  • Don’t hold the kitty that way.

Or do you sound like this:

  • Play with your toys, not the TV.
  • Stay close to Mommy, please.
  • Put your hand on the car in the parking lot.
  • Hold the kitty gently like this.

Do you see the difference? In the first set of bullets above, we are focusing on correcting bad behaviors. In the second example, we are showing better alternatives. As the Ezzos say, “Teach the way of virtue; not just the avoidance of wrong,” (On Becoming Childwise, pg. 77).

This all sounds well and good, but why must we do so? There’s one very important reason:

“Because so much emphasis is placed on which behaviors to avoid and too little on which ones to pursue, the path to virtuous deeds is left undefined for the child. If all you do is describe bad behavior, then the only thing your child has a mental image of is bad behavior,” (On Becoming Childwise, p. 77).

We must teach our children the positive behavior we want to see from them!

And even better than simply phrasing your instructions with an emphasis on the positive is to give the child the moral or practical reason why. Going back to our examples above, you would say:

  • Play with your toys, not the TV. The TV is fragile and we would be very sad if it broke.
  • Stay close to Mommy please. I don’t want to lose you.
  • Put your hand on the car in the parking lot. There are a lot of cars driving by who might not see you. You don’t want to get hurt!
  • Hold the kitty gently like this. Doesn’t the kitty seem happier when you are more gentle with her?

Keep these points in mind to help build your child’s character and help him reach moral maturity. More on this in my next few posts!


  1. Interesting post. I’m most interested in the part at the end, about giving reasons. I’ve recently been reading Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne and he actually recommends not giving reasons and that young children should do what you say simply because you say so. He says that cause and effect is a concept not fully developed in kids this age and so they need to do it for the sole reason that the parent is the authority. I thought it sounded pretty inline with Ezzo, but maybe not.

    I still give reasons and explanations all the time, habits are hard to break, but my kids are older anyway, so maybe it’s appropriate.

  2. I have more on this in upcoming posts, but the idea is that you want to fill their “moral warehouse” as the Ezzos call it so they are able to apply your moral teachings to any situation. Yes, you want them to obey your word when you tell them to share with friends, but they need to know why they should share with friends. When they reach school age, they need to be able to apply your teachings when you’re not there to tell them what to do.

    The other reason is that you don’t want to be barking orders at them without a simple explanation as to why. Rather than saying, “Go get your socks,” I’ll say, “It’s time to leave; go get your socks.” It softens my instruction.

    The only caveat to all of this is when a child wants to know the reason why because they are questioning your authority or your right to tell them what to do. In that case, I wouldn’t give an explanation.

  3. Growing Kids God’s Way suggests telling children the moral reason why (really it is the Biblical reason why) starting around age 3. However, Mr. Ezzo as well as the Links in their Moms’ Notes also explain the vital importance of first time obedience-meaning that children need not be convinced of the moral reason why PRIOR to obeying. Children should not only obey AFTER they understand why-they need to obey because God commands that children obey their parents. Instilling those Biblical principles into their hearts as the Ezzos suggests is key. When they sin, they are not only sinning against mom and dad, but against God.

  4. you’ve read my blog at all, it’s likely you utanrsnded the value of training a child in first-time obedience (FTO). First-time obedience is a phrase commonly heard in Ezzo parenting circles. It means that a


  1. […] about how parents must lead by example when showing their children the way of moral maturity. In this post, I explained how we must use positive words when teaching the way of […]

  2. […] Moral precept #1: Teach the way of virtue, not just the avoidance of wrong […]

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