Moral precept #3: Know the why of moral training

In my last post, I talked 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 virtue.

But beyond leading by example and telling our children what behaviors we expect, we must teach them the reasons behind our moral values.

“Many children know how to apply moral law but not as many know why it’s correct. Knowing how to do right and why they should do it are two distinct entities,” (On Becoming Childwise, p. 79).

You certainly want your children to exhibit character traits in their behavior, but if they are going to be able to apply these same character traits in different scenarios, they must know the reason why.

Imagine that for years you have told your child to share his toys with his friends. Every time he is at a play date, you are there to tell him what and when to share. You never explain to him why he must share. A couple years later, he enters Kindergarten and is at school for several hours a day without you. Will he know to share with his classmates without you there to tell him to do so?

“Often children are taught what they should not do (e.g., do not steal) or should do (e.g., share your toys with your sister). However, parents in our society consistently fail to teach the moral or practical why of behavior. This results in children who are outwardly moral but not inwardly. They know how to respond in different circumstances because they have been trained, but they cannot adapt to unforeseen situations because they do not grasp the underlying moral principle,” (On Becoming Childwise, p. 80).

This point is so important that the Ezzos made it one of the main Childwise principles:

Childwise Principle #7: It is not enough to teach your children how to act morally; they must learn how to think morally.

By the time your child is three years old, every instruction that is tied to a moral behavior should include the moral explanation.