Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Black and White

A few years ago I was waiting for a bus.  There was a man standing beside me smoking a cigarette. A little kid, probably about three or four years old, walked by with his mom.  The child stopped, pointed at the man and said, "Mommy that man is smoking.  He is a bad man.  Smoking is bad for you and smells bad, yuck."  The mom was embarrassed and launched into an explanation about how smoking is bad for your health but that it doesn't necessarily make you a bad person.  The mom apologized to the smoking man and quickly dragged her child away.  The smoking man shrugged, smiled and took another puff.  This was the first time that I really noticed the black and white nature of toddlers/pre-schoolers and I found it fascinating.

On a slight tangent, a couple of weeks ago at Jack's speech appointment, we were talking about turn taking and how Molly and Jack (mostly Molly) are obsessed with whose turn it is to choose a movie  to watch.  The assessor stated that three years and two months is the "peak" of turn taking as a focus in a toddler's life.  This is another facet of toddler development that I find really intriguing.

Back to right and wrong.  My kids, like many three year olds, watch a lot of cartoon movies.  All of a sudden they are providing moral commentary on the films they are enjoying and it's neat because they've never done anything like that before.


Scar - Image courtesy of Wikipedia


"Scar is a bad uncle." Commentary from Jack on The Lion King.

"Malicent (Maleficent) is evil." Commentary from Molly on Sleeping Beauty.

"Tai Lung is a bad kitty." Commentary from Jack on Kung Fu Panda.

Jean Piaget was a Swiss developmental psychologist and a pioneer in the exploration of the thought processes behind children’s moral development. "According to Piaget, preschoolers are in a stage called Morality of Constraint. In this stage, children tend to think of right and wrong in black and white terms. That is, an act is always right or always wrong. There are no shades of gray and there is no room to negotiate. People are good people or people are bad. Good guys are always good and bad guys are always bad." explains an article in Early Childhood News.  Essentially this means, as pre-schoolers the minions think of right and wrong in terms of absolutes, how much physical damage was done, whether or not an act will result in punishment and the impact it has on their lives.

Tai Lung - Image courtesy of Kung Fu Panda Wiki

My big question is what can we do to help them develop their moral compass beyond shaming the smoking man at a bus stop.

Here are some of my favourite take-aways I learned in my research on how to help your child develop and flex their moral muscles:


  1. Deal with problems by talking it out and lead your child to consider other peoples thoughts and feelings.
  2. Allow your child to have free time so they can explore and problem solve independently when facing moral conflict.
  3. Discuss moral dilemmas.  During Kung Fu Panda, Master Shifu says that it's his fault that Tai Lung essentially turned bad.  When Molly informed me that "He was a bad daddy to the kitty" this was the perfect spot for a discussion surrounding grey areas and people trying their best to do what is right. 
  4. Encourage role play to have your children consider the perspectives of others.
  5. Praise your children when they put the needs of others ahead of their own.


Random Note: Why are there so many cats who are bad guys in childrens movies?  Cat lovers everywhere want to know!

To see eight life lessons Walt Disney taught me click here


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