This week is about moral development and talking with kids about right and wrong. With a 2-year-old at home, we are constantly talking about obedience (and not obeying mommy & daddy…) – why it is important and what happens when my daughter does not obey. So, this week, I pulled together some ideas for how to talk about these issues in a toddler-sized way, complete with songs and activities!
Moral development (or social development/social evaluation) is a really interesting area of research with infants since they are “fresh” from the womb – almost like “blank slates.” Very young infants haven’t really been socialized yet, so finding out what they seem to think about right and wrong is like finding out how humans start, before they’ve been “written on.” Studying infants is a way to study human nature, before cultural or societal influence has had too much time to influence thoughts. Some research in this area seems to prove babies as young as 6 months (and this is a dated study, I think they’ve found similar results with 3-month-olds since then) not only know the difference between good (helpful) and bad (hurtful), but they also prefer a “good” character over a “bad” one. This has gotten a lot of attention in the press – Smithsonian and New York Times. (I haven’t watched it yet, but the baby lab series, episode 1 in particular, on CNN sounds interesting as well.) In a particular body of research, babies were shown a puppet show/video where a triangle shape was trying to get up a hill, then a circle character helped him up the hill or a square character pushed him down the hill. After watching this event multiple times, babies, at 6 months and 10 months, were given a choice between the “helpful” shape or the “hindering” shape. Babies at both 6 and 10 months overwhelmingly chose the “helper” over the “hinderer.” Thus, as young as 6 months, humans know and prefer a “nice” guy over a “mean” guy. Of course, anyone with a toddler knows the guilty look a young child gives as they touch something they were just told not to touch or just hovers close by…Kids may know about the right thing to do but that doesn’t mean they do it! This is why it is important to talk with kids about how we love them no matter what they may do, because we know they are going to make bad choices sometimes. Research shows that they know and prefer good/nice over bad from a very early age, so keeping communication open with them about morals and making right and wrong choices is imperative. This is also where the truths of redemption are important – that we all do bad things sometimes, but God knows this about us and loves us anyway (Romans 3:23, Romans 5:8). Our failures are why He sent His son, Jesus, to die on the cross and take the punishment for our sins (John 3:16). When we believe, He forgives everything and washes our hearts clean; He has good plans for us (1 John 1:9, Romans 10:9, Ephesians 2:8-10).
Furthermore, choosing our words carefully promotes self-efficacy, or instilling a sense that they can make their own way through their own choices, as opposed to learned helplessness. Educators promote labeling of behaviors, not people; when a kid messes up, we should say that was a bad choice, not a bad girl or boy. When they do well or succeed in something, we should praise the actions or their effort but not label them as a “good kid.” This reminds them that they can do better another time when they fail at first and encourages “trying again.”
Craft/Activity #1: paper plate shark by houseofburke
supplies: paper plate, scissors, glue or tape, paper scrap to be cut as teeth, something to draw with (e.g. crayons)
This craft is really easy and fast and can be given as much creative character as you want, as shown by the samples in the photo from our class’s creations! We started by cutting a triangle/pie slice out of the paper plate, to be glued on as the tail, with the cutout serving as the shark’s mouth. Then, we cut teeth from some white paper and glued to the inside of the mouth cutout. Lastly, we decorated our sharks with eyes and whatever else we came up with – my daughter and I just stuck to crayon markings, but some of the other class members got artistic with extra fins and drawn-on eyelashes, lipstick, etc.
Craft/Activity #2: Jonah inside the fish with Crayons
supplies: crayons, paper, and something with a sharp-ish point
For another easy activity that can be exciting for young preschoolers, I went back to an old favorite. First, just help your child use crayons to scribble on some paper, then draw a black (or another color might work) fish on top of the previous coloring. Draw the black fish by pushing hard with the crayon and making a thick layer of crayon wax. Then, you can add ocean-looking drawings around the fish, e.g. waves. Finally, using the point from scissors or a pen/pencil, scrape out the shape of a man (Jonah) inside the “belly” of the fish!
Jonah and the Big Fish, found in the Bible, Jonah chapters 1 & 2
The way I talked with Pen Elaine about this story included how Jonah disobeyed and so God had to punish him, but He sent the storm out of love and was still there, taking care of Jonah. He sent the big fish to swallow Jonah and rescue him from sinking in the water, so that God could talk with Jonah and let Jonah have the chance to still obey and do good things since God had a plan for Ninevah and for Jonah. God loved Jonah no matter what, just as God still loved the people of Ninevah even though they were doing bad things. God was going to punish the people of Ninevah, but He wanted to give them the chance to say they were sorry and stop doing bad things. When Pen Elaine disobeys, I have to punish her because I am trying to teach her and keep her safe, and I love her always, no matter what she does. Plus, I want her to be able to choose and do good things, just like God wanted to use Jonah for good.