Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Moral Education for Children

"Trying to make children behave ethically by teaching them to reason well is like trying to make a dog happy by wagging its tail." Jonathan Haidt

Jean Piaget hypothesized that children's moral development accompanied growth in cognitive development. Kohlberg studied the answers children and adults gave to moral dilemmas. Unfortunately, reasoning well does not guarantee that a person will act well.

Moral arguments often make sense but often fail to influence behavior. As many from the apostle Paul to Ben Franklin learned. We may try to do the right or virtuous thing but it isn't easy. We are frequently driven by our passions, our desires, to respond to that which feels good in the moment.

Role models teach moral values.
Clearly parents ought to have a moral compass and communicate their family values to their children. Experience, supported by research, teaches us that children and adults learn so much more from role models than from learning rules. Role models are effective educators, but they may not always teach our moral values. Thus, it is critical for parents to provide positive role models early in life when they have a measure of control over what their children read, see, and hear.

Experience teaches moral values.
Rules matter as do the positive and negative consequences attached to rules. Children often learn what's right and wrong by experiencing the consequences for their behavior, whether those consequences are rewarding or unpleasant. Like adults, children learn from experience.

Practice, practice, and more practice teaches the habits that provide the foundation for moral behavior.
Children and adults learn to automatically act morally when they have learned a habitual way of responding to common life situations. It takes time and practice to walk away from temptations and remain focused on one's values. Habits can be learned from role models and consequences, but to create a strong habit requires practice. Truth telling and lying can be one-off events but they can also become a habit pattern.

Buy Discipline with Respect on Amazon


   My Page
   FACEBOOK   Geoff W. Sutton
   TWITTER  @Geoff.W.Sutton

Publications (many free downloads)
  Academia   Geoff W Sutton   (PhD)     
  ResearchGate   Geoffrey W Sutton   (PhD)

A Related Post

11 Principles for Parenting

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Is Time-Out bad for children?

Time-Out has been used by parents and educators for decades. However, the effective procedure has gotten a bad reputation online.

What does the evidence say about time-out? 

Rachel M. Knight and her team of researchers (2019) looked at long-term data that tracked children from Early Head Start with assessments at three time periods: Age 0 - 3 years, prekindergarten, and fifth grade. The measures examined emotional and behavioral functioning as well as parent-child relationships.

What were the results? 

"Analyses for all outcome variables suggest no significant difference for children whose parents reported using time-out versus those who did not."

And their conclusion?

"Parental reported use of time-out was not associated with long-term negative outcomes. Further research in this area is necessary to continue to address the multitude of concerns related to time-out that are presented by the media."

Journal Link Online (published 11 September 2019 online before the print version)


Learn more about evidence-based discipline in Discipline with Respect. Included with Kindle Unlimited at AMAZON.

You can read a press release with quotes from other clinicians at this BBC link.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Parenting Styles and Parenting with Authority

Diana Baumrind is the scientist whose classic work on parenting styles is highly cited (e.g., 1971). In a series of studies, Baumrind examined the way parents interacted with their boys and girls. Based on analyses of the data, she identified four patterns of parental authority, which have become known as parenting styles. In 2013, Baumrind clarified the parenting constructs.

Many experts recommend the Authoritative Parenting Style, but not all promoters of the style focus on the evidence-based construct as Baumrind defined them.

Authoritative parenting is derived from a pair of patterns representing demandingness and responsiveness. Baumrind explains that authoritative parenting is based on the concept of authority. Theoretically, parents have the relevant knowledge and the capacity to protect their children. On this assumption, they have the legitimate right to use power to guide their children’s behavior. Authoritative parents confront their children and do not permit defiance, but they also support their children’s autonomy and respond to reason.

When administering discipline, authoritative parents focus on the issue rather than simple obedience. They are affectionate and they assert their power. They are high on both control and love. Although they have firm rules, authoritative parents are willing to negotiate when a child makes a reasonable case for a different course of action.

Advertisement. Learn more about respectful parenting in Discipline with Respect.


Baumrind clarifies some differences in the following quote.

Thus, the authoritative prototype is antithetical both to the permissive prototype characterized by few rules or demands and to the authoritarian prototype characterized by coercive and functionally superfluous control (Baumrind, 1966). Misunderstanding of parental authority and of the authoritative construct is fostered when parental control and love are represented as opposite ends of the same continuum rather than as two independent dimensions (Baumrind, 2013, p. 13).

Permissive parenting is a pattern that encourages a child’s autonomy. These parents are widely accepting and low on behavioral control. They are high on unconditional acceptance and love. The permissive parenting style includes a child input into family decisions as if they had an equal vote to that of their parents.

Authoritarian parenting involves controlling a child’s behavior with firm limits as does the authoritative style, but authoritarian parenting involves coercion, which we may call psychological control. Coercive strategies are intrusive, fail to consider reasonable alternatives or limits, and level children feeling uncomfortably manipulated as if they had no say in their life choices. When administering discipline following misbehavior, authoritarian parents focus on obedience rather than family values and goals.

Disengaged parenting has also been called rejecting-neglecting parenting. These parents are low on controlling their children’s behavior and interpersonally rejecting. 

Advertisement. Learn more about respectful parenting in Discipline with Respect.



Baumrind, D. (2013). Authoritative parenting revisited: History and current status. In Authoritative parenting: Synthesizing nurturance and discipline for optimal child development. (Pp. 11–34). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Baumrind, D. (1971). Current patterns of parental authority. Developmental Psychology, 4 (1, Pt.2), 1–103.

Baumrind, D. (1966). Effects of authoritative parental control on child behavior. Child Development, 37, 887–907. doi:10.2307/1126611


My Page

My Books  

 Geoff W. Sutton

TWITTER  @Geoff.W.Sutton

LinkedIN Geoffrey Sutton  PhD

Publications (many free downloads)
  Academia   Geoff W Sutton   (PhD)
  ResearchGate   Geoffrey W Sutton   (PhD)

Monday, January 21, 2019


Robert Horton (2011) wrote about sources of child narcissism and asks a question, “Are parents to blame?”

There is little doubt that narcissism has been a hot topic in psychology and the popular press. People are quick to identify unpopular leaders as narcissists. Indeed, when several narcissistic traits are present, life can be tough for narcissists and those who live or work with them.

Narcissism is a personality trait, which describes a pattern of behavior focused on bolstering feelings of self-worth. High levels of narcissism are recognized by belief statements of superiority and entitlement to special treatment. Anger is a common emotional state in response to challenges to grandiose self-beliefs. Observers see narcissistic behavior patterns such as “showing off” and seeking attention.

The focus of concern with narcissism is when high levels of the trait interfere with the person’s interpersonal and intrapersonal functioning. Common concerns include the narcissist's limited concern for others’ feelings, low interest in others’ concerns and welfare, and excessive manipulation of others for personal gain.

It is important to recognize extremes because average people can show narcissistic behavior patterns under stressful conditions. For example, it is hard to be concerned for others when ill or under a threat. Also, all human beings manipulate others to a certain degree. That is, when humans interact, we influence each other. Most of us naturally act out of self-interest even when we are not fully aware of our actions. But this natural self-interest is not like the extreme seen in narcissists.

Not all aspects of narcissism are maladaptive. For example, some level of high self-esteem can be helpful, especially compared to low self-esteem, which is linked to depression, anxiety, and loneliness.

Genetic studies find a heritability ratio of about .50 to .60 for narcissism. It appears that some 40% of the features of narcissism are linked to environmental factors. Scores on a test of narcissism (NPI: Narcissistic Personality Inventory) have increased among college students in the past three decades.

There are different theories predicting the role of parenting in the development of child narcissism. Some research is available. According to Horton, several studies have found significant associations between parental indulgence and the adaptive and maladaptive subtraits of narcissism.

Here are just a few of the research findings cited by Horton (2011):

  • Permissive parenting links to maladaptive narcissism.
  • Parental overvaluation of their children was linked to adaptive and maladaptive narcissism.
  • Parental warmth links to both adaptive and maladaptive narcissism.
  • Psychological control of children is linked to maladaptive narcissism.

Ad. Various programs promote healthy parenting and discipline. Consider Discipline with Respect available from AMAZON


Horton’s catchy question about blame and parents cannot be answered.

Despite some links between the components of parenting styles and narcissism, we cannot make bold claims about the relationship between parents and the development of child narcissism until more rigorous studies are conducted.

Fortunately, Horton, drawing on Pinker (2002), describes what needs to be done. For example, studies need to be done on twins reared by the same and different parents. We need studies that follow parents and their children through childhood. We also need to study the important direction of any link between parenting and a child’s narcissistic behavior. For example: Do parents change their parenting style to adapt to the behavior of a child?


Narcissism is one of the three personality traits in the Toxic or Dark Triad: Narcissism, Machiavellianism, and Psychopathology measured on The Dirty Dozen Scale.


Read Horton’s 2011 summary for more details.

Horton, R. S. (2011). On environmental sources of child narcissism: Are parents really to blame? In C. T. Barry, P. K. Kerig, K. K. Stellwagen, & T. D. Barry (Eds.), Narcissism and Machiavellianism in youth: Implications for the development of adaptive and maladaptive behavior. (pp. 125–143). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Pinker, S. (2002). The blank slate: The modern denial of human nature. New York, NY: Penguin Books.

Parent Concerns Survey Results

In 2017, the Mott Poll surveyed American parents of children ages 0 to 18. The purpose of the survey was to discover their health concerns.

The parents were very concerned about bullying, cyberbullying, internet safety, and stress. And they were also highly concerned about motor vehicle accidents and school violence.

Concerns like motor vehicle accidents, bullying, cyberbullying, and internet safety were common across all of the age groups. Parents of young children were very concerned about cancer. Parents of teens showed a greater concern for depression.

You can download the report from the mottpoll for more details.


Learn how to creat your own survey with Creating Surveys  on AMAZON.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Healthy children need sleep. Effective parenting includes helping children get sufficient quality sleep.

Sleep certainly involves physiological processes, but the quality of the parent-child relationship is important to help children fall asleep and experiencing a restful night, according to Annie Bernier and her colleagues.

Should parents be present when bedtime begins? The available research suggests that for children older than 3-months, the presence of parents at bedtime and during the night can interfere with sleep.

What about bedtime routines? Consistent bedtime routines generally lead to better quality sleep.

What about parents in conflict? According to the authors, the research supports a connection between a parent’s psychological difficulties and their children’s sleep difficulties. Most of the studies have focused on links between parent depression and anxiety and children’s sleep. Other studies have found links between marital conflict and a child’s impaired sleep. Some obvious problems can be the noise itself that occurs with late night parental quarrels.

Ad. Effective parenting includes Discipline with Respect - Available on AMAZON and elsewhere.

The point of this post is to raise awareness of the importance of sleep to a child’s well-being and the fact that family environments can promote or interfere with a good night’s sleep.

Parents looking for solutions should of course see their physician but they may also benefit from consulting a psychologist or counselor when personal and family conflict factors may be the source of sleep difficulties.

Disclosure: This post is meant to be educational and is not presented as personal advice. I am not advertising clinical services for myself or anyone else. I earn a small royalty if a reader buys one of my books.


Bernier, A., Bélanger, M.-È., & Tétreault, É. (2019). The hand that rocks the cradle: The family and parenting context of children’s sleep. In B. H. Fiese, M. Celano, K. Deater-Deckard, E. N. Jouriles, & M. A. Whisman (Eds.), APA handbook of contemporary family psychology: Applications and broad impact of family psychology., Vol. 2. (pp. 137–151). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Parent-Child Separation

Parents and children end up being separated for many reasons. Parents die, go away to war for extended times, and have work responsibilities far from home.

Sometimes parents are separated from their children because the parents have broken a law resulting in extended detention in a correctional facility or even deportation if they are an illegal immigrant. Of course, some parent-child bonds are severed by death during natural disasters, wars, and acts of violence.

Sometimes a child is left without a biological parent but is highly attached to a loving family member or other caregiver thus, their separation experience may not be as traumatic as if they had no loving family or other caregiver following the separation.

Children who felt close to the parent they lost may display a range of anxious behavior patterns and sometimes express anger in words and actions. Separation anxiety is common in young children who cling to their parent or other caregiver for security when around strangers or other perceived threats (e.g., barking dogs, loud noises).

But after age three, healthy children usually appear more confident at some distance from their parents. They learn to enjoy friends and adapt to school knowing their parents will be there at the end of the day.

Secure children who have good experiences with grandparents, or other caregivers, can also feel loved and cared for when biological parents are away for extended periods of time. When children feel highly connected to another adult, a parent may feel more anxious than the child due to the separation. Thus, we must also consider the effects of separation on the mother, father, or other primary carer.

Discipline with Respect

Symptoms of Distress

Some children continue to experience significant distress when separated from a close parent regardless of the quality of the new caregiver. Relatives and other foster parents can provide a loving home for children without parents yet the effects of separation will still be felt.

For example, some children express considerable worry of harm to the absent parent, they may avoid sleepovers at friends’ houses, nightmares can include separation themes, and they may refuse to leave home, a place of perceived safety, which can interfere with school attendance.

When children are separated from their parents, they may also experience a range of health concerns like headaches and stomachaches.

When children show high anxiety linked to separation from their parent or other caring adult, they may also experience depression and develop obsessive-compulsive disorder. As you might expect, some separation events are highly traumatic resulting in Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Distressing memories can be set-off by a variety of present experiences that act like a trigger for the separation event. Examples of triggers include the smells of war, a place that looks like the place where they lost a parent, a voice that sounds like the person who caused the trauma or the parent they lost, and other sounds linked to the trauma like sirens, explosions, and even music.

Helping people of any age cope with trauma requires a sensitivity to the full range of human memory components such as visual imagery, words and phrases, smells, feelings, places, and even certain types of touch or other physical contact.

Parenting and Discipline

Discipline with Respect

We should state the obvious that children need loving care to develop into secure and healthy adults. Children can survive unpleasant and even dangerous surroundings when they are loved and nurtured by a trusted adult who either is, or functions as, a parent. The warm embrace of a loving parent serves as a psychological shield during times of stress.

Physical punishment can make matters worse. Children in distress may respond to more structure and clearly defined expectations than other children. Discipline programs will need to include many positive messages and other positive consequences when children demonstrate improvements in behavior.

Keep in mind that spirituality is very important to many families. For example, most Americans are Christian. And most people in the affiliate with a religion. Parenting and discipline ought to consider the child's family values--including those values linked to their faith.

Caregivers will need reminders to avoid taking the harsh words of a distressed child as a personal attack.

Most of us can have a better relationship with children when we listen to their stories. We need not avoid uncomfortable topics but we ought not to push children into talking about disturbing issues until they are ready. Distressed children may need gentle reassurance that uncomfortable feelings are normal. The issue of readiness is also important for counselors and psychotherapist to keep in mind for children and adults who have experienced traumatic separations. Although it is natural to think traumatized children need counseling, they may not be ready to talk about their experiences.

As with any parenting effort, consistency and predictability are helpful. Most children benefit from routine mealtimes and bedtimes. Tell children when changes in routine are needed. Children are not the same. Secure children may thrive in open environments but others thrive when daily activities follow familiar routines as if the structure provides psychological security in an otherwise chaotic world.

Caregivers should make notes of the trauma triggers they observe and seek help as needed to help children learn ways to manage their response to such triggers. Some triggers may result in anger and aggression, which can make parenting difficult. Consulting a professional may help parents brainstorm ways to keep the distressed child and others safe while helping the child find safe ways to express their distress and anger.

When children show symptoms of severe anxiety and related conditions like depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder, then professional consultation may be needed. Treatment can include connecting with loving relatives, developing friendships, providing for basic needs, attending psychotherapy, and in some cases, taking medication. Psychologists and other clinicians can often help caregivers develop a treatment plan.

As needed, seek treatment from experienced clinicians who have experience with children. The ideas in this post may not apply to the needs of specific children or adults and are not intended to replace the advice of psychologists, counselors, social workders, and other professionals.

Resources- Learn More about Anxiety and Related Conditions

Anxiety in Children (APA)
A Kids Guide to Separation (APA)
Anxiety (APA)
Depression (APA)
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Families (APA)
Trauma (APA)
I provide workshops and seminars but no longer provide psychotherapy.


My Page

My Books  

FACEBOOK Like my page 
 Geoff W. Sutton

TWITTER Follow  @Geoff.W.Sutton

LinkedIN Geoffrey Sutton  PhD

Publications (many free downloads)
  Academia   Geoff W Sutton   (PhD)
  ResearchGate   Geoffrey W Sutton   (PhD)

Moral Education for Children

"Trying to make children behave ethically by teaching them to reason well is like trying to make a dog happy by wagging its tail."...