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.
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