“Why should I?”

This is such an important question.  We all want our kids to grow up so they can answer that question themselves.  To be good people because they choose to be.

Morality is the sense of the right thing to do, and it is something that has to be learnt.  When our child asks why they can or cannot do something, how we respond assists that learning.

Over the next few posts I will be looking at the 6 stages of moral development as described by Lawrence Kohlberg, and below I have briefly summarised his ideas.   If you’d rather watch than read, I’ve attached a 10 minute YouTube summary here.

When a decision about right and wrong is needed, if you are aware of the stage of morality your child is at then you can choose a response that works.  But even more importantly, that knowledge can guide you in choosing the response that helps your child develop into the next stage of their moral development, rather than reinforcing the stage they are currently in.

Healthy development sees your child passing through the various stages at predictable ages.  Previous stages are never abandoned (we still consider them as factors in our moral decision-making), but they become less influential.

Pre-conventional morality 

Stage 1: punishment orientation (“how can I avoid punishment”). Toddler

Stage 2: self-interest orientation (“what’s in it for me”).  Pre-school

Conventional morality 

Stage 3: social conformity orientation. Primary school

Stage 4: social-order maintaining orientation.  Secondary school

What is right is what helps all those in the group, and is less about individual benefit and more about the central ideals of the group.


Stage 5: social contract orientation. Teenage years

Stage 6: universal ethical principles orientation.  Adulthood

In the next post we will look at stage 1 morality and how to work with it.