Mothers want the best for their children, to see them grow into good and decent people. What may sound like a simple, natural wish is instead a very tall order, and little is currently known about  how any mother can actually help their children decide what’s good or bad, to sort out different types of moral issues, and be good people.

In a new study, initiated by Holly Recchia, assistant professor in Concordia’s Department of Education and Center for Research in Human Development and published in Developmental Psychology, many mums communicate with their children in ways that help them understand moral values.

The researchers observed 100 pairs of mothers and children. The age of the children was seven, eleven and sixteen years old. Each child was asked to describe one incident where they had helped a friend, and one incident where they had hurt a friend. Subsequently, they spoke to their mums about the experience. When referring to their offspring’s helpful behavior, the mothers focused on the children’s feelings of pride, expressed enthusiasm at their behavior, and reflected on how the experience revealed their children’s positive traits.

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With hurtful behavior, the conversations were a bit more delicate, in that the mothers found ways to acknowledge the harm while also emphasizing that it didn’t define their children.

For instance, they focused on the child’s good intentions or noted his or her capacity for repair. “It’s not that mums were saying the behavior was acceptable. They were saying it wasn’t, but were also praising their child for giving an apology,” Recchia says. “They also asked, ‘What can you do next time to make sure that the hurt doesn’t happen?'”

The researchers also made another important finding: the maternal role changed according to the age the child was at. They observed that when children were younger, the mothers motivated their children more to talk and open up, focus on the details of a story or event and be as analytical as possible when talking.

We have already talked about the importance of talking to our children, in another article. It was concluded that parents nowadays need to understand the importance of talking to their children , starting in infancy. It was clearly shown that by the age of 2, children of the more engaged moms develop bigger vocabularies and process spoken language much more efficiently.

In the current study, researchers supported that mothers of teenagers let them be more in control of the situation , understanding that although they didn’t need as much help in grasping why they did what they did or the impact that action had on them and other people around them, they still needed a lot of support in understanding ‘the broader implications for who they are as a person and some of the complexities involved in navigating relationships.’ (ScienceDaily)

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Child-directed speech, or lack thereof, seems to be the paramount reason why some children speak sooner and more complex than some others. Also, research published in Social Psychological and Personality Science finds that parents who prioritize their children’s well-being over their own are not only happier, but also derive more meaning in life from their child-rearing responsibilities. ‘Across the board, it’s clear the conversations have an important impact. The findings especially suggest that talks about hurting and helping make distinct and complementary contributions to children’s understanding of themselves as imperfect but nevertheless moral people, capable of doing good as well as harm.’

Raising a child is a hair-rising enterprise. At best, it’s a confusing trek through a shifting landscape that looks nothing like what we faced ourselves a few decades ago. At worst, it forces us to come to terms with all the issues we never fully resolved ourselves, and could conveniently ignore thus far.

However, scary as the task is, the solution remains the same old, solid, timeless advice: talk. Engage your child, discuss problems as they come up, and who knows – you might both end up becoming better people.

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