Children's Moral/Character Development

The Moral of Childrendown arrow icon

Coles, Robert (1986). The Moral Life of Children. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

With a mix of brilliant insight, deep sincerity and knowledge of psychoanalytic theory, the country's most famous child psychiatrist interviews children about their lives in a continually conflicted society. Children from inner cities, poor rural areas and well-to-do families serve as subjects as they discuss issues of race, social class, and other cultural conflicts in their own lives. How these children interpret parental and societal inhibitions, how they use religious lessons and how they interpret life as they experience it to draw from their experiences certain moral energy is the heart of this book. The various chapters focus on moral energy, moral purpose and vulnerability, what is character, idealism, and social class.

Lives of Moral Leadershipdown arrow icon

Coles, Robert (2000). Lives of Moral Leadership. New York: Random House.

Robert Coles is a professor of psychiatry and medical humanities at the Harvard Medical School. He is also a supremely gifted writer who has written widely about children, including the Pulitzer Prize winning five-volume Children of Crisis and the best-selling The Moral Intelligence of Children and The Spiritual Intelligence of Children.

In Lives of Moral Leadership, Coles leads us along a winding path, where the reader encounters dozens of moral leaders and what makes them so. The first person we encounter on the path is Senator Robert F. Kennedy as he explains to Coles how one must become politically astute to bring about changes to the inequalities that Coles seeks to overcome. Kennedy leads Coles and his colleagues to new understandings of political and social intricacies and how we all must learn to work within such realities to bring about change.

Greater Expectations: Overcoming the Culture of Indulgence in America's Homes and Schoolsdown arrow icon

Damon, William (1996). Greater Expectations: Overcoming the Culture of Indulgence in America's Homes and Schools. New York: Free Press.

This important book by a leading developmental psychologist provides a perspective on children's moral and intellectual development at odds with the intuitive child-rearing philosophy of the past thirty years. Damon critiques, with evidence, the "vacuousness" of the self-esteem movement in education with its consequent derogation of spirituality and faith. He states, "When we teach children to concern themselves first and foremost with their own sense of self, we not only encourage self-centeredness but also fail to present a more inspiring and developmentally constructive alternative: that they should concern themselves about things beyond the self and above the self" (p. 81). Instead, Damon argues for education which focuses on instruction, prodding, challenging, correcting and assisting students; in short, an education that is dominated by extrinsic motivational factors.

Damon makes a strong case that today's children need "responsible, effective, inspiring" guidance; that our contemporary culture has failed to provide that guidance; that children have natural dispositions that prepare them to make mature moral decisions; and, that the home, the school and the community provide the best settings to help them make the most of their natural strengths.

Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQdown arrow icon

Goleman, Daniel (1995). Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ. New York: Bantam.

The primary thesis of Goleman's book is that emotional intelligence may be more critical to success in life than brainpower as measured by traditional IQ and standardized achievement tests. To support this point, Goleman reports an intriguing study conducted at Stanford University in which four-year-old children were given a choice between one marshmallow now or two later. The researchers were looking forthe effects on later adjustment of children's ability to delay gratification. And they found them. By the time these four-year-olds were ready for high school graduation, the effects of this single trait (delay of gratification) were evident both socially and academically, with the children who could delay gratification showing more persistence and more self-reliance, confidence, trustworthiness and dependability in addition to higher scores on standardized tests. Goleman postulates that there is a “window of opportunity” for youth, lasting till about 16 years, during which the experiences leading to either emotional health or emotional disorder become internalized. Goleman discusses both positive behaviors and at-risk behaviors that can result. The positive behaviors resulting from a healthy emotional intelligence include a strong cultural work ethic, temperance, ability to cope with frustration, optimism and empathy. At-risk behaviors resulting from an unhealthy emotional intelligence include impulsivity, shyness, stubbornness, overreaction to irritations, provocation of arguments and fights. This is a very worthwhile book.

Raising Good Children From Birth Through the Teenage Yearsdown arrow icon

Lickona, Thomas (1985). Raising Good Children From Birth Through the Teenage Years. Toronto: Bantam.

This is an excellent book for parents. In it Lickona presents the "10 Big Ideas" of the moral development approach. These include 'morality is respect', 'kids develop morality slowly and in stages', 'teach by example', 'teach by telling', 'help kids take on real responsibilities', and 'balance independence and control'. These big ideas are woven throughout the book in chapter discussions of developmental periods from birth to 3, and stages of moral reasoning from preschool to adulthood. The chapters on television, sex and drugs and drinking are excellent ones for discussions at parent meetings or faculty meetings. As with all of Dr. Lickona's writings, this book is very readable, full of relevant examples, and, above all, interesting.