Parents play a major role in the development of a child’s conscience - the role of teaching them to love others. Parents should gradually teach their children that by breaking society’s rules, they hurt others.
When children learn to love and respect the rights and privileges of others, they will feel anxious or guilty when they hurts others. They learn that certain acts are not acceptable because punishment follows. Children will learn not to repeat the behavior.
Once the conscience has been developed, it can be used as a guide for conduct. If a child’s conduct does not measure up to the standard of conformity he or she has been taught, she will likely feel guilty or ashamed. When a child feels guilty, she realizes that her behavior has fallen below the standard she has set for herself.
A parent must teach the child not to fear him or her or the suffering her improper behavior brings through punishment. Such fear takes away her ability to appreciate the consequences that her actions have on others. Firm but affectionate parents carefully explain the consequences of behavior, and ultimately rear a child with a mature character.
Initially, misbehavior and punishment occur in the presence of the parent. Hence the child learns not to repeat the wrong behavior when her parents are present. But what will she do when a parent is not around to monitor her behavior?
Take, for instance, an incident where a child uses bad language. At home, the parents would punish her for such misbehavior. While playing with other children, with no parent or adult within earshot, the child learns that she will not be punished and may even be rewarded by attention from her peers. The child then learns not to feel anxious about using bad language except when Mummy or Daddy is around.
Obviously, the child’s conscience has not yet fully developed. We don’t want our children to form right habits only because they fear punishment. Fear and anxiety is not enough. Getting caught is not enough.
Guilt is not enough. We want the child to develop internal controls so that when Mummy or Daddy is not present, even when punishment will not be the end result, the child will still choose a proper course of action.
Since it is clearly impossible to punish a child when you are not present, what is the solution? Frequently, you will discover a child’s misbehavior after it has occurred - from a teacher, or by observing a broken object.
At this point, any action you take is ‘delayed punishment.’ However, the longer the delay, the greater the possibility the child will not remember or understand why she is being punished.
Self-control will permit the child to choose thoughtfully the act she wishes to accomplish. A multiplicity of rational and irrational choices may surround the child, but if she is being guided by budding inner controls, she will not yield to her own personal interests. She will not act only from impulse but will deliberate and choose wisely.
As parents and teachers, we must not expect too much too soon from a child. One foolish act of a child does not make her a criminal. However, unless a child develops self-control, she will be constantly yielding to the wishes of others. Since such a child lacks the ability to decide for herself, her choices will be almost entirely impulsive or dependent on what her peer group urges - an unreliable source indeed!