Encouraging Moral Reasoning at Different Stages

All ages

Materials: The Kids' Book of Questions by Gregory Stock, PhD, or (for older kids) a few issues of the New York Times Sunday Magazine (for "The Ethi-cist" column)

Next time you're headed out for a road trip, pack a copy of the Gregory Stock book, which includes over 250 short, simple questions to discuss. Examples:

• Would you rather be very poor but have parents who loved you and each other, or be fabulously wealthy but have parents who ignored you and were always fighting with each other?

• Adults can do more, but they have more responsibilities. Children can play more, but they get told what to do. Do you think kids or adults have a better deal?

• If everyone else in your class would be killed unless you agreed to sacrifice your own life, would you do it? Would it matter if no one would ever know what you had done?

• Have you ever gotten yourself into a mess by telling people you could do something you couldn't?

When your kids take a position, ask them why they think it is right. Give reasons if you have a different opinion.

Bring the ethical dimension into your everyday life as well. When reading fiction or watching movies, talk about the ways characters resolve ethical problems. Do your kids agree with the way they acted? Why? If the character felt he or she had no choice, was that true?

When there are conflicts within your family, or your kids mention problems they're having with friends or at school, bring ethical principles into the discussion of how to resolve them. Introduce the basic language of ethics (fairness, reciprocity, integrity, consistency, etc.) to give them words for their developing concepts.

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