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Prior to age three, most children are not able to act with moral reasons. We teach our children the right behavior and do not allow them to do things we find offensive (hitting, stealing, lieing, etc.), but the child is acting out of nature when he does these things, not maliciousness. The child does not place any value on the actions. This lack of value does not mean we let the child do it. We train the child in the right actions even though he can’t understand why yet. The -wise series refers to this as training the habits of the heart.
Around age three, things change. The child can now understand why we do or don’t do things. He can now understand the value of things and why we do or don’t do things. At this point, you not only tell your child that you don’t hit, but you tell him why you don’t hit.
Some children might show a capacity for “otherness” earlier than three. Kaitlyn is currently 2.5 and shows great empathy and sympathy for others. I often offer short “whys’ when telling her not to do something, but I keep them short. I know she will have greater capacity to understand why closer to age three. For now, I say, “We don’t hit. Hitting isn’t nice.” No more of an explanation than that.
As you are correcting your child under the age of three, just focus on the right habits rather than concerning yourself over the intent of his heart. After age three, you want to start moral explanations and training the intent of the heart.
Information found in On Becoming Preschoolwise, pages 154-155.
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