How You Might Be Hurting Your Child’s Conscience

Learn how you might be actually hurting your child’s conscience and moral compass rather than helping it and enabling the development of a positive one.

Child with her back to the camera in black and white

As parents, we really want our children to grow up to be wonderful people who are kind and who make great choices. Not only that, we want them to make great choices now in their daily lives. 

Little do we realize that sometimes our effort to develop a strong, positive conscience can really stifle the development of a positive conscience. 

On Becoming Preschoolwise has a short little ‘quiz’ to fill out in order to figure out if you have a positive or prohibitive conscience as a parent. If you have a positive conscience, you do things because they are right and you don’t do things if they are wrong. Your motivation is the love of virtue (pages 58-59). If you have a prohibitive conscience, you do the right thing out of fear of being punished. Your motivation is to avoid reproof or punishment (pages 58-59).

Prohibitive Conscience

A person with a prohibitive conscience is always worried about offending people. He is always worried he will do something wrong or that people will think he has done something wrong. They don’t want to disappoint someone, be misunderstood, or be rejected by non-conformity (page 59).

Many of you might right now be thinking a prohibitive conscience doesn’t sound so bad. He is doing the right things and trying to not offend people, right?

Perhaps, but not for the right reasons.

Consider the person with the prohibitive conscience who is around people who do not have the best moral standards. This is where negative peer pressure comes to play. If the person is around people with great moral standards, positive peer pressure takes place. Positive peer pressure is not bad. The person performs the right way and makes the right choices.

But you can only ride the coat-tails of others for so long. At some point, you will have to make decisions on your own. If you are riding the coat-tails of parents, you will one day move out. If it is friends, you will one day be separated as one or both of you move. It is the difference between fearing God and fearing man.

Parenting with a Prohibitive Conscience

Why would you want to know if you have a prohibitive conscience or not? It goes back to your child and how children learn. Children learn through example–your example. If you are doing things not because it is the right thing but because you don’t want to be talked about, caught, or pay a fine, then your example is not the one you want to be setting. Don’t think you can fool your child! They are more in tune to our motivation than we are.


  • Conditional Love: Parents can instill a prohibitive conscience by creating fear of losing parent’s love. Conditional love is the motivation for doing the right thing (page 59).
  • Guilt: Parents can manipulate the child into feeling guilty. The desire to avoid a guilty feeling is what motivates correct behavior (page 59).
  • Miseducation: The parents don’t provide the reason for correct behavior. Then the child does the right thing to avoid punishment, reproof, and rejection, rather than for a love of virtue (page 60).

How you are hurting your child's conscience pinnable image


As parents, we really want our children to develop a healthy conscience. Here are some ways you can do that:

  • Understand: Understand your beliefs and goals (Beliefs and Goals and How They Impact Parenting).
  • Teach Why: Once your child is old enough (around age 3), explain why we do things and don’t do things. Teach the virtue. Teach love. Of course, you must first understand why: Why vs. How .
  • Encourage: Encourage your child to do right. You don’t want to constantly be saying “Don’t hit” “Don’t disobey.” Encourage your child to behave the correct way. This is a more positive experience and your child can enjoy doing the right thing rather than dread the lecture that comes from wrong-doing (page 59). Read Encouragement as a Discipline Tool
  • Be an Example: Be an example to your child. Model the qualities you want to see your child exhibit. Do you want your child to share? Be generous with your things, time, and talents. “…getting your own heart right is a prerequisite to helping your child get his heart right” (page 63).


Having a healthy conscience doesn’t mean you stop caring about people. It doesn’t mean you stop serving and stop having concern for others. It means that you do what you know is right no matter what. You do what you know is right even if it isn’t popular. You do what you know is right even if no one is around to applaud you for it. Right is right, and wrong is wrong. Living this way is peaceful. People come to respect you for it and they trust that your motivations are pure. Work to give your child the gift of a healthy conscience.


6 thoughts on “How You Might Be Hurting Your Child’s Conscience”

  1. I'm wondering if you have any advice on breastfeeding in public. My daughter is 7 months old, but I stopped breastfeeding her at 4 months for medical reasons. Breastfeeding was great for the two of us, she ate well, etc. The only hard part was doing it in public. Not feeding in public only affords 2 hours or less to be out and about between feedings, which oftentimes isn't enough. I know many people don't have a problem breastfeeding in public and are quite smooth about it, maybe I didn't have long enough to experiment with it, but I need some tips because I can't stay locked up in my house or in another room away from people all the time. I don't know if you have similar views, but I believe it's ok to breastfeed in public situations as long as the mother remains covered. So, the problems are associated with that–remaining covered by a blanket (while having to undo bra straps, shuffle clothing, switch sides, burp the baby, etc.). I can't help but already be thinking about baby #2, and this is honestly my biggest worry (BW has worked great with my first). So any advice would be really appreciated. Thanks!

  2. Thanks for your help, I think the "Hooter Hider" really might work for me. I'll give it a go next time around! Sorry to bug about the delay time, I just didn't know how many days out you were and really wanted to know what you thought. Thank you so much for doing this blog. I can't imagine how much time it takes, but it's easy to see you are helping hundreds of moms! Thank you!paula


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