How to Raise a Moral Child

Annabelle Cella, Ford Martin, Marielle Cohen


According to research scientist Diana Baumrind, there are four parenting styles: authoritative, authoritarian, permissive, and rejecting-neglecting.  Authoritative parents are demanding yet responsive, authoritarian parents are demanding but lack the responsive quality, permissive parents are responsive but not demanding and rejecting-neglecting parents are neither demanding nor responsive.  While many parents do not fit cleanly into just one of these categories at all times, it is believed that overall authoritative parenting rears the most self-confident and motivated child.  A recently released New York Times article titled “Raising a Moral Child,” defends this point entirely.  The article claims that the most effective parenting included praising the child in response to good behavior as well as giving consequences out for bad behavior (Grant).  This encompasses the qualities of an authoritative parent, as the parents are supposed to be responsive and praising to the child when he or she is good but stern and demanding when he or she is not. An adolescent who was praised when good and punished when bad growing up is believed be higher in social and academic competence, self-reliant, and have relatively lower drug and alcohol abuse problems.

In the article, Grant points out that research has indicated that in children as young as two years old, praise is more effective than rewards. He says that with rewards, parents run the risk leading children to be kind and do what they are told only when there is a reward such as a treat. Praise, on the other hand, shows that sharing is essentially worth it for its own sake. The key is to figure out which type of praise parents should give when children show early signs of generosity, as well as finding a balance between giving rewards for certain actions without the children expecting them for every action.

On the topic of praise, Research scientist B. F. Skinner conducted a study that concurs with this idea of Grant’s. Skinner believed that operant conditioning, or the use of reinforcements, is the best approach to behavior modification, which is the change of undesirable behaviors in children.  According to Skinner “attention can by itself serve as a powerful reinforcer” (Seigler, DeLoache, Eisenberg). While Skinner believed in reinforcements, he believed that reinforcements did not have to be a treat or something of that sort, but that attention in and of itself is one of the best reinforcements.  This coincides with the article’s claim that praise is the best way to get a child to behave in a certain way, because attention is a for of praise.

While Watson has proved that rewards can be used positively as a form of therapy or systematic desensitization, he also points out how it is very important that parents not reward their children with stimuli after every positive occurrence. Skinner also talks about how intermittent reinforcement, which is inconsistent response to the behavior of another person i.e. rewarding a child for a certain action sometimes and not others. This reinforcement confuses children and will lead them to expect rewards after everything they do. This research further confirms Grant’s article that reinforcements can, in many cases, do more harm than good.  If children expect a reward every time they do something good, they start doing good things just for the reward rather than because it is the right thing to do.

Research conducted by Claudia Mueller and Carol Dweck in 1998 revealed that not only are parents supposed to praise their children rather than offer them reinforcements for good behavior, but they are supposed to praise effort rather than ability. According to the textbook, there are two achievement motivation orientations: entity/helpless orientation and incremental/mastery orientation. People with the entity/helpless orientation tend to attribute success and failure to aspects of the self and believe intelligence is fixed, so they give up in the face of failure.  People with incremental/mastery orientation, on the other hand, tend to attribute success and failure to the amount of effort expended and view intelligence as ever growing instead of fixed. When faced with failure, they tend to persist.  Praising efforts rather than ability, as Mueller and Dweck suggest, allows children to develop an incremental/mastery orientation, because they are taught to focus more on effort rather than the outcome.  This allows them to see more room for growth and persist in the face of failure.

Praising and punishing children in the correct way for their actions can shape their development of self in several ways, one of the main being that it teaches them to feel guilt rather than shame. According to Grant, “Shame is the feeling that I am a bad person,  whereas guilt is the feeling that I have done a bad thing,” (Grant).  While the two emotions typically get mixed up, one is much worse than the other.  Shame is a negative judgment about the core self, while guilt is just a negative judgment of a certain action.  In a study conducted by Karen Caplovitz Barrett that was outlined in the textbook and touched upon in the article children were given a doll that was fixed to break when played with.  When the experimenter left the room, the doll’s leg broke off and the children who felt guilt acted very different than the children who felt shame.  The guilty children tried to fix the doll and told the experimenter what happened right when she returned, while the shameful children avoided the researcher and did not tell her what happened. The children who acted more admirably and owned up to the mistake were those who experienced guilt rather than shame, and guilt is emphasized over shame when a parent praises the efforts of a child rather than their overall abilities.

To conclude, the textbook outlines several aspects of raising a moral child that are corroborated by the New York Times article as well as several scientific studies.  The general consensus of psychologists and researches alike is that praising children rather than rewarding them is more beneficial for their overall behaviors, and praising effort rather than ability is more beneficial for the character of the child. All of this stems back to the type of parenting that the parents conduct, which is outlined by Baumrind’s parenting chart.



Baumrind’s Parenting Styles [Photograph]. (n.d.). Retrieved from   

Grant, A. (2014, April 11). Raising a Moral Child. Retrieved April 17, 2014, from The New York Times website: child.html?_r=0guilty-looking-boy [Photograph]. (n.d.). Retrieved from 250×250-682321.jpg?w=225&h=225

Praise for intelligence can undermine children’s motivation and performance. Mueller, Claudia M.; Dweck, Carol S.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol 75(1), Jul 1998, 33-52.   doi: 10.1037/0022-3514.75.1.33

Praising-Child [Photograph]. (n.d.). Retrieved from content/uploads/2010/07/praising-child.jpg

Siegler, R., DeLoache, J., & Eisenberg, N. (2011). How Children Develop (3rd ed.). New York City:  Worth Publishers.



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