“He who agrees against his will. Is of the same opinion, still.”
How to Instill Proper Beliefs in Children
How do you get children to not play with a fun toy? How do you say…get them to finish their homework first before playing? What if telling them isn’t enough. Do you punish them if they disobey? Threaten them? Anybody with children can relate to how difficult it can be to get children to behave correctly.
The biggest reason why children don’t behave as we want them to is simply because they have different values than us. This isn’t hard to see. When you are young you, of course, don’t see the value in hard work leads to success. Our young brains can’t comprehend the complication of long term goals. We would rather play, play and play some more. We don’t realize that soon all this play will soon come to an end when we are thrust into teenage and adult life with no parachute and safety net.
A Quick Experiment
So what do we do? How do we instill children – Or even other adults with new beliefs?
There was an experiment by Jonathan Freedman which may shed some light on this problem. Freedman wanted to see if he can stop little boys from playing with a fascinating toy robot by just telling them it was wrong to do so 6 weeks earlier. He believed that if he could somehow convince the boys that it was wrong to play with the toy then it will prevent them from playing with the toy after.
This task was easy when Freedman threatened the boys with punishment, left the room and observed the boys through a one way mirror. 21 out of 22 boys never touched the toy out of fear of punishment. This was not too surprising. We all know that threatening anybody is a good way to get them to do what we want. But is it good at instilling good beliefs and good morals?
After this experiment Freedman sent a woman back to the school to visit the boys. The same 22 boys were individually taken out to participate in an experiment. They were placed in a classroom with the same 5 toys. Without mentioning the previous experiment at all the boys were told to play with any toy they wished. 77% of the boys played with the toy that they were forbidden to play with from the previous experiment.
In summary, children who are threatened to not do something will only work so long as you are around to follow through with the threat. Once you are not around children are significantly more likely to disobey you and eat the forbidden fruit – so to speak.
This study was reproduced by Freedman with a twist. The boys were again put in a room and given 5 toys. They were told once again that it was “wrong to play with the robot”. But this time there was no threat to punish the children and Freedman left the room and once again observed the boys.
Simply telling the boys it was wrong to play with the toy with no threat, was enough to get them to not play with the toys. Again, 21 out of 22 boys did not play with the toy when they were secretly observed through the mirror.
But, six weeks later when the same boys were taken into the room and were given the freedom to play with any of the 5 toys they wished; despite the fact that the other toys were much less attractive than the forbidden toy, most of the children avoided the forbidden toy. The toys included a cheap plastic submarine, a child’s baseball glove without a ball, an unloaded toy rifle, a toy tractor and the forbidden toy – A mechanical robot. In this case only 33% chose the robot, compared to the 77% of the other experiment. This is less than half of the children who chose to disobey the authority as opposed to the other experiment.
Threatening children is a short term strategy. It is quite effective, but ineffective at teaching children new behavior. The threat was effective at telling the children that it was wrong to play with the robot because of the consequence of the threat. But it did not teach the children that playing with the robot was wrong.
In the second experiment that decision to not play with the robot was internal instead of external. The children were told that it was wrong to play with the robot. Seeing as how the children don’t want to do a ‘wrong thing’ they did not play with the robot. They decided that they did not want to play with the robot because their beliefs have been changed inside and thus they had made the conclusion that they themselves did not want to play with the robot.
In the first experiment, the children simply did not want to be punished, and with the absence of the punisher – The children saw it as their ‘chance’ to play with the robot and were thus significantly more likely to play with the robot.
When teaching children ethics it’s important to focus on internal learning and not external punishment. If you would want to teach your child that lying is wrong the best way to do that is to sit down with them and give them a reason why lying is wrong. It is more important that the child thinks lying is wrong because he/she thinks it is wrong and not because you think it is wrong and they should simply obey you.
This is tricky business because a sufficient reason given will be different for each child. You want to find a reason that will allow the child to take responsibility for the behavior without the looming threat of an outside pressure.
“Honey, lying is wrong so don’t do it.” May be sufficient for some children. This is perfect since there is no external threat.
“If you lie, I will be disappointed in you.” You may need to take it a step further to convince your child that it is wrong to lie. All children are different and some may be harder to convince than others that new beliefs are true such as lying is wrong. But it is important to hold back on the threats as much as possible as that will backfire on you undoubtedly.
Only you know the best way to instill new beliefs in your child. Since everybody is different I cannot tell you the best way to do this. But you do want to stay away from threats and allow the child to reach the conclusion internally instead of externally.
Have a great day!
I found this video to be pretty useful if you want more information on this subject. You can check it out below if you’d like.