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Social Conscience: How to Use Moral Dilemmas Effectively with Kids

By Jean Tracy, MSS

Parents, if you'd like to discuss right and wrong with your kids, stay tuned because today well talk about the 4 Point Plan for using moral dilemmas with your kids. You'll be building character too.

For our purposes a moral dilemma is a question to ask your kids to get them thinking before problems occur. Here's an example of a dilemma to ask your kids:

Pretend you saw your friend take money from his mom's purse without asking. He's buying candy for the both of you. Will you take the candy? Why or why not?

Print these 4 letters underneath each other ~ P L A N

Each letter in the word PLAN is a discussion strategy. Hopefully, this little memory trick will help you remember the plan.


• Probe gently.
• Listen carefully.
• Appreciate honestly.
• No criticism!

1. Probe Gently

When you probe gently, ask just enough open-ended questions to get your children thinking. This means avoid yes and no questions because they stop the conversation.

2. Listen Carefully

When you listen carefully, you'll talk less. No lecturing. As you know, kids don't listen to lectures. I remember a dad in my counseling practice who admitted to lecturing his daughter two hours straight. When she tapped her fingers and rolled her eyes, he would yell, "Are you listening?" Parents, what do you think?

3. Appreciate Honestly

When you appreciate honestly, you'll find ideas and opinions in your kids' discussions for you to praise. This practice is called "influencing." When you approve of what your children think, they'll be more likely to keep thinking in the praiseworthy direction. Praising kids for their thoughts also encourages them to share more.

4. No Criticism

When you keep criticism out of the conversation, you provide an open and safe atmosphere to discuss what your children really think. If you hear something you don't like, ask more questions to clarify what they said or take time outside of the discussion to think how you will approach the situation again.

There you have it, the 4 secret strategies for discussing moral dilemmas with your kids


Probe Gently
Listen Carefully
Appreciate Honestly
No Criticism

Character, Social Conscience, and Kids:

Building character begins by getting your child to talk. Don't insist your child thinks just like you. He'll resist any forcing. Be more interested in how he already thinks.

By using the PLAN you'll hear how he thinks. Don't be surprised when you hear him speak with your values. If he voices values you disapprove of, ask questions to get him to think deeper. You'll be developing a social conscience in him.

Social conscience grows with the right questions. When your child figures out how others think and feel, he'll begin to understand others' intentions. For instance, He'll realize, Peter, the boy next door, cheats because he thinks he has to be perfect. He'll realize his teacher gives homework to reinforce what was taught. He'll realize why you say, "No," too.

3. Social Conscience Questions to Ask Your Child:

1. Why do you think…?

Why do you think Peter cheats?

2. What will happen if…?

What will happen if Peter gets caught cheating?

3. Why is cheating wrong?

These 3 questions help your child walk in Peter's shoes. They also help him think what would happen if he cheated. These questions will help him think deeper and develop character with a social conscience.

Conclusion for Developing a Social Conscience with Moral Dilemmas:

With moral dilemmas your child will enjoy giving his opinions. He'll love your attention, praise, and questions. Follow the PLAN. Build character with a social conscience. Feel good about your parenting too.

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Pick up Character Building: Problem Stories for Family Discussions 3 great discussion BONUSES are included:


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