How do I know my child is learning right from wrong?

teaching children right from wrongBy Abby Bordner

I have been working with a private client and she is bravely moving away from parenting by “force and consequence”. She has been acting for years based on what she thought were strong values to teach her kids right from wrong. But at the same time she is noticing that this style of parenting isn’t truly aligned with what she wants for her children (or herself).

When we talk about her long term goals for her children, she will say things like “I want my children to have a strong connection with me and come to me whenever they need support.” And, “I want my children to be independent thinkers who make good decisions.” And, lastly, “I want my kids to enjoy their family life, and have a trusting relationship with me and my husband.” Yet, she battles through each day, giving punishments and feeling frustrated, trying to get her children to do what she wants them to do and she honestly said, “I’m not sure I’m on the right track here.”

So, here’s a question for you. Tell me, what are the qualities you want your children to have after spending their childhood being parented by you? Go ahead, get a pen and paper and write at least five things down. How would you like them to be, as adults, once they’ve spent their early life with you?

Now, the next question is what are you doing now in your parenting relationship with them to model and instill these qualities? Are you being the person who has the qualities you’ve listed? Our children learn far more by watching us in the world than by what we tell them to do or not to do. So, it’s a big wake up call for many parents to realize the way we talk to our children, the way we treat them and the way we respond to their behavior is the fertile ground for teaching them right from wrong.  Your own interactions should be modeling the “right” you want them to learn.

As always, when I work with parents, we find there is some personal work required in order to be the best parent you can be. We work on managing emotions in a healthy way. After all, that’s what we want our kids to be able to do, right? So, do you know how to manage your emotions in a healthy way? And we want our children to feel loved and supported by us, yet do you feel loved and supported in your life? We want our children to take risks and be confident. How confident are you in your own abilities?

Our children will learn “right” with opportunities to prove themselves, noticing the “right” choices they make and experiencing love and connection during the “right” things you do together. This is a much more powerful lesson than catching them doing “wrong”, doling out punishment, withdrawing your connection and perhaps experiencing rage, isolation and loneliness during the process. I encourage you to reconsider how you teach your children “right from wrong”. Connection is the best teacher. Demonstrating your ability to manage difficulty is the best lesson.

Parenting is a demanding job. Trust me, I know. I didn’t realize I was signing up to face all my demons, dig up memories of my childhood, feel rage, exhaustion and love to their greatest extremes (sometimes in the same few hours). It’s not for the faint of heart. But I invite you to consider the journey of parenting as an opportunity to become a better person. Show up for your children with a commitment to learn, make mistakes, apologize, offer yourself with an authentic desire for a healthy, loving relationship. Then you don’t have to wonder if they’re learning right from wrong.

How did YOU learn right from wrong?

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Leave A Reply (2 comments so far)


  1. Emma Danchin
    2 years ago

    I have learnt that consequences are an important part of parenting but that the all important factor is the quality of energy that I am in when I enforce a boundary with my child. If I am connected to me, to my essence, then this love is felt by her when I am firm. This makes her feel safe. So my moment to moment commitment is to myself, to remain connected to the tender and beautiful woman that I am. She learns most by seeing her Mum living in this way.


    • Abby Bordner
      2 years ago

      Emma you’re exactly right! Thanks for commenting. I teach moms about the mind-body connection and how important it is when communicating with your loved ones. When you can be present with yourself and think about your actions, you are being authentic. Your children feel safe with you and respect you. I love that you stay connected to the tender and beautiful woman that you are!! Nicely said.