A Mother-Daughter Adventure
(Kelly) was growing up, my mother worked as a school psychologist. Because her
work was filled with many different types of human interactions, she often
wrestled with a particular ethical, moral, or behavioral question. As many of us
do, she primarily struggled with these questions in her commuting time.
During these years I showed horses competitively. Because I rode and trained
nearly ever day, my mother needed to drive me to my trainer’s ranch as well as
pick me up. This round-trip took about an hour each day. In addition to these
trips, most weekends in the spring, summer, and fall were taken up with horse
shows. Often these shows were an eight-hour drive from our home. Did we have
time to talk in the car? You bet! We talked about regular growing-up stuff as
well as issues surrounding competition and showing horses.
importantly, we talked about people issues. Although my mother was careful not
to betray anonymity, she would present case vignettes and we would discuss them.
Since these were ongoing cases, they didn’t have neatly wrapped-up endings. They
were unfinished, just like our own lives. We found that many of the quandaries
had no one correct answer, though that didn’t mean the discussions were
worthless. Through the discipline of logical analysis, I was encouraged to
explore my ideas, increase my ethical development, and learn about the workings
of my mind. I was then able to navigate my way through the often troublesome
adolescent years using the moral and ethical decision-making skills I had
Today my mother and I are still very close, as is evident by
the fact that we are cowriting this book. Although much of this closeness has to
do with our genuinely liking each other, I am sure that much of it is due to
spending so much time together talking about life.
|The Guiding Principles|
remember a story my mother told me in the car one day about her relationship
with one of her friends. I should preface this by saying that my mother is
awesome at cultivating and maintaining her friendships; she has many close
friends that she has had for several decades. Anyway, she had recently
discovered that one of her friends had made an ethically unsound decision many
years ago. My mother was dismayed for two reasons: First, she had heard this
story from another person instead of her friend, and second, the outcome of the
decision had been hurtful to another person. My mom was questioning whether she
should confront her friend or let the past stay in the past. As was appropriate
due to my age, I was not made aware of the specifics. But even without this
knowledge, we were able to struggle together with this ethical dilemma. In doing
so, I was able to advance my own ethical decision-making skills as well as feel
close to my mom.
Achieving these goals is what this book is all about,
so we will begin by providing you with a framework by which to best use this
book. Research shows us that children who are most advanced in moral reasoning
tend to have parents who communicate with them in specific ways. The stories in
Drivetime Stories: Making the Most of the Moments on the Go use the
following four principles to generate moral and ethical development.
1. Support Children Emotionally in Discussions
When we are
warm and responsive to our children during discussions, we communicate the idea
that they are valuable and worthy of such treatment. The expression of support
during interactions around moral issues may be especially important.
For example, parents trying to challenge a child to think through the moral
consequences of some behavior will be more effective if they show support for
the child’s point of view and exhibit empathy for the child’s feelings. In
addition to providing a supportive platform for children to confront the moral
implications of their (or others’) behavior, parents who take this approach also
model concern for others.
| The larger message we are demonstrating is that
people in general deserve respectful treatment. Thus we also provide a basis for
moral reasoning: If people are worthy of compassionate treatment, what course of
action is best in a given situation?
2. Ask Challenging Questions to Draw Out Children’s
Parents can enhance their children’s moral development by
effectively using a series of questions. For example, parents can ask children
how their behavior (say, refusing to share a toy) led to another child crying,
thus helping children come to the answer themselves. This can and should be done
in an age-appropriate manner so that the child can understand and absorb the
message. For example, telling a toddler not to hit another child because it
hurts the other child may be sufficient for communicating the message that one’s
behavior affects others. This is an improvement over simply telling toddlers
that such behavior is wrong.
Preschoolers with more advanced
perspective skills can make the connection between not liking to get hurt
themselves and their behavior toward other people. As children get older,
parents can engage them in more advanced discussions about how some behaviors
are better than others.
3. Reframe and Reinforce Children’s Reasoning
take the time to explain their own behavior to children and show awareness of
how that behavior affects the children, the parents implicitly acknowledge that
children’s feelings and viewpoints are worthy of attention. This principle of
respectful engagement can be an overarching theme for moral parenting.
In other words, we can respond to our children’s experience while at the same
time presenting consistent experiences while at the same time presenting
consistent expectations, guidelines, and mature insights. This respect is at the
core of morality. Parents will find that nurturing mutual respect in their
relationships with their children will pay of in the future. One of the most
basic ways to develop children’s respect for themselves and others is to respect
them and require respect in return. The discussion of behaviors that parents
consider acceptable and unacceptable helps children understand and internalize
particular standards for behavior.
|4. Encourage Further Moral Growth|
goal of moral education is to encourage children to develop or mature into the
next stage of moral reasoning. Moral development is not the result of gaining
more knowledge; rather, it consists of a series of changes in the way a child
thinks. Within any stage of maturity, thinking is tied to that stage. A child
then reacts to the events happening around him or her according to the beliefs
of that stage.
However, children will at some point encounter
information that does not fit into their worldview. This forces them to readjust
their thinking to deal with the new information. Our job then is to encourage
our children to begin to think about issues that are a bit higher than their
present level of moral reasoning.
A highly effective tool for
supporting this growth is to present a moral dilemma and encourage your child to
determine and justify what course of action the person in the dilemma should
take. Through discussion, children are forced to face the contradictions present
in any course of action not based on principles of justice or fairness. Even
something as simple as discussing the day’s events also can involve a focus on
the “whys” of behavior and their consequences for other people.
How to Use the Stories
Drivetime Stories is a
book you can quickly flip through to find appropriate stories to tell your
children. The discussion questions that accompany each story are designed to
provoke ongoing dialogue and develop moral reasoning.
Stories do what
didactic lecturing and scolding can never do: They make us want to be good. They
don’t just give us ideas to believe, they show us characters to emulate. They
reach into our imagination so that we also experience the shame of
wrongdoing-and then the thrill of picking ourselves up and setting things
| Stories can be the best way to teach character
because they impart a sense of life has meaning. Through the power of
imagination, we become vicarious participants in the story. We identify with our
favorite characters. Their actions then become our actions. In this way the
stories can become a dress rehearsal for our own life choices. Stories also
provide a wealth of good examples-the kind often missing from our environment.
They show children the rules of conduct they need to know, and they demonstrate
how this behavior looks in real-life situations.|
Jesus the storyteller
demonstrates the usefulness of storytelling. Instead of raising a sword to
conquer a nation, he sat down in the grass and told a good story. In fact, he
told a lot of good stories. There’s a reason Jesus delivered his most profound
teachings in the form of stories-parables about farmers planting seeds, women
finding coins, sons who go bad and then repent. These were characters his
listeners could identify with. Jesus used things commonly seen and known by
people and cast them in easy-to-imagine stories that took unexpected
Even adults respond better to stories than to preachy
moralizing. Think about the most memorable sermons you’ve ever heard. Were they
abstract moral discourses or were they fascinating stories about characters in
which you could see yourself? As parents, we can compose simple stories,
hopefully inspired by the Holy Spirit, to bring our message home to kids. After
all, we are encouraged to read to our children from the time they are babies,
and we are all familiar with children’s stories that end with: “And the moral of
this story is…”. So, although we use books to teach moral development to our
children, we don’t want to stop there. The stages of moral development continue
throughout a lifetime. It is up to parents to initiate and facilitate this
| As parents, we want to raise children who will
be empathetic, moral, and ethical. One way we can help them get there is by
modeling those qualities in the safety of our home or car. We have provided you
with a starting point. For many situations that your child might encounter, we
have given you a few stories to talk about. They are simple enough that you can
talk about them anywhere with your child. We encourage you to take advantage of
so-called downtime to talk about these stories. Time in the car provides a
special opportunity because the driver has to pay attention to the road, and
whoever is riding in the car can talk openly without being intimidated by having
someone looking directly at them.|
Use this book as a starting point but
build on it with stories of your own. Each family has its own concerns and
issues. Use the things around you to develop stories that will affect your
family in a more personal way. Since we cannot know all of you or the moral
challenges you face, we can’t gear our stories to your issues. However, you can
use our stories as a template for forming your own.
Before you are
going to be in the car with any or all of your children for a while, thumb
through this book and find a story that reflects an area you would like to
address. It isn’t crucial that you memorize every single word in the story. It
is only important to convey the essential nature. Then as you are riding along,
tell the story is simply and naturally as
| As you use the suggested questions, the
conversation may take an unexpected turn. If the turn is beneficial, go with it.
If not, go to different questions. This reminds me of a conversation I had with
my sons one night after our devotions. The reading was about remaining true to
what you know is right rather than just going along with your friends. After I
was done reading, I asked the three boys, “Why is it important to do what is
right in the eyes of Jesus?” Graysen had been struggling with this issue, so he
pitched right in by providing an example of his own life; it was clear that he
understood this concept. One of the twins, Austin, had no such incident in his
life at that time, but he loves to be included in any conversation, so he
launched into a made-up story to demonstrate his understanding of the reading.
Even though it was off the mark, it showed that he had begun to process this
concept and was at least thinking about it in a developmentally appropriate way.
The bottom line is, What would Jesus do?” With that in mind, you can always get
back on track.|
It is always a good idea to encourage a verbal review
the next day: “Do you have anything to add to yesterday’s story?” This
reinforces the story and allows children and opportunity to share any new
thought or feelings that they may not have expressed the day before. I know that
I often need a little time for ideas to “percolate” before I am reading to talk
about them. Your children may also need this time, or they may have started
thinking down a path that needs to be redirected.