Domains of Development: Development of Moral Reasoning in Children (For CBSE, ICSE, IAS, NET, NRA 2022)

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Development of Moral Reasoning in Children

A number of psychologists have described moral development among children. Let us briefly study the stages of moral development as proposed by psychologists Jean Piaget and Lawrence Kohlberg. According to Piaget, children՚s moral development can be understood by observing their understanding of rules during play. He described children moral development through two stages namely heteronomous and autonomous morality.

Development of Moral Reasoning in Children
Heteronomous StageChildren believe that rules are universal, fixed and handed down by any external authority. They believe that rules cannot be changed and anyone who breaks the rules will be punished. Since children in this stage see rules as unchangeable, they seldom show any flexibility towards changing rules.
Autonomous StageAs children grow older, their sense of morality moves towards more flexibility and they start believing in everyone՚s good. Children believe that rules are for the benefit of all and if any rule does not benefit all, it can be changed by common consensus.

According to Lawrence Kohlberg, moral development takes place at three levels: z

The Pre-Moral Level

At the pre-moral stage, children learn right and wrong from the people around them. Their conduct is determined by external factors like approval and disapproval by authority figures or rewards and punishment. Thus, a child՚s behavior is oriented towards obedience and punishment. As the child approaches middle childhood, the capacity to understand relationships and moral codes expand and it continues to grow in adolescence.

The Level of Conventional Morality

At the level of conventional morality, children tend to believe that rules can be changed if they do not serve the common good of the society.

Post-Conventional Morality

In the post-conventional stage of moral development, the sense of right and wrong is decided by one՚s own conscience and nothing can be imposed from outside. One may keep certain universals like value for life at the highest order of values and may also break a law for the same.

Cognitive Development

  • According to Piaget, children՚s understanding of the world expands as they experience new ideas and challenges. Children construct their own knowledge through interaction with the surroundings. Cognitive development proceeds as children mature. Piaget divided cognitive development into four stages. These stages appear in the same order in all individuals and no stage can be skipped.
  • However, individual differences in the pace with which children pass through these stages may differ within certain limits.

The Sensorimotor Stage (0 - 2 Years)

  • The first stage of cognitive development as proposed by Piaget is known as the sensorimotor stage. It extends from birth to two years of age. Piaget believed that infants are active learners who are responsive to stimulation in their environment. They learn quickly and distinguish between various features of the immediate environment.
  • For example, an infant learns to distinguish between a spoon and mother՚s milk and opens his mouth differently for the two. Reflex actions such as sucking, grasping inherited by the infant become the building blocks for cognitive learning. Infants learn to imitate others in their environment. As they grow, they can also imitate a person who is not present in the immediate environment. This is called ‘deferred imitation.’

The Pre-Operational Stage (2 - 7 Years)

  • This is the second stage of cognitive development which is basically a pre-logical stage as logic has not yet fully developed. It extends from two to seven years of age. There are a few cognitive limitations that characterize children՚s cognition at this stage. They are:
  • Animistic and illogical thinking: At this stage, children think that non-living objects also possess life like qualities. For example, children may reason that if an object is moving, it is alive; if it is not moving, it is not alive. Thus, to a child at this stage, clouds are living thing.
  • Egocentrism: Children think that everyone thinks the same way as they do and fail to recognize another person՚s perspective.
  • Reversibility: Children do not understand that for any activity, the events can be traced back to the original starting point. For example, if water from a tall glass is poured in a wide empty glass, the water can be poured back into the tall glass to bring it to the original state.
  • Conservation: Children lack the ability to conserve at this stage which means they fail to understand that the external appearance of an object changes, but the physical properties of that object remain the same. For example, if we pour equal amount of water into two glasses, one tall and one wide and if we ask children which glass has more water, children intuitively point to the glass that they perceive has more water.

Children also fail to understand multiple perspectives and categorize objects into sub-categories based on more than one characteristic feature of the object.

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