The Moral Development of Toddlers

Your toddler is learning and growing every day, turning into a little person with an individual personality. As young as your toddler is, it’s not too early for you to notice the beginnings of moral development in your little one. With loving guidance, you can encourage positive growth and development in your toddler.

What is Moral Development?

Developing morality involves the process of learning the difference between right and wrong actions, according to social worker Angela Oswalt, with the Betty Hardwick Center. As a child learns and grows, morality develops in conjunction with other emotional and cognitive advances. A youngster’s daily experiences affect moral development, with the first behaviors influenced by morality exhibited sometime between the ages of 2 and 5 years of age.

Emerging Empathy

Toddler girl (21-24 months) with pom-pom on bed, side view

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By approximately 18 months of age, a child shows the first inklings of developing empathy, states the Ask Dr. Sears website. A toddler will begin to realize that other people have needs and wants, just as he does. Empathy still has a ways to go, however, because a child this age does not have a full grasp of other people’s feelings, especially in reaction to his own actions. For example, your toddler probably will not grasp the realization that his lashing out physically toward someone else can cause the other person pain.

Altruistic Behavior

Even a toddler can see someone in need and respond positively to help, contends professor of psychology Paul Bloom, writing for "The New York Times." A toddler who witnesses someone struggling often moves spontaneously to provide assistance, demonstrating morals such as outgoing concern, self-sacrifice and a generous desire to help others. This initial compassion during toddlerhood can set the stage for a youngster making a conscious choice to do good instead of harm in future years.

Play as Moral Development

Toddler girl (21-24 months) with pom-pom on bed, side view

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Merriam-Webster defines morality as a personal belief about what constitutes right and wrong behavior. With this definition in mind, play can be an effective tool for moral development in toddlers, advise the authors of a booklet titled "Promoting Moral Development Through Play During Early Childhood," published by the Independent Commission Against Corruption. A young toddler usually does not actively play with others, but gradually during toddlerhood, play progresses to the point where your little one plays cooperatively alongside peers. This play progression and experience can form a foundation that will teach sharing, respect, acceptance of others and problem-solving. These qualities will develop with moral training that teaches your youngster compassion for others and encourages choosing to help rather than hurt others.