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Caring, volunteering, empathizing with others: these are all traits of moral and prosocial behavior. As children age, they develop such moral and prosocial behaviors and traits. This lesson will define these key terms and discuss ways to promote moral and prosocial behavior in the classroom.

Moral and Prosocial Behavior

(Scene: Two small boys, Jim and Andrew, are in a classroom. Jim holds a toy car, but he notices that Andrew is looking at it with interest. Jim offers the truck to Andrew, who takes it and walks away.)Teacher: ‘Jim, what nice sharing. Thank you for setting a good example! Andrew, please try to demonstrate nicer behavior. Say thank you when Jim offers you his toy.’Teacher (to herself): ‘I wish Andrew would demonstrate better behavior.

I wonder how I can help him learn appropriate prosocial behaviors in class.’What you have witnessed is an example of prosocial behavior. This lesson will define prosocial behavior and morality, explore the developmental trends of these behaviors and explain methods of promoting prosocial and moral behavior in the classroom.

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Key Terms: Prosocial and Morality

Prosocial behavior is defined as behavior directed toward promoting the well-being of another.

Behaviors such as caring, helping, sharing and volunteering are encompassed under the category of prosocial behavior. Prosocial behavior may originate and be motivated by concern about the welfare of others and the rights of others.Morality is defined as one’s general standards and beliefs about right and wrong. Traits such as honesty, fairness and responsibility for one’s own actions fall under the category of morality.

Additionally, the students’ beliefs about moral and immoral behavior affect their behavior at school, which makes the understanding of this topic critical for current and future educators.

Prosocial behavior is the promotion of the well-being of others through feelings and actions.
Prosocial Behavior

Developmental Trends

Most children behave more morally and prosocially as they grow older. There are many theories of moral development, but this lesson will focus on the general applications of moral and prosocial development.

Researchers have found that children begin using internal standards to evaluate behavior at an early age. These standards may have been formed by observing others engaging in prosocial behavior or being told at some point what is right and wrong.Let’s take a look at Jim and Andrew when they were two years old. We see that Jim is learning how to share and his parents are encouraging prosocial behavior. On the other hand, Andrew is learning from his older brother that snatching is how you get a toy.

As they grow older, children increasingly distinguish between moral and conventional transgressions. Moral transgressions are actions that cause harm or infringe on the needs and rights of others. Conventional transgressions are actions that violate a culture’s general expectations regarding socially appropriate behavior.Children’s understanding of fairness evolves through early and middle childhood. This is sometimes referred to as distributive justice, which is a set of beliefs about what constitutes people’s fair share of a commodity.

Jim and Andrew are still playing. Andrew is taking all of Jim’s toys and won’t allow him to play with anything. Jim knows this isn’t fair but Andrew doesn’t seem to understand why Jim is angry.

Distributive justice develops in early to middle childhood.
Distributive Justice Example

Children’s capacity to respond emotionally to others’ harm and distress increases over the school years. Traits such as guilt, shame and empathy develop as a child ages.

Jim is crying now and Andrew realizes something might be wrong. Maybe the teacher can help Andrew understand why Jim is upset and promote prosocial and moral behaviors for him to start demonstrating.

Promoting Moral and Prosocial Behavior

Educators should:

  • Encourage prosocial behavior by acknowledging and rewarding it when it occurs.
  • Talk about reasons why some behaviors are inappropriate, emphasizing the harm or trauma those behaviors cause.

  • Model moral and prosocial behaviors themselves.
  • Incorporate moral issues and dilemmas into classroom discussions.
  • Remember to be sensitive to cultural differences when addressing inappropriate behaviors.

Lesson Summary

Prosocial and moral development occurs over time in children. Many specific stage theories address prosocial and moral development, but it is important to understand these terms generally as well.

Prosocial behavior involves caring, helping, sharing and volunteering. Morality refers to one’s beliefs about right and wrong and involves traits such as honesty, fairness and responsibility.Children internalize the prosocial and moral behaviors they observe from others.

Their understanding of fairness and justice evolves as they age. Finally, a child’s capacity to respond to emotional situations also increases over time.Educators can be involved in the development of their students’ prosocial and moral development in several ways, including acknowledging and rewarding good prosocial behavior, teaching lessons on moral and prosocial behavior and modeling these behaviors in front of students.

Lesson Objectives

After watching this lesson, you should be able to:

  • Define prosocial behavior, morality, moral transgression, conventional transgression and distributive justice
  • Explain how children learn moral and prosocial behaviors and how to encourage them in the classroom

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