For Kids, Following the Rules Feels Good

By age 7, most understand the emotional value of behaving well, study finds

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SUNDAY, June 5, 2005 (HealthDay News) -- Parents trying to get children to behave may want to express pleasure when kids follow the rules, just as often as they express displeasure when they don't, a new study finds.

As they get older, children increasingly link rules to these types of emotional results, the researchers said.

"From a practical standpoint, these data suggest methods to boost children's willingness to comply," study author Kristin H. Lagattuta, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of California, Davis, said in a prepared statement.

The study of 64 adults and children found that, between the ages of 4 and 7, children increasingly begin to understand that the breaking of rules can cause rule-breakers to feel bad, regardless of whether or not they got what they wanted through their transgression.

The children also begin to recognize that they will respond positively when they follow a rule -- especially if they remember to do so on their own (not prompted by a parent).

The California team also found that these emotional links to rule-following and rule-breaking strengthened as children began to focus on the importance of rules in general.

"These findings have implications for research on theory of mind and moral reasoning, as well as practical applications for educators and parents," Lagattuta said.

"Between the ages of 4 and 7, children increasingly recognize that emotional satisfaction is shaped not only by immediate desire fulfillment, but also by obligations to abide by rules and by consideration of possible future consequences," she explained.

The study appears in the May/June issue of Child Development.

More information

The American Academy of Pediatrics has more about child behavior.

SOURCE: Society for Research in Child Development, news release, May 17, 2005

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