A Moral Story

Values help in travelling the journey of life. We don’t develop them automatically but through experience and observation. Child is not different. Let’s coach the child to set his compass.


A theatre buff, I was looking forward to the second half. The first half, of the Urdu play, had been superb and anticipation was in the air. Just then I heard a pleading voice of a totally bored child, from the seats behind me, “Lets go”.

I smiled, understanding at once the agony of a child in a theater auditorium where he has nothing of interest to see, hear or do and the challenge for the parents to continue to enjoy the show. After all wasn’t my six year old sitting right there with me!

The child’s pleading grew desperate, “Lettssss GO! You said when the lights come on we can go”. The father responded, “But dear, now we bought the tickets we have to see the full show”.

“Why did you buy the tickets? You should have never bought the tickets.”

This time the mother tried to rescue the father, “We actually didn’t buy it. Somebody came and gave it to us.”

“But why did you take it. Why did we come here? Let’s GO!”

Mother continued her earlier line of defense, “I told you na, the door is closed and we cannot go out.”

The child, as ever, was sharp with his logic, “But I can see people going out, let’s go” Father piped in with a different line of convincing, “Your Sangeetha aunty had called me and said that Prasang is a good boy and he will learn a lot at the play. She said, she wanted to increase Prasang’s knowledge”.

“I don’t want any play – Let’s Go!”

I felt sad. Not so much for the child but more for the parents. Didn’t they deserve some quality entertainment on a Sunday evening? Didn’t they deserve something better than struggling with an adamant bored child!

What followed was the typical second half, parents got frustrated and irritated. They scolded, child started crying. This made parents more frustrated (and embarrassed). They scolded strongly and this particular child’s cries reduced to sobbing and finally sleep by the end of the play. A more strongly willed child would have thrown a tantrum and ensured that the whole family was out of the auditorium. I felt in this case, the parents were lucky!

I felt sad for the parents because having deserved it, they squandered their chance! I felt sad because just as nobody trained the child how to deal with situations which are boring, nobody trained the parents how to train the child! All the parents could think was to desperately try a lie after another lie, but all in vain.

I was even sadder because, to me, the parents missed a golden opportunity. At a basic level this was a how-to-discipline-the-child issue. But more importantly it was an opportunity to develop trust and honesty among family members. An opportunity to exemplify to the child the basic principles on which we live our life; to build that grounding of moral values.

Many of us believe that moral stories and telling (lecturing) the child on moral values will work. Sadly, most of us (and Prasang’s parents) have experienced the contrary. I am sure even Prasang’s parents want their child to have high moral values. It is just that we tend to behave as if there is a time to preach moral values and then there is another time to operate out of convenient shortcuts.

If I constantly blame the society and the TV for setting wrong examples and then I go ahead and lie all in the name of he-is-just-a-child or it-was-just-theater, then watch out what we are sowing and what we will reap. And it isn’t enough to watch what we are sowing. It’s imperative that we sow rich seeds to reap superlative crops.

I am less worried about what negative the child is learning (i.e., it is OK to tell a lie). I am more worried what right the child is not learning. What wonderful opportunity of value education his parents have missed. What richer experience we could offer a child to understand the magic complete honesty and trust can create!

Ponder what would have happened if Prasang’s parents would have told him the truth: That they are really enjoying the show and they want to see it till the end even if Prasang is bored. Honesty is not just the ‘best policy’, with children it is the ‘only policy’ – otherwise they learn otherwise!

If Value Education is important to you – here are some guidelines:

Some Don’ts first:

1. Avoid lectures, especially during or immediately after the act. If you daughter says a lie (e.g. “I have brushed my teeth”), ‘now’ is not the time to lecture her on importance of honesty. Just accept her lie by saying something like “fine”.

2. Avoid Why questions. Why questions are interrogative and nobody likes being interrogated. In any case the child typically gives some explanation or excuse. Unfortunately this may even give the child the illusion of justification of his act. Why questions rarely lead to positive actions. Trying answering these: “Why did you lie?” “Why did you not share?” Got the idea – check out the alternates below.

3. Avoid discussing about the child’s act in front of others. Even both parents discussing about it in front of the child (“You know what your son did today”) causes extreme embarrassment and stress and typically closes the child for further listening. Discuss the issue in private, decide on a strategy and both parents follow the same. If both disagree on the course of action – then let one take over and other just acts ignorant.

4. Avoid labeling (you are ‘dishonest’ or ‘uncaring’ or ‘unreliable’ or ‘immature’ or ‘unfair’ et al). Lousy labeling the child is like a character tagging – hence it closes the child for any further improvement – doing exactly the opposite to what we intend. Let’s remember to point out the behaviour, not to tag the child.

The following would be the rough steps we would take to develop any value:

1. Pre-decide a set of values I want to consciously work on: E.g.: honesty, generosity, gratitude, trust, respect etc. We can’t work on ALL of them (how much ever you may want the child to develop all 🙂 We would say – three at a time.

2. Make child aware of the value from child’s past experience (e.g. When you told me correctly that you had spilled it – you were using honest”). Notice the word “using” – that is one way to show to the child that the value is always there in the child – it is when it is used that becomes important.

3. Discuss the value at every possible opportunity – maybe when you lied, maybe when a character lied in a story or a movie, maybe when a stranger said the truth, and so on. E.g. “Why do you think it was important for me to tell you the truth at the play? What if I had told you a lie?”

4. Delay discussion: If child’s shows any unacceptable (moral) behavior (eg: telling a lie) – discuss the incident much later when you and the child are emotionally in rapport (say bed time). Instead of “why” questions, explore using “what” questions. Eg: “In what ways telling this lie helped you? In what ways can it cause harm? “What are the alternatives?”

Remember we are not lecturing the child. We are, through careful questioning, letting the child explore, on his own, the value and its importance in his life.

There are many more ways in which we can work on moral values with our children. Consider this as an introduction. Explore more articles on our website and the fireburner section.

Lastly (and very importantly) Prasang did learn something from the play. Unfortunately not what his Sangeetha Aunty wanted or his parents intended. Also his knowledge about his world is probably still in a confused state and not yet conclusive. Hence, Prasang’s parents still have a chance, to apologize, to discuss the whole issue and to give more real demonstrations and experiences. In losing, let’s not lose the lesson!