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Rules Kids Need to Break

Kids Need to Break Rules That Squelch Self-Identity, Researchers Say
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What Kids Need to Learn about Obeying, Breaking Rules continued...

But by the time kids reached age 7, they were much more likely to say story characters felt good about following moral rules. And older children were increasingly able to say characters would obey a rule even though it made them feel bad.

That's a big development, Lagattuta and colleagues suggest. It's easy to tolerate feeling good about obeying a rule ("feel good compliance") and easy to feel bad about breaking a rule ("feel bad transgression"). But these are not the most developmentally advanced responses.

"In some situations, notably when authority figures restrict actions essential to sense of self or identity, judgments of 'feel bad compliance' and 'feel good transgression' may be more appropriate," Lagattuta and colleagues suggest.

Good Parent Rules, Bad Parent Rules

Children not only break rules that intrude on their sense of selves, but they also they feel good about breaking these rules, Lagattuta and colleagues find.

What does this mean for parents?

The findings "argue for balance in promoting morality in young children: Not only restricting actions that they should not do, but also helping them to identify situations where they can assert personal control," Lagattuta and colleagues say. "Such an approach does not advocate telling children to blatantly disobey authority, but rather promotes helping children respectfully negotiate socially and culturally acceptable areas of personal choice."

In a nutshell, the authors say, there's a need for adults to give kids the space they need to make the connection between self-identity and personal control.

Not achieving this balance can be a problem.

"Over-regulation of the child's personal domain may be psychologically harmful in that the adult not only restricts the child's ability to express him or herself, but also evaluates that aspect of the child's identity as immoral or unworthy," Lagattuta and colleagues say.

Although different rules may be perceived as involving moral duty or personal identity in different cultures, the researchers note that studies from various cultures find that mental health depends on development not just of self-control, but of control of one's self.

Lagattuta and colleagues report their findings in the March/April issue of Child Development.

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