Children can begin to internalize right behavior at a surprisingly young age. If a toddler heads towards an uncovered electrical outlet or staircase, a parent has to act immediately to protect the child. This is best done in a matter-of-fact manner. But then it is also important (if time allows) to provide the child with a brief explanation, like, “It is my job to keep you safe”. Even if she is too young to understand, she will realize her need to explore and her frustration are being recognized. And she will also intuit, without words of course, that her tiny self is being treated with respect by her omnipotent hero, her parent. This is one way that self-respect is born in the child; and it’s important to note that this is happening at the same time she is learning self-control. And so it is that right behavior begins to be internalized, towards the eventual goal that external controls, including fear of punishment, are not necessary.
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