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Building Moral Intelligence

Mary Baker
Walnut CA USA
Report on a session from the 2003 LLLI Conference
From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 20 No. 5, September-October 2003, pp. 177

Part of my reason for attending LLL Conferences is to gather "tools" for my parenting "tool kit." The presentation made by Michele Borba, EdD, gave me some very handy "tools." Michele is a strong woman who works with at-risk children every day, and in addition, is a mother of teens. Her qualifications are excellent. Michele's fast-paced presentation excited me because I recognized that her book, No More Misbehavin': 38 Difficult Behaviors and How to Stop Them, would help me work with teaching my son how to change his behavior, not to mention teach me how to change mine, when needed.

She told us why to change behavior and also how to do it. She gave us excellent examples of how to heal relationships when we are angry, from birth onward. Michele's thoughtful reasons made sense to me, and I want to share some of her wisdom.

She told us that anger is normal. It is how people act when they are angry that causes concern. Parents can demonstrate appropriate behavior when they are angry. They can use feeling words, recognize the signs of building anger, use positive self-talk to help themselves stay calm, and demonstrate new calming techniques.

Michele recommended recognizing our child's strengths and helping our child to verbalize each one. A parent can pick one or two to mention frequently. When the child starts to recognize and talk about those strengths, the parent can move on to another one. Make it specific. For my son, it is "I really appreciate how well you plan." I believe he needs to learn to value himself for his ability to plan. For my grandson, it is "You are a helpful boy." Helping a child recognize their own strengths helps them to value themselves.

Reinforce comments with smiles and eye-contact, getting down to the child's level or bringing him up to yours. Do this for at least 21 days. Cultivate this strength every chance you get. Why do we need to recognize our child's strength? Michele recommended the book, Cradles of Eminence, by Victor and Mildred G. Goertzel, which mentions Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison, Mahatma Ghandi, Winston Churchill and Helen Keller. How did these people as children compensate for their disabilities? Someone told them what they were good at. To build self-esteem, the child must feel "I am worthy." He must have the skills to cope with life and feel that he has them. She quoted from the World Health Organization, letting us know that there is a growing trend toward depression and suicide among adolescents. She told us of a suicide that was averted. The teen said, "No matter what I do, I'm never good enough for my dad." She suggested that we give our child the gift of our presence.

Michele gave us many examples of positive discipline. We can say, "In this family, we only talk when we are calm." We can say, "I only listen to nice voices." Then turn your body away. Teach your child to walk away, exercise, draw, run, read, talk to someone, listen to soothing music, do jumping jacks, blow bubbles, journal, sing, read, or visualize peacefulness to help him calm himself. Aggression and violence are learned behaviors, she remarked, but so is calmness. She recommended following up with your child after he has successfully calmed down. Sometimes the child does not want to own up to the previous bad behavior because he doesn't want to look bad in our eyes. Sometimes the child needs consequences, but always fit the child and the misbehavior together. A key she mentioned is that when a child's behavior changes dramatically, there is probably something in the environment contributing to it. Identify what has changed with your child.

From No More Misbehavin' she said:

¥ Call out uncaring acts. "That was not caring." Label the behavior.

¥ Ask, "Was that helpful or hurtful?"

¥ Reflect on the feelings. "How would you feel if that happened to you?"

¥ Express disapproval. Finally, ask, "What are you going to do next time so it doesn't happen again?" Show them how, if necessary.

Michele remarked that developmentally, first comes sad, second comes happy, third comes angry, and fourth comes scared. Talk about these emotions the first years of your child's life. Watch television with the sound off and ask, "How does he feel?" Turn away from the picture and ask, "How does she sound?"

For changing a specific behavior, she told us to teach the child to identify the need. For me it is, "I need to calm down." Have the child or both of you take three deep, slow breaths. If you need to, close your eyes. Take in a final deep breath to the count of five, hold for a count of two and exhale for a count of five.

To learn more about Michele Borba and her books, go to or

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