Right from Wrong: Instilling a Sense of Integrity in Your Child

Right from Wrong: Instilling a Sense of Integrity in Your Child

by Michael Riera, Joseph Di Prisco

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Integrity is not simply something that happens as a result of family stability, unconditional love, healthy genes, or good luck; it emerges, if it does, because parents make it important and because they choose to exercise influence in this arena. Combining stories of children in their natural settings with compassionate, in-depth analysis and pragmatic counsel,


Integrity is not simply something that happens as a result of family stability, unconditional love, healthy genes, or good luck; it emerges, if it does, because parents make it important and because they choose to exercise influence in this arena. Combining stories of children in their natural settings with compassionate, in-depth analysis and pragmatic counsel, Right from Wrong makes the promotion of integrity possible, feasible, indispensable. It shows parents how their use of praise and discipline, honesty, listening, and consequences will help foster integrity in young children, making them people whom we admire as well as people who are proud of themselves.

Editorial Reviews

USA Weekend Magazine
The book gives some very practical advice on how to communicate our values, to support and empower our kids to live lives of integrity.
Publishers Weekly
Almost a sequel to the authors' Field Guide to the American Teenager, this book is aimed at helping parents instill a moral sense in children ages five to 12. The authors briefly introduce the concept of integrity, defining it as "the compass within each of us... only with integrity do our journeys achieve meaning." Each of the chapters begins with a specific case study and dialogue between parent and child illustrating a specific point from lying to dealing with illness to believing in Santa Claus to handling bullies. The authors show how the parents handle the particular situation and then offer some suggestions for how to deal with variations of the basic situation. While many parents, especially first-timers, will find the authors' tone reassuring and the advice somewhat helpful, the book is less penetrating than readers might have hoped. The authors don't offer enough suggestions for parents; instead, they're more concerned with explaining how the parents might feel rather than offering prescriptive advice on how parents should handle some difficult conversations. Parenting presents many challenges and there are few absolute right or wrong ways to handle situations, but given the stresses of today's working parent, a more hard-hitting approach would have made for a more useful book. (Apr.) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.

Product Details

Da Capo Press
Publication date:
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5.52(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.67(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Taking What Isn't Yours

How Do We Use Discipline to Foster Integrity?

[O]ne's origins are not romantic. Like the act of birth, they're merely the seeds of the life we're given—messy, tumultuous, mundane.

—Maria Laurino, Were You Always an Italian?



Tricia was frustrated and proud. Since giving birth to Sam five years ago, she had almost grown used to such emotional balancing acts. Almost. She had studied a little psychology in college, but only after becoming a parent did she experience how conflicting emotions could reside next to each other in her heart. Sometimes this recognition did not leave her feeling strange or unsettled in the least bit. Sometimes.

    "Sam! It's time to go home. You can play with your friends again tomorrow."

    Sam yelled back at her: "Mom! Just a little longer!" Then, to accentuate his demand, he put his head down and pedaled his friend's bike faster as he circled the kindergarten playground for what must have been the tenth time. And that was ten times within the two minutes Tricia had been waiting at the curbside.

    Yes, she was frustrated to have him ignore her and her patient (until a second ago) requests. Only twelve school days had elapsed since he'd begun kindergarten.

    Now that she recalled it, the very first day, and, really, those firsttwo weeks, had been marked by another magnitude of frustration for her. The first moment Sam realized he was going to be left at school was even more traumatic than the time he had leaped off the pediatrician's table after catching a glimmer of the booster shot needle. As for that first day, Sam had been silent the entire ride, but as soon as Tricia turned off the engine, he turned the volume way up.

    He begged not to be left at school, then he whined, then he yelled, and then he sobbed. By the time they by some miracle reached the doorway of the classroom, Sam was clutching Tricia's neck and had his legs wrapped around her waist. He was incapable of articulating a word. He could only wail and shake and squirm. Fortunately, Sam's teacher, Ms. Roberts, was good-natured and, after twenty years of teaching, experienced with these kinds of scenes. Had Tricia been able to look around at the other parents, she would have known that she and Sam weren't unique; plenty of other families were experiencing comparable opening-day ballistic drop-offs. But what parent could remain calm in this type of situation? Especially Tricia, a single parent who, whenever something went amiss, lapsed into the fallback default feelings of doubt and guilt and inadequacy.

    But Sam and Tricia together had moved through that adjustment to kindergarten. Sure, Tricia was late for work during those first weeks, but fortunately, her boss understood; in a rare moment of personal revelation, she told Tricia that she and her husband had had the same problem with every single one of their three children. She had even offered some useful advice, which Tricia remembered for a day but had since forgotten.

    After a few days of hanging around at the back of the classroom—with one other parent—Tricia began to sense that Sam was finally feeling at home. Slowly she cut back on her time in the room. And just last week the whole drop-off and good-bye ritual was reduced to an efficient ninety-second ritual of putting the lunch away, quick hugs and kisses, and a brisk "Have a fun day."

    "You, too, Mommy," he replied, nearly bringing her to tears—of relief.

    Only now, as she watched Sam circle the playground yet again, she wondered if perhaps they had been too successful: Now she couldn't get him to leave school.

    "Samuel. Nathan. Cochran!" Word by emphatic word, syllable by slow syllable: the universal cry of parents on the brink of meltdown, which kids across the world know all too well. So did Sam.

    "See ya tomorrow, Ricki. My mom says I gotta go now." Sam scooped up his Whoosh Whoosh lunch box and reached out with his free hand to his mom. She took it warmly. She was putty in his five-year-old hands.


"So, how was school?"

    "You know Hector? He had a bloody nose."

    "Is he OK?" Tricia asked in a hushed, horrified voice.

    "Yeah. You put your head down when you get a bloody nose, not back."

    "But he was OK, right?"

    "He gets bloody noses sometimes—it's OK, teacher said. Louisa went on a airplane with her grandma and grandpa to Sam Diego. Where's Sam Diego?"

    Tricia told him San Diego was far away.

    "Louisa's grandpa is a policeman, but he doesn't shoot bad guys."

    "Is Louisa your friend?"

    "She's a girl."

    "I guessed that."

    "Mom, can I watch Whoosh Whoosh when we get home?"

    Of course, why should today be any different from every other day? While she wasn't proud of her daily thirty minutes of parenting by TV, even if it was PBS's Whoosh Whoosh, which was a pretty good show, actually, she couldn't imagine it any other way, either. He needed the time and routine to decompress from his day at school, and she needed the time to catch up on the household chores. Skipping that show wasn't an option in either of their minds. Still, they both must have enjoyed the ritual of Sam's asking each day on the ride home because that's the way it always played out.

    "Sure you can. But remember, no crying when the show is over and I ask you to turn off the television."

    He was amenable.

    Even though the thirty minutes of television was lately stretching into more like forty-five or fifty minutes, Tricia always held the line about the TV going off at her request. So far, Sam was fine with that.

    "But first we need to stop at the store for a few minutes. I need to pick up some groceries." The grocery was her local store, and when she could, she preferred shopping there to the chains.


    "You want dinner tonight, don't you? That's why."

    "I don't want to go to the store. I want to go home and watch TV."

    "And you can, right after we go to the store."

    "Mom! That's not fair. I want to watch TV now and I want to go home now."

    "I want to go home, too, but we don't always get what we want when we want it." Did she just say that? She sounded just like her mother. "Sam, I know you want to watch television. And I know you don't want to go grocery shopping with me, but I need you to be a big boy and help me with the shopping." Appealing to his sense of responsibility usually got her, at the very least, his begrudging cooperation. "And, if you're real good, maybe we can get you a special treat."


    "But only if you're good."

    "What kind of treat? A chocolate bar?"

    Where did that come from? Sam had certainly watched his fair share of television, and not all of it PBS, but so far their house had been a candy-free zone. Tricia was, she would perhaps concede, extreme in her insistence upon nutritious food, but still, a candy bar? She wondered where he was learning this stuff. The unofficial kindergarten curriculum probably included more than reading, writing, and arithmetic.

    "We'll find something special—but no candy, it's too close to dinner." She knew the logic didn't hold. Why would a candy bar ruin his appetite more than a banana? But she held her breath and hoped. And then she quickly added: "Besides, you know how I feel about candy."

    "But I want a chocolate bar."

    "How about we get some popcorn instead? We'll make a bowl for you and a bowl for me, right after dinner." There, she thought, two birds with one stone: a swift end to the candy-bar discussion and a guarantee of a healthy appetite for dinner.

    "My own bowl?"


Tricia was feeling pleased with herself as she rounded the corner into the den/television/play/living room. After all, they had been home for only thirty-five minutes and she had already stowed the groceries, boiled the water for tonight's pasta, reheated the sauce she had made over the weekend, and even prepared Sam's lunch for the next day. Not bad, she thought.

    "Sam, time to turn off the television. Then please wash your hands and help me set the table."

    "Just a little bit longer, Mom. Please."

    "Sam. Remember what you agreed to? The television goes off when I ask."

    Sam rolled off the sofa, walked to the set, and turned it off. And that's when she saw it, on the sofa—the unmistakable black-and-white wrapper of a chocolate bar crumpled up around the silver foil.

    For Tricia, it was a moment of cognitive dissonance she remembered learning about in her college psych course. Her jaw dropped while her brain came to a complete stop. Sam was surprised and a bit concerned to see his mom like this, until, that is, he realized her eyes were trained on the candy-bar wrapper. He sat back down.

    Then, for the second time in one day, this mom uttered her son's complete name. "Samuel. Nathan. Cochran."

    There was no place for Sam to hide, and he stood up once more. "What?"

    "Where did that candy wrapper come from? And what happened to the chocolate bar inside it?"

    That was when Tricia had her second moment of cognitive dissonance. As Sam began to mutter a reply, she was close enough to see chocolate traces at the corner of his mouth and to detect the aroma. "Sam! Where did you get that candy bar?"

    "I don't know. I just had it."

    "Sam, sit back down. We need to talk."

    He and his mom both took their seats on opposite ends of the couch. His eyes looked straight ahead, away from hers.

    "Sam. I need you to tell me the truth. Where did you get that candy bar? Someone at school?"

    "No. Nobody at school."

    Then, for the third time in what seemed as many minutes, Tricia entertained two incompatible thoughts at the same time. Sam is an honest child and—"Sam, did you take that from the store?"

    His sad bearing said it all, and the enormous teardrops slipping down his cheeks confirmed what Tricia already knew: Samuel Nathan Cochran had stolen a candy bar.


Many families may well find an account of a kindergarten child stealing a little bit familiar and more than slightly disquieting. The authors themselves know this sort of thing both from firsthand experience with their own children and from accounts narrated by other parents. Most children, and certainly almost all five-year-olds, who take a candy bar from a store are not destined for a life of crime. In the remarks that follow, we are going to shine the light on the somewhat hidden corners of Sam's experience and sketch the bigger picture of this child's stealing—which is much more charged than a search for the instant gratification of a chocolate bar. As we follow the trail of motivation, so to speak, we will illuminate the ways in which integrity figures into this scenario, including some perhaps not completely expected ways. We begin, therefore, with a consideration of the most pressing issue of a five-year-old's life: the transition that consists of starting school.

First Day(s) of School

Who among us can forget our introduction to school? Strange kids everywhere. The unknown teacher. A foreign room. Abandonment. Fear. Astonishment. Milk and cookies. Structured playtime. New friends. Scissors and paper and hamsters and kickballs. Your own hook for your coat. Your own special toy or blanket or book that you cling to.

    Even though many children attend preschool, kindergarten is still a great divider in our lives, when we take the first steps out of the absolutely secure world that is home into the new world fraught with mystery. As a marker in our development, it rivals, on one end, learning to crawl and, on the other, learning to drive a car. The whole world opens up before our eyes, and we are in it in a new way.

    The first days of every school year (even through high school) have a lot in common with the first days of kindergarten. As a parent, therefore, expect the vulnerabilities and regressions and the acting out—which begin to take place even before the time school begins. The transition from summer to school is enormous for every child and, therefore, for every family. So do not get thrown off when you witness bouts of crying, or flare-ups of anger, or sudden onsets of coughing, or a return to a timidity that you believed had been outgrown. On the other hand, do not underestimate what is going on, either. Remember that what they are experiencing feels very real, and what they need from you is an acknowledgment of their turmoil, your presence, and your reassurance that they will be fine when they go to school the next day. The transition, to kindergarten in particular, lasts longer than one day; it will take weeks, and even longer, for your children to become acclimated to this new environment.


Sam steals during a period of transition. He has just left school (just been dragged away, effectively) and is on the way back home. His new friends and his new teacher and his new kindergarten life are now all being replaced by his mom and the structures of domestic, family life. If it sounds simple, it really is not. He is changing gears (all right, grinding them as he downshifts), gradually reorienting himself in a far different realm from the one through which he has been traveling all day. In psychic and emotional terms, it can be hard, even wrenching, work—decompressing, mulling over his experiences, falling back into the terrain of home.

    Sometimes we parents can forget how taxing this can be. But as adults, we surely know otherwise. We learn soon enough that the commute home can prove beneficial to our marriages and other relationships. If we turned around from our jobs at five o'clock and instantly confronted our friends and our mates, the first things out of our mouths might be complaints and self-justifications and expressions of disappointment—all carryovers from the day and matters normally best left unsaid. (And by the way, that's why when our kids become fifteen or sixteen, they will sequester themselves in their rooms, not to seal you off but to contain themselves, to listen to music, to talk on the phone, to answer their e-mails, and, in general, to figure out what just happened at school all day—which is why they can barely hear your question, "How was school today?")

    Transitions, then, are those in-between times—just after ending one activity and just before beginning another. Of course, everyone every day goes through a variety of transitions. Children do, too: from sleep to waking up; from home to school; from class to the playground; from the playground to class; from school to home; from sunshine to twilight; from being awake to being asleep. The betweenness of such transitions makes each a potential moment of vulnerability and regression, and there is no predicting which. That is, four days in a row bedtime is smooth as can be, but on the fifth night, your son falls apart. Or suddenly, after school, your daughter is at a loss as to how to go to her friend's house next door to see if she can come out and play. The unexpected occurs routinely during transitions. And each time, the reason behind the outbreak is a fresh mystery, encouraging us all to yearn for the inspired patience and the analytical gifts of Sherlock Holmes.

    Sometimes the behaviors that offend us correlate with conflicts that are left unresolved—on the other side of that transition. Your daughter is angry with her teacher, so she starts a fight with you; or your son is annoyed about being teased at lunch, so he takes it out on his younger brother by antagonizing him. Popular psychology labels these behaviors "acting out," because in these instances, your kids act out before your very eyes their frustration; it is called acting out because you become the audience for the performance, which is hardly ever consciously rehearsed.

    Sometimes these offending actions (or nonactions, or words) are inspired by anxiety over the future—a new baby-sitter, a house being remodeled—in which case consistent routines are usually adequate to reduce anxiety and eliminate most negative behaviors. Picking up our children at the same time each day and employing the same patterns of conversation—How was school today? Who did you play with? Tell me about something that was fun today. Tell me about something that was difficult today—helps ease them away from their school day and prepare for their after-school day. Coming home to another set of routines (a snack, feeding the cat, changing clothes, whatever) helps them settle into their after-school routine.


Excerpted from Right from Wrong by Michael Riera, PH.D. Joseph Di Prisco, PH.D.. Copyright © 2002 by Michael Riera and Joseph Di Prisco. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Meet the Author

Michael Riera, Ph.D., has worked in education since 1980. The author or co-author of four other popular parenting books including Field Guide to the American Teenager and Uncommon Sense for Parents of Teenagers, he is the family and adolescent correspondent on "The CBS Early Show." He has also appeared on "Oprah," "Today," "The View," and "48 Hours." He lives in Berkeley, California.

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